Opposition promises international education boost in New Zealand election

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The centre-right party has promised to revive the international education sector in a bid to boost the country’s economy and improve funding for tertiary institutions. 

If elected, leader Christopher Luxon will increase the number of hours international students are permitted to work each week from 20 to 24. Comparatively, international students can work 24 hours per week in Australia and 20 in the UK and Canada. 

As well as making New Zealand more competitive, National says this will support small businesses struggling with labour shortages and help students to fund their studies and living costs.  

“New Zealand has been in recession, the cost of living continues to rise faster than wages, and mortgages are unaffordable,” National’s tertiary education spokesperson Penny Simmonds is reported as saying.

“We need to get sectors that can provide much-needed export earnings like international education back on their feet as soon as possible.”

“We need to get sectors that can provide export earnings like international education back on their feet”

Work rights will also be expanded for international students and their partners, including giving their partners studying a level 7 qualification (equivalent to a diploma, bachelor’s degree, graduate certificate or graduate diploma) or higher open work rights while they are studying.

Post-study work rights for those with postgraduate diplomas will be extended from one year to two years.  

New Zealand’s skills shortages will be continuously reviewed and international students studying sub-degree courses in areas of skills shortages could be eligible for a minimum of 12 months of post-study work rights.  

The National party has also promised to introduce fast-track visa processing for international students who pay an additional fee, blaming what it sees as processing delays for making New Zealand less attractive.

On average, student visa applications are currently processed in 22 weekdays, according to immigration New Zealand, below the target of 30 weekdays. Some 90% of applications are processed within 45 weekdays.

Under its government, those who pay an additional fee will have their visa processed in two weeks. 

For other applicants, National will aim to return to historic visa processing speeds, with 90% of all applications decided within 30 days. 

The current governing party, Labour, has less to say on international education in its manifesto, promising simply to continue the strategic recovery plan in place to help the sector build back after the pandemic. 

It has also pledged to review university funding after the country’s universities have experienced declines in higher education enrolment and are facing increased costs.

New Zealand’s international education sector has struggled to recover after the pandemic, with the latest visa figures down on 2019 levels

New Zealanders will cast their votes on October 14. Polls suggest the National party may have to enter into a coalition with smaller parties if it is to form a government. 

Monique van Veen, associate director of international at the University of Canterbury, said universities will “work closely” with any new government and are continuing to advocate for “ongoing improvements to our processes and settings for student visas”, including working with Immigration New Zealand.  

She added the sector looks forward to discussions with the appointed minister and doesn’t foresee “major changes”.

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