International students who can be screened, tested twice, and who can pay for a 14-day quarantine should be allowed back in to New Zealand for the second half of this year, the National Party says.
But in an effort to keep jobs for Kiwis, new international students would no longer be able to work in New Zealand while they studied.
The Government is looking at opening up international student education - worth $5 billion a year in GDP terms - as soon as can be safely done.
But National Party deputy leader Nikki Kaye, who released the party's proposal today, said it was happening too slowly.
"If it doesn't move quickly, New Zealand is at risk of missing out on international students for the second half of 2020, which will cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars," Kaye said.
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University revenue streams have been hit hard by the lack of international students, and they have been lobbying the Government for their quarantined return since arrivals from China - the second biggest export education market - were restricted in February.
Victoria University Vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said the value of international students was much more than the revenue to education institutes and their spending in the wider economy.
"They contribute significantly to universities' ability to be world-class. They augment domestic student revenue significantly, but they also help us compete with other countries for the global talent pool that fuels the knowledge economy.
"A number of nations around the world realise that if they can recruit those students, they get an advantage in high tech and other industries."
He said 70 per cent of international students go back to their home countries and become future business partners.
"That's because they make friends while they're here, and they support diplomatic activities offshore."
Victoria University's next trimester begins at the start of July, and Kaye pushed for international students to be able to return by then.
National wants students to have a health check before departure, appropriate physical distancing on flights, and another health check on arrival.
They would then be given a test for Covid-19 at the start of quarantine, and again after 14 days. If that test is negative, they'd be allowed to leave quarantine.
Repurposed halls of residence or hotels could be used to house them, and the Ministry of Health would certify and monitor the facilities.
The education institutes would run the service and students would cover the costs, though some Government funding would be required to audit the quarantine facilities.
Existing students would still be able to work under pre-Covid settings, but new ones would be deprived of this chance because of concerns they would be taking jobs off Kiwis.
National's policy also opens the door to people overseas with work visas for New Zealand.
"We support them returning to New Zealand as lockdown restrictions are eased, so long as they follow all quarantine procedures and the labour market test for the job is met," the party's policy statement says.
"We are focusing on students today because of the size of the opportunity, and the
risk from delay.
"Exemptions have already been given to border restrictions on economic grounds for
things like the Avatar film crew. International education is far more important to the
New Zealand economy, and supports far more jobs than the film industry."