Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Easing of visa health tests could let infected in - experts

Health screening requirements for international students are are too relaxed says medical experts. Photo / Thinkstock
Health screening requirements for international students are are too relaxed says medical experts. Photo / Thinkstock

Relaxing health screening requirements for international students could lead to people infected with HIV and hepatitis being granted visas to study here, medical experts say.

Student visa applicants will be screened only for tuberculosis from July, unless they have other health conditions, and will no longer need to supply full medicals.

The onus will instead rest on applicants to declare their health conditions rather than on medical checks to detect diseases.

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Paul Ockelford said an absence of full medicals could see people with infections, especially those that could be sexually transmitted such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, being let into the country.

"It's always a balance between the benefits associated with streamlining and the potential risks that might occur in the absence of formal health screening," Dr Ockelford said.

In the 12 months to February 29, 8010 student visa applications were declined for failing to meet policy requirements, but Immigration New Zealand says it does not record how many were refused for not meeting health standards as often visas are refused for more than one reason.

Nearly 102,000 applications were received by the agency over the same period.

Sopheng Veng, a former postgraduate accountancy student from Cambodia who faced a deportation order after he was diagnosed with hepatitis B and C during a medical screening, said he was thrilled with the changes.

He is planning to apply for a visa to complete his study in New Zealand now there will no longer be a need for full medicals.

Mr Veng, 29, claimed he caught the infections from prostitutes here, but is in a good state of health.

Health screenings for international students usually cost between $250 and $400 in New Zealand.

A general practitioner specialising in immigration medicals, who did not want to be named, said the savings made by students paying for medical screenings could end up costing the taxpayer.

"When young, sexually active foreign nationals with unrecognised infections are being let into the country ... the infections will end up doing the rounds," he said.

But an Immigration spokeswoman said the changes "do not diminish an applicant's requirement to declare health conditions or meet health conditions".

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy said the changes were aimed at "reducing red tape" and "making it easier for low-risk, high-value students to come to New Zealand".

The international education sector is worth $2.3 billion to the economy.

FOREIGN STUDENT NUMBERS

In the 12 months to Feb 29:

* 102,000 - applied for student visas.
* 74,800 - arrived to study last year.
* 62,800 - required full medical screening.
* 8010 - declined for failing to meet policy requirement.
(Source: Immigration New Zealand).

- NZ Herald

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