Government changes to immigration rules will encourage more international students to stay and work in Tauranga after they graduate, Bay education leaders say.
Stricter immigration rules for work visas come into force in November, especially for international students with lower-level qualifications or those who are studying in Auckland.
A proposal to make international students in higher qualifications study for at least two years before becoming eligible for a work visa has been dropped to just one year.
Education Tauranga regional manager Anne Young said the changes were positive for Tauranga with more students expected to study and work in the city.
However, she said numbers would drop in Auckland where she said 60 per cent of international students lived.
"International students will still come here. Our work rights are still favourable," Young said.
"Although they have been strengthened I don't think that is to the detriment particularly of regions like Tauranga. I think it gives us more potential to be able to recruit high-quality students."
Young said the new University of Waikato Tauranga campus would put Tauranga in a good position.
"We have been able to look at the skills needs of the region and the qualifications that are being taught and can actively recruit students into qualifications that will actually go into meaningful work after they finish," she said.
Young said the international student market was worth more than $55 million annually to the local economy.
Education Tauranga hoped to increase that number by 35 per cent by 2022.
"I think that the future of international education for this region looks really positive."
However, Young said there were concerns around the tightened rules for students whose partners wanted to work in New Zealand.
Until now, international students who are studying for a post-graduate degree can get work or student visas for their partners or children, which means fees-free domestic schooling.
From November, this will only apply to students who are studying a qualification on the long-term skills shortage list.
"That does raise an issue for families," Young said. However, she said that was offset by the more positive changes.
Priority One chief operating officer Greg Simmonds said the changes had a significant impact on local tertiary institutions particularly those offering lower-level qualifications.
"We have already seen a drop in students in this segment of the market," Simmonds said.
"However, it's important to note Tauranga has a large, and growing, primary and secondary international student market, which is not directly affected."
Simmonds said the city also focused on growing degree and post-graduate programmes as well as employment pathways through the Bay of Plenty Tertiary Education Partnership.
"The changes will also benefit regions outside of Auckland, where these students can apply for two-year, post-study work visas to support the local labour market," he said.
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said the changes would not mean a lot for international students studying in Tauranga.
"I think if they are here just to get those qualifications and they are here to study genuinely there won't be any difference," he said.
Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology head of international Peter Richardson said the new immigration rules would encourage international students to look outside of Auckland.
Richardson said the changes opened the door for many students intending to study in Tauranga particularly at a higher level of study.
"We live in a global economy; increasing the numbers of international students into Tauranga and surrounds benefits everybody," he said.
"Our domestic students are exposed to a broader world view, our international students gain a world-class qualification in one of the country's largest polytechnics, while our local economy benefits with the money these students spend while living here."
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the changes ended the "bums on seats" approach of the previous Government and emphasised quality over quantity.
"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," he said.
WELCOMING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Argentinian student Nicol Ghiglione started studying in Tauranga after she "fell in love" with the city when she arrived two years ago.
The 21-year-old was one of 150 international students to be welcomed to the city by mayor Greg Brownless yesterday.
Ghiglione has been studying business management and strategy for almost three months at Tauranga education and training provider Stellaris.
She arrived on a working holiday visa about two years ago and said she "fell in love with the place".
"I fell in love with the people. When I came here, I didn't even speak English."
Ghiglione planned to find a job in the South Island after she graduated.
"I love winter, so I want to work somewhere related to that - maybe the ski field, something related to the snow," she said.
Ghiglione lived in Tauranga with her sister, and both kept an eye on the immigration changes which she said were positive.
"I know that I want to stay, I know that I like this place and know that I can do it and I am working really hard for it. It is not going to stop me."
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Under the existing rules, international students can get a two-year work visa in New Zealand if they get a full-time offer of work in their field after they complete their studies.
The Government has scrapped that option for all levels of education.
Instead, students who gain lower qualifications like certificates or diplomas will be able to get a one-year post-study visa, with an additional year for graduate diploma graduates working towards registration in a trade or professional body.
Students who get these qualifications outside of Auckland can get a two-year post-study visa, as long as their studies are completed by the end of December 2021.
International students who gain higher qualifications such as a bachelor's degree or post-graduate degree will be able to get a three-year work visa, without any employer-assisted component.
Additional reporting: NZME