Possible regional impact if student visa changes go ahead

Dougal McGowan
Dougal McGowan
Changes to international student visas and work rights could affect Otago's regional industries as well as education providers, as consultation on proposed changes draws to a close, the head of the region's chamber of commerce says.

Otago Polytechnic said earlier this year changes to post-study visas - including removing employer-sponsored post-study visas and introducing a one-year visa for people who have completed non-degree qualifications at level 7 or below - could cost the institution $4.3 million if they go ahead.

Around 2000 submissions were received on post-study proposals. Looking at students' rights to work while they study will be the next stage.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said yesterday the Government was "focused on quality education'' not "bums-on-seats''.

However, Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan, chairman of the Study Dunedin advisory group, said the international student market was "vital'' to the city.

Iain Lees-Galloway
Iain Lees-Galloway

Dunedin had more than 4000 international students, including high school and intermediate pupils as well as those atuniversity and polytechnic ones and even some primary school pupils.

"[We are] monitoring it quite closely, and making sure we are keeping up to date with the changes.''

International students can work part-time if they study for at least two years for a New Zealand qualification that gains points under the skilled migrant category, or for a foundation programme in Canterbury for at least one academic year at level 4 or higher. There are separate requirements for English language students.

It is possible for students doing a research master's degree and doctoral students to work full-time.

International students provided a "temporary workforce'' at key times of year for the regions, for instance working on orchards and vineyards.

Central Otago Winegrowers Association acting president James Dicey said there would be a flow-on effect for viticulture if international student numbers decreased, when it came to the university students choosing to work in the industry.

Study Dunedin co-ordinator Margo Reid said the latest economic figures available came from a 2016 report, which showed international education brought $117.7 million to the Dunedin economy.


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