Earlier in the year, the New Zealand government approved for an exception class for 1,000 international tertiary students who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began.

“Our top priority continues to be the health, safety and wellbeing of all people in New Zealand,” education minister Chris Hipkins said.

“The students will return to New Zealand in phases, beginning with a cohort of 300 that will be able to return from April, with the remaining students returning throughout the year as ‘Managed isolation and quarantine’ (MIQ) availability allows.”

However, more than half a year into the recovery plan, only 135 students out of the planned 1,000 were allowed into the country. This is largely attributed to the drawn-out application process, lack of spots in New Zealand’s MIQ spaces, and confusion when it came to eligibility.

In an open letter by Chris Hipkins on May 21, he wrote, “The government will remain committed to its strategies for protecting people in New Zealand, including elimination of Covid-19 in our communities.

“As a result, there is likely to be limited re-engagement with countries in which we have high levels of trust and confidence and those pursuing similar Elimination Strategies to New Zealand through most of 2021.”

“There is likely to be limited re-engagement with countries in which we have high levels of trust and confidence”

So far 1,250 students have been approved as of June 2021 to return in stages over the coming months.

To support the re-entry, roughly 400 MIQ places have been reserved for these incoming students. Depending on the outcomes of this initial 400 group of students, there may be further opportunities for more students to enter the country.

However, Hipkins noted, “While we cannot promise students any specific timeframes for entry in 2022, it is important that we are ready to act quickly when the opportunity rises.”

As the island nation puts a pause on the travel bubble to Australian states such as New South Wales and Victoria after a rise in recent Covid-19 cases, it is unlikely that New Zealand will amend current plans for returning international students.

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