A Chinese woman who worked hard to complete a two-year business diploma in 16 months has been told by immigration staff that her studies were too short to qualify for bonus residency points.

Candy Huang, 24, attended summer school and took on a heavy course load in her diploma in business course at the Whitireia Community Polytechnic in Wellington because she was keen to apply for New Zealand residency.

People can be awarded 10 bonus points towards their applications if they gain a qualification after two years of study in New Zealand.

But although the eager Ms Huang completed her course eight months early and thought she had earned the bonus points, the Immigration Service had a different view.

In a letter to Ms Huang's immigration consultant the service said she "did not meet the criteria for the 10 bonus points to be awarded because she had completed her New Zealand qualification in 16 months and not the 2 years required by policy".

Without the 10 bonus points, Ms Huang is in the position of having 90 points - 10 short of the 100 needed to submit an expression of interest for residency under the skilled migrant category.

"It's ridiculous," Ms Huang said yesterday. "I don't know why I got punished."

Ms Huang's dilemma is revealed today in the English-language Asian paper iBall.

Ms Huang is working at the New Zealand Institute of Education in Auckland, where her duties include interpreting and sales.

She is involved in marketing New Zealand education to students in other countries.

"I would like to contribute to this country," Ms Huang said yesterday.

The Immigration Service letter said the intent of awarding bonus points for qualifications gained after two years of study in New Zealand was to "recognise not only the qualification, but also the time spent in New Zealand".

Department of Labour immigration policy manager Stephen Dunstan said yesterday it was not possible to comment on Ms Huang's case for legal reasons.

However, he said, the intent of awarding bonus points for qualifications after two years of study in New Zealand was to recognise "that the applicant has become partly settled".

Foreign fee-paying students who had studied in New Zealand for two years or more and completed a tertiary qualification were "potentially desirable skilled migrants" for two reasons.

First, their qualifications were easily recognised by and relevant for local employers. Second, the applicants were partly settled and had realistic expectations about New Zealand.

If Ms Huang reached 100 points, she would go into a pool from which she might be selected.

Following checks, she might then be invited to lodge an application for residency.

* Lincoln Tan is a Herald columnist and editor of iball, a free fortnightly newspaper in Auckland.