The Immigration Minister has announced major changes to post-study work visa rights for international students. This comes after the consultation process undertaken in June this year which received over 2000 public submissions. The changes will take effect from 26 November 2018.

According to the government the intention of the changes is to ensure that international students coming to New Zealand gain in demand skills to help fuel economic growth, to incentivise study and subsequent settlement in the regions and help reduce the risk of migrant exploitation. In his press release the Minister stated that

  • These new immigration settings will better match the skills that people study in New Zealand with the skills that employers need to grow their businesses.
  • Our changes will support the attraction of international students studying at higher levels of study, and those who undertake high quality sub-degree courses that deliver the skills needed in our growing economy.
  • The changes preserve a pathway to residence for people with the skills and qualifications New Zealand needs.
  • They also provide time-limited incentives for students to study and work in the regions, boosting regional education providers and supporting our aims to lift regional investment and productivity.
  • We understand that regional providers need time to transition. To support that transition, students who study sub-degree courses outside Auckland will be entitled to a two-year open work visa if they complete their qualification by December 2021.
  • The changes will take effect in November 2018, with grand-parenting provisions that mean that international students who are currently in New Zealand will be better off as a result of these changes.
  • The removal of employer-assisted post-study work rights at all levels will help reduce the risk of migrant exploitation, and better protect New Zealand’s international reputation.

The key change is the removal of the 24 month employer assisted post-study work visa, which previously required a person to have a job offer relevant to their New Zealand qualification. Under the new rules all post-study work visas will come with open work rights and will not require the support of an employment offer or employer. This is effectively an extension of the current post-study work  open visa , and visas will be issued for between 12 to 36 months depending upon the level of course studied and the geographical location of study.

The grand-parenting provision provides maximum benefits to current international students who will be eligible for a 36 month open post-study work visa regardless of the level of their studies. In addition current post-study open work visa holders will be eligible for up to a further 24 months open post study work visa.

Whilst removal of the requirement to have a job offer will in theory take away the risk of exploitation at that juncture the government seem to have completely missed the point as to the overall goal and motivation of the student, which is in most cases to obtain New Zealand residence. For most the pathway to achieve this is through the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) for which they need an offer of or current skilled employment. So with the greater prize being residence for which a person needs an offer of skilled employment, where exactly is the risk of exploitation? Nothing has actually been removed, and,  if anything it will be heighted. There is also the real possibility that exploitation will now be greater as those more unscrupulous employers can now demand longer working hours and pay wages in cash without any employment documentation checks being required.

So who do the changes effect – and how? They fall into 3 particular groups.

Existing student visa holders

This table applies if, on 8 August 2018, you hold a student visa or your student visa application has been accepted for processing by Immigration New Zealand.

If you’re currently studying in New Zealand towards a… And… Then on successful completion of your qualification(s) from 26 November 2018 you may be eligible for a…
Level 7 Bachelor’s degree or above You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open work visa
Non-degree Level 7 qualification You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open work visa
One qualification at Level 4-6 You study that qualification for at least 60 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open work visa
Two qualifications at Levels 4-6 You study each qualification for 30 weeks in New Zealand (60 weeks in total) and the second qualification is at a higher level than the first Three-year open work visa

This group are the biggest winners of the changes as regardless of the course level or subject matter if you are a current international student in New Zealand you will now be eligible for a 3 year open work visa following course completion. This should provide more than sufficient time to find suitable skilled employment and potentially apply for residence.

 

Existing post-study work visa holders

The following table applies if you hold a post-study work visa on 8 August 2018, or are granted a post-study work visa when these changes come into effect on 26 November 2018.

If you hold a… Then from 26 November 2018, you may be eligible…
One-year open post-study work visa For a further two-year open work visa
Two-year employer-assisted post-study work visa To have the job and employer stated on your work visa removed, so you do not have to contact Immigration New Zealand if you change jobs or employers in the future. If you prefer, you can choose to keep your visa as it is.

Another group that on the whole should benefit tremendously with extended open work conditions. However there will be a reasonable number of people who currently hold the one year open post-study work visa which visa expires before 26 November that will still be dependent upon securing a relevant job offer to their New Zealand qualification and applying for the employer assisted post-study work visa. These people will still be at risk of finding suitable employment and be at the mercy of INZ’s assessment of the relevance of the employment to their studies. This has been an area of contention over the past 2 years with statistics suggesting that INZ had toughened its decision making criteria, making it harder to obtain such a post-study work visa. It remains to be seen whether, given the up an coming changes, that INZ may “soften” its decision making for those affected over the coming months.

 

 New student visa applicants

This table applies if, on 9 August 2018, you do not hold a student visa and you have not had a student visa application accepted for processing by Immigration New Zealand.

If you’re planning to study towards the following qualification(s)… And… Then on successful completion of your qualification(s) you may be eligible for a…
Level  7 Bachelor’s degree qualification or higher You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open post-study work visa
Level 7 Graduate Diploma You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland, and one additional year if you are working towards registration with a professional or trade body
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*
Other non-degree Level 7 qualification You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*
One qualification at Level 4-6 of a two-year duration You study that qualification for at least 60 weeks in New Zealand One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*
Two qualifications at Levels 4-6 You study each qualification for 30 weeks in New Zealand (60 weeks in total) and the second qualification is at a higher level than the first One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*

*To qualify for this, you must have successfully completed your qualification(s) by 31 December 2021. If you complete your qualification(s) after that date, you may be eligible for a one-year open post-study work visa, and one additional year if you are a Graduate Diploma graduate and you are working towards registration with a professional or trade body.

This is the sharp end of the changes and will clearly effect future student’s decisions of what to study and what will be in many cases, the decision to study at all in New Zealand. The government estimates between 1800 and 6000 potential students will chose not to study in New Zealand, whilst that number is debatable it is very clear that the private training education providers and the thousands of people employed by them will be most effected, and particularly those in Auckland.

What is confusing is the Minister states that the changes will better match the skills that people study with the skills that employers need to grow their business. This would clearly indicate a correlation with the qualification requirements stated on the Immediate (ISSL) and Long Term Skills Shortage lists (LTSSL) yet of the 32 occupation groups on the LTSSL 10 require a Graduate Diploma qualification or Diploma’s at level 5 or 6. The ISSL has 57 occupation groups of which 37 require a qualification from level 4 up to Graduate Diploma, so exactly how this will help these employers we are unsure. Surely it would have made sense to extend the 3 year open work visa for any level of qualification that was on one of the skills shortage lists as these are the skills that are acknowledged as being in demand.

What we don’t know yet

There is no detail at this stage as to what occupations will relate to the additional year of open post-study work visa  where an individual has studied a Graduate Diploma and is working towards professional or trade registration. It remains to be determined whether this directly relates to those occupations listed under skilled migrant instructions as requiring occupational registration or will be widened to include other occupations where professional registration or accreditation can be obtained such as Accountants.

It is also unclear at this stage as to what will happen if a person chooses to go back to further study after holding a post-study work visa. Currently individuals are eligible for a post study open work visa if they have completed a second higher qualification that is either a New Zealand bachelor degree or post-graduate qualification and have studied that qualification in New Zealand for at least 30 weeks. Alternatively if upon graduating they have a job offer relevant to their qualification they can apply for the post-study employer assisted work visa. Given the post-study employer assisted work visa will no longer be available there will clearly need to be a change of instructions but no information has been released yet to confirm what these changes will be.

In summary the 3 year open post-study work visa is a very attractive option for degree and postgraduate students and will certainly make these courses, which are predominantly undertaken at Universities, very attractive to market to international students. The transitional visa options for exiting students and for those holding post-study work visas is also very generous and accommodating. However polytechnics and private training establishments (PTE) will be significantly disadvantaged over time as their courses become “less attractive” given the post-study visa outcomes which will apply to these courses.

We have a real concern that the open work visa will see many of these visa holders resorting to self-employment (eg; Uber drivers) and undertaking cash work as there is now no immediate or direct compunction on them to enter into lawful, documented, employment. In fact there is a real prospect that their visa situation will lead to greater exploitation due to the lack of oversight of what they will be doing and what any employer is requiring of them.

In summary these changes are very good for the University sector and will definitely deliver, in time, on the Government’s objective for international students to study higher level, better quality, courses and to deliver better outcomes for New Zealand. The downside is the significant impact on the polytechnic and PTE sectors and the problems we see which will develop initially with the holders of the 3 year post-study work visas who may not now be sufficiently motivated to seek credible long term work.

Should you have any concerns over your current of future visa eligibility options do not hesitate to contact the team and Pathways.

Many migrants initially come to New Zealand as International students and follow what we call the study pathway to residence. The main source countries for these international students being China and India.

In most cases the applicant’s intention is to obtain skilled employment and obtain residence through the skilled migrant category, but it must be remembered that this is the potential end result of a process that starts with study and the successful completion of the applicant’s studies is fundamental to provide the foundation of their pathway to residence.

Unfortunately for some, and in our opinion far too many, they fall foul to mostly avoidable issues during the course of their studies that can have a material and prejudicial affect for their ability to progress with their pathway and achieve the desired residence outcome.

An individual must complete the course for which they hold their student visa. The course name and institution is written on their visa as part of the conditions of the visa, they may also include eligibility to work whilst studying. If a person changes their course and or institution they must change their visa to reflect the new situation. If they do not change their visa then at the end of their studies, even if successfully completed, if they do not hold a visa to match the qualification they have been awarded they will not be eligible for a Post-study open work visa (also known as the graduate job search work visa) and they would not be able to use the qualification to claim points in supporting a skilled migrant residence application in the future.

Holders of student visas must consider that in being granted their visa INZ have assessed them as being a genuine student and this is consequently the only purpose for which they have been granted entry to New Zealand. The expectation is that they will attend all their classes and attain the appropriate grades to successfully complete their course.

Whilst students may be granted work conditions to their visa to allow them to work, a maximum of 20 hours during semesters and fulltime only during official study breaks, these conditions are a trusted privilege to gain local work experience, but not to the detriment of their academic work. During a future residence application it is not uncommon for INZ to request a tax summary, and if an individual has worked more than they were permitted as a student this can cause a prejudicial character issue at a critical point of achieving their main goal.

If an individual fails to complete their course they do not have access to graduate work visas, and they do not have an automatic right to obtain a new student visa to retake papers and complete their qualification. This includes students who may be studying a qualification of more than 12 months in duration. If they failure to achieve the grades required to return for the second year they may struggle to obtain a visa to repeat failed papers. New Zealand education providers also have regulations which restrict students taking repeat failed papers (normally the students may be allowed to repeat failed papers only once).

Failure to complete a course coupled with poor attendance can be fatal to future plans and they may have to return home. Given the costs of studying as an international student this can be a very costly failure.

Students are encouraged to seek help as soon as possible if they are struggling with their studies so the institution can provide the appropriate support. For immigration matters always seek the guidance of a suitably experienced and qualified professional.