Last month New Zealand’s finance minister, Grant Robertson, said that international students are unlikely to return to New Zealand this year and that it will take time to establish quarantine facilities that are needed to let students back into the country.

“[Students] must consider the risk of not being able to come back into the country to continue their studies”

According to Immigration New Zealand, there were 51,580 with a valid study visa in the country as of late April, and education experts have said that they will need accommodation and pastoral care in addition to jobs, holiday programs or courses.

Speaking with The PIE News, NZ International Students’ Association president, Sabrina Alhady said international students have been raising the issue of having to remain in New Zealand over the summer holidays “for a number of months now”.

NZISA’s advice to international students has been to reach out to their respective embassies regarding their options, but also to consider the risk of not being able to come back into the country to continue their studies,” she said.

Alhady also pointed out that is not an easy decision to make: “International students have to decide between going back home to see their families (if at all possible given the increased costs and shortage of flights) and to risk disrupting their education, or to stay in New Zealand to continue their education, which means not seeing their families for the next year or so.”

She said that international students are plagued by concerns, especially financial difficulties and employment.

“International students in genuine financial hardship were eligible to access the International Student Hardship Fund through their education provider, however, we understand that this fund has been fully allocated,” she told The PIE.

Alhady said students are currently able to apply for financial support from the Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri Project, but that it has strict criteria for student visa holders.

“This project will only run for three months, however, the feedback and information from key stakeholders has the potential to feed into longer-term support and will highlight areas of concern for temporary migrants, including international students.”

New Zealand’s international education community has been rallying to support students where they can, with some institutions considering summer school discounts for international students, such as paying the equivalent of domestic student fees for summer school papers.

“However, there has not been any confirmation or formal announcement from these institutions on this,” noted Alhady, adding: “We strongly encourage that institutions continue to explore this possibility for international students.”

New Zealand is one of the few countries to have been successful in eliminating Covid-19, resulting in the government taking a cautious approach to re-opening to international students.

While the country has a strict quarantine plan for its citizens, residents and those with special exemptions, there is no specific arrangement at this stage for the return of international students who go home in December.

Executive director of Schools International Education Business Association, John van der Zwan, told The PIE that SIEBA is pressing for answers as a matter of urgency.

“We are aware of the disruption that the uncertainty about January 2021 is having for agents and families and we continue to press our government for increased information about what we can all expect for the near future.”

However, he added, for those in the school sector, staying in New Zealand over the summer may be less distressing than for those from other sectors.

“Families will need to consider the additional cost of accommodation and living over this period, and not being able to spend time together with family may be distressing,” van der Zwan agreed.

“But schools are already developing programs and planning pastoral care services to ensure a wonderful experience for these students should they decide to stay.”

Van der Zwan added that ISANA New Zealand is preparing to launch a targeted short course aimed at education providers across the sector to offer tools and approaches for supporting the student experience, including tailored wrap-around support for when new international students can enter the country.

He also noted that schools are reporting that many families are supportive of the possibility of their children remaining in New Zealand over the summer break.

“New Zealand is seen as one of the safest places to be at this time”

“We expect this is because we are currently Covid-19 free and New Zealand is seen as one of the safest places to be at this time… this may go some way to relieve some of the distress students and families may feel about staying on.”

Van der Zwan said that New Zealand has a strong reputation for high-quality personal care.

“We appreciate students staying over the summer may be unexpected for some and an added stress for others.

“However, high-quality pastoral care is a core element of international education in New Zealand and every effort will be made by schools to see that their students are cared for, achieve their education goals, and have a wonderful experience,” he added.

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