International students have been left feeling ripped off after changes to immigration rules shattered their dreams of residence, according to an Indian graduate and an immigration lawyer.
Applications meeting the criteria for residency under the skilled migrant category have halved since a higher points threshold was introduced five months ago.
A new overhaul of the residence rules is expected later, which might lower the bar for skilled migrants, but is likely to favour more experienced immigrants. That would leave younger graduates unable to qualify under the new criteria.
The government announced in October it wanted migrant resident numbers to fall by five per cent.
Immigration lawyer Iain MacLeod said people who were eligible to apply from a pool of applicants had fallen from 1400 people per fortnight to around 700.
'We were deceived'
International graduate Harshmeen Kaur, who set up a support group for students, said she heard from many who struggled with the extra hurdles to gain residence.
"Some of the students are saying that people tell them, 'do this and do that and you can easily get residence'.
"Some people say, 'We were deceived, we shouldn't have come here, we should have been in another country'."
She estimated 70 per cent of Indian students arrived believing they could easily get residence.
Some still felt they made the right decision to come.
Students deceived by agents in India - lawyer
Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said he had thousands of clients who felt deceived by Immigration New Zealand's continual references to a pathway to residence.
He said unlicensed agents in India had not slowed down their false promotion of overseas education as a route to residence since the change in the points system.
"Some of them have been trying to get residence for years through work experience so it does affect them in a large way," he said.
"But most of them have been sold the whole New Zealand education experience and they've already committed so much time and money into it, that they're willing to keep on working here, gaining work experience and trying to gather enough points to meet the criteria to get residence, because that's what they were sold."
Mr McClymont said students and graduates were unwilling to speak out about their plight, out of fear it would affect their immigration prospects.
Govt trying to get students out of residency pool - lawyer
Mr MacLeod said the government decided to "flush the pool" - clear the skilled migrant category applications of what were deemed "lower-quality immigrants" including international students.
"They're in the game for residency and the sheer numbers of those people by late last year were causing the system to effectively implode under the weight of those numbers," he said.
"The government had to find a way of recalibrating and pushing those people, mainly international graduate students, out of that pool."
He said the government dangled residence in front of international students, who were offered a pathway to residence through open work visas to find skilled employment. The students had been misled.
In a statement, Immigration New Zealand area manager Darren Calder said it was expected the number of eligible skilled migrants would fall as a result of the changes.
He said the immigration minister could vary the proportion of other residence categories, such as business visas and refugees, to meet the planning range of 85,000 to 95,000 by July next year.
He did not say when the review of immigration settings would be complete.
Likely changes to residence policy include giving more points for experience and setting minimum salary levels for immigrants in skilled positions.