International students hit by the ban on travel from China are seeking refunds for costs they have already paid or signed up for.

The NZ International Students' Association says the sudden ban, which came into force at midnight on Sunday only eight hours after it was announced, will "destroy New Zealand's image as an international education destination".

The country attracted 117,000 international students in 2018, including 36,000 from China.

The promotional agency Education NZ says international education brings in $5.1 billion year and is New Zealand's fourth largest export earner, supporting 47,500 jobs.

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Sabrina Alhady: China travel ban will
Sabrina Alhady: China travel ban will "destroy NZ's image as an international education destination". Photo / Supplied

International student president Sabrina Alhady said many students had already paid or signed contracts to pay for travel, visas, course fees and accommodation before the travel ban was imposed, and should be refunded.

"It is largely questionable that Immigration NZ is allowed to retain roughly $10 million in application fees when students are banned from entering the country," she said.

"It highlights how international students are further being treated as cash cows and are expected to make payments despite the crisis being out of their control."

"If students are not able to get back into the country, they definitely will need to look at reimbursing them. It's not their fault that they can't get back," she said.

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She said people on any long-term visa, such as a student visa, should be exempted from the travel ban along with NZ citizens and permanent residents and their families.

Alhady, a Malaysian student who has just completed a politics degree at Otago University, said all Asian students were feeling heightened discrimination against them.

"They are getting questions: 'Are you from China?'" she said. "It's really quite awful at the moment."

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Patrick Walsh says it's
Patrick Walsh says it's "a reasonable ask" to seek a fee refund if students can't attend schools. Photo / File

Schools International Education Business Association chair Patrick Walsh said he had asked the Ministry of Education about refunding fees to students who could not attend classes.

"We have questions around students saying, 'If you ask us to be away for two weeks, are we entitled to a refund for the two weeks that you are requiring us to be away?' Which is a reasonable ask," he said.

Chris Whelan: Universities are
Chris Whelan: Universities are "working with relevant government agencies to ensure students are not penalised financially or educationally". Photo / Supplied

Universities NZ chief executive Chris Whelan said universities were "working with relevant government agencies to ensure students are not penalised - financially or educationally".

Independent Tertiary Education NZ chair Craig Musson said all international student fees for private providers went into a trust fund and were not passed on to the institutions until students actually started their courses.

He said any student who had to apply for a new visa because they were unable to take up a visa that was granted before the travel ban "shouldn't be charged twice".

Musson said his personal view was that the travel ban on anyone who has been in China was not justified. Although New Zealand's decision followed the United States and Australia, other countries such as Canada and most European nations had not followed suit.

"To be honest, I think the media has over-hyped the whole thing. If you listen to what the World Health Organisation has said, more people die of normal influenza than they have of this particular virus," he said.

The Government has said the ban will last for "up to 14 days" and will be reviewed every 48 hours.

Katrina Casey says fees can be held in trust and drawn down when a student can actually start a course. Photo / File
Katrina Casey says fees can be held in trust and drawn down when a student can actually start a course. Photo / File

Education Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey also said providers could hold fees in trust until students arrived, and students who withdrew could ask their providers for refunds.