visa processing creating uncertainty among tertiary institutions

Universities and colleges are worried that the border opening to foreign nationals in April will have little effect on international student mobility due to the visas being on processing hold until August.

“They need this confirmation now if they are going to be able to arrive in time for our universities’ second semester”

“Although the government has said it will begin a staged reopening of the border to fully vaccinated foreign nationals from April 30, international university students wanting to start, continue or finish studies in person need to know when after April 30 they can enter,” Chris Whelan, Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara chief executive, told The PIE News.

“Three cohorts of border exceptions totalling 1,550 international university students have been granted to date but most of Aotearoa New Zealand’s existing and prospective international students remain offshore, uncertain,” he added.

Independent Tertiary Education president Craig Musson told RNZ in a report that its member institutions were “entirely reliant on foreign enrolments”, especially English language schools.

He also warned that some members could be facing a “third consecutive year” with no new students from abroad.

“It generally takes about five months for them to satisfy visa requirements and organise travel and everything else necessary to live in New Zealand, so they need this confirmation now if they are going to be able to arrive in time for our universities’ second semester in June and July,” Whelan continued.

However, the University of Auckland’s acting director of international operations told The PIE that visa processing isn’t the “main barrier” for students wanting to enter the country.

“The uncertainty around timing and isolation process for entering the country [is the main barrier],” said Ainslie Moore.

“When students offshore are granted a border exception they apply for a visa then a spot in MIQ [Managed Isolation and Quarantine] – visa processing for these students has been smooth and timely, but access to MIQ is constrained.

“Some eligible students with visas in hand are still without an MIQ spot,” she added.

This aligns with the views of immigration and education agent Arunima Dhingra, who said there was “too much confusion about” when and how borders would reopen to students.

“At this stage you go through one hoop and you get stuck on the other,” she said.

“The pandemic and its impact on border management continues to be the biggest challenge for our students,” Moore confirmed.

The issues follow a proposed new framework whereby the sector will put less emphasis on residency and work rights and more on providing “high quality courses” and “high-value international education”.

“Our government has made some significant transitions to how and where we process offshore visa applications, and is also rolling out a new information system in 2022,” Brett Berquist told The PIE News.

“While we are watching carefully, we believe these will be positive changes for international education in New Zealand,” the former director of international at The University of Auckland added.

Another issue looming is rumbling calls for longer student visas, as some PhD students were reportedly worrying about spending time and money on getting extensions.

“Applying for a visa can be time-consuming, and it is understandable students want to avoid the admin burden,” Moore concurred.

In New Zealand, most international students only obtain a visa for their first year at the institution – which is, in most cases, the duration of which tuition has been paid.

Once this has passed, a renewal is then necessary for a subsequent to be applied for by the student for the next duration of their study.

“The purpose of the visa renewal is for Immigration New Zealand to ascertain that students continue to meet their visa requirements,” Moore explained.

These requirements include health, evidence of supporting funds and tuition payments.

Ali Khan, a doctoral candidate at the Victoria University of Wellington, told RNZ that the hassle of police and health checks caused emotional and financial stress.

“It causes an extra incremental pain point for PhD students who are also not in an extended program,” Khan said.

While Moore told the PIE the checks were necessary, she agreed that changes may be necessary.

“The pandemic and its impact on border management continues to be the biggest challenge”

“While this is important, longer duration visas would be helpful for all students, including doctoral candidates who may take a little longer to complete,” she concluded.

All round, universities and institutions insist that they are supporting their international students in any way they can.

“We know this is hard, so we’re supporting students to study online till travel is possible, including through innovative offerings like our PG STEM offer in India,” Moore added.

“As well as working hard towards [getting students into NZ], New Zealand’s eight universities are advising and supporting both existing and prospective international students during this difficult time,” Whelan said.

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