1 Feb 2018

Student visa moves prompt pushback: They feel 'conned'

8:15 am on 1 February 2018

The international education sector is pushing back against moves to crack down on the ability of overseas students to get a job and then permanent residence.

No caption

Photo: 123rf

Immigration Minister Iain Lees Galloway wants to close what he describes as a back door to residency through the student visa scheme, and will prioritise changes to work rights once students have finished studying.

Official advice to him says some students have used the student visa scheme to get residency, rather than a good education.

Labour's policy is focused on reducing work rights for study below degree level, and what it calls low-value courses.

There are two types of work rights for international students - while they are studying and after they've finished.

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway

Immigration minister Iain Lees Galloway Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand chairperson Craig Musson said any move to limit work rights while students were studying would "decimate" the industry.

He is urging the government to recognise the difference between lower level qualifications, and low quality.

There were a lot of institutions offering 'sub-degree' courses delivering high quality, vocational programmes, said Mr Musson.

"[They are] putting out students with work rights who can actually fill the jobs that are needed and are very productive, paying taxes."

There was too much focus, he said, on the "minority of students who might be exploiting the system", and employers doing the same. Mr Musson said every business, including in his sector, needed to deliver a quality product, and meet the needs of the market.

"And if you're not, even the students will decide by walking.

"We support all of the government agencies in identifying those providers across the board, who are doing things wrong."

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said students were only responding to a regime that has been strongly marketed to them.

"There are so many students who arrived with the expectation of the ability to work and to obtain residency who now felt ripped off because this is what education agents and the government were basically promoting."

The "single most common complaint" from students coming to him, said Mr McClymont, was that students felt "conned".

Mr Galloway said he still intended to make some changes in line with one of Labour's campaign promises - in study work rights - but it was just a matter of "sequencing".

"We're looking at the post-study work right at the moment. The work on the in-study work rights will continue but while we're working through that we also want to look at what the impact of changes the previous government made."

But, he said the post-study work rights had a "greater impact on that pathway to residency".

In response to a question from a business person at his State of the Nation speech, National's Bill English said there was uncertainty, partly due to "internal tensions" among the government parties.

"But it's not clear just whether they're going to follow through with some pretty robust anti-immigration rhetoric during the election campaign - or not".

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs