New Zealand’s government has announced it will allow 250 international students into the country – students who have been unable to cross borders due to Covid-19 despite holding study visas.

“[The decision] recognises the vital role international education will play in the recovery and rebuild of New Zealand”

It is expected that the first students will arrive in November and that the majority will follow in the new year. The timing of the entry of these students into the country will depend on the availability of spaces in the government’s managed isolation and quarantine facilities. 

“The exception today is a balanced decision that recognises the vital role international education will play in the recovery and rebuild of New Zealand and the need to continue the fight against the pandemic,” said education minister Chris Hipkins.

“It will enable us to welcome back a good portion of those PhD and masters students who are caught off-shore, and who need to be in New Zealand to complete their work.

“These are students who hold or held a visa for 2020, and whose long-term commitment to study here was disrupted by Covid-19. Priority will be given first to those who need to be in the country for the practical components of their research and study,” he said. 

Key criteria for international students coming into New Zealand are that they are enrolled in PhD programs, are enrolled in qualifications that involve practical components (for example, medicine, veterinary, engineering, laboratory sciences, agricultural research) and that they cannot progress or complete their study while offshore.

If the 250 places are not filled by PhD students in these priority categories, the focus is likely to move to level 9 masters students in the same priority categories.

The Ministry of Education is set to work with Tertiary Education Organisations and Immigration New Zealand to identify and prioritise eligible students. 

“International PhDs and other postgraduate students boost the global reputations and competitiveness of our institutions”

Before being admitted into the country, students must spend 14-day period in government managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and take a series of Covid-19 tests on arrival.

Hipkins explained that the government’s approach is pragmatic and they will carefully manage the demand on New Zealand’s quarantine facilities and the complex nature of bringing students back into the country. 

“Allowing these students to travel to New Zealand is a step in the right direction for the international education sector. The government will review other possible border exceptions, as and when it is safe to do so,” said Hipkins.

“International PhDs and other postgraduate students make a significant contribution to our research and innovation systems and boost the global reputations and competitiveness of our institutions,” he added.

The country’s finance minister Grant Robertson has previously said that international students were unlikely to return to New Zealand in 2020.

The government acknowledged that that some schools, private training organisations and other tertiary providers may be disappointed that they are not a part of this first border exception group, it added. 

“The government will review further possible border exceptions, as and when it is safe to do so,” a statement from the Ministry of Education said.

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