International students coming here for courses of less than two years will not have post-study rights and employer sponsorship could go under proposed immigration policy changes.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is today launching a consultation into proposed changes for international student post-study work rights.

The minister said the changes were aimed at eliminating migrant exploitation and ensuring migrants granted residency contributed to the skills that New Zealand needs.

"Too many students are being sold a false dream in New Zealand that the current post-study work rights can put them on a fast track to residency here," Lees-Galloway said.


He said it had resulted in a decline of general skill levels of migrants granted permanent residence, and international students being exploited by some "fraudulent and unethical" agents, employers and education providers.

Among the proposed changes are the removal of post-study work visas to be sponsored by a particular employer.

Students completing low-grade courses must undertake study for at least two years in order to gain work rights.

Also, those studying level 8 or 9 qualifications needed to be in a course specified in the long-term skills shortage list for their partners to be eligible for an open work visa and children to enrol in fee-free schooling.

"There have been too many cases where migrant workers have been subject to exploitation because they are dependent on a particular employer to stay in the country," Lees-Galloway said.

"Work experience in New Zealand is important to many students who come here to study. My proposals retain this while restricting an avenue for exploitation."

The New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI) and NZ's universities have welcomed the proposed changes.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo / Greg Bowker
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo / Greg Bowker

People will have the chance to have a say on the changes from Tuesday, June 5.


"The previous system permitted unscrupulous employers to exploit students and often saw students end up trying to get jobs with qualifications for which there was no real demand," says Universities New Zealand Executive Director Chris Whelan.

"These changes simplify things for students, while encouraging them to get qualifications that will open doors to more meaningful jobs. That's better for them; it's better for the employers who are constantly dealing with skill shortages. And it's therefore ultimately better for the country."

NZAMI chair June Ranson said the changes may solve issues going forward, but she had concerns over the international students who are currently here or have recently completed their studies.

"There are many overseas students who have invested in our education system who now find themselves unable to stay in NZ due to not finding the appropriate job relevant to their studies," Ranson said.

The association is calling for the Government to offer an extended study on qualifications relevant to NZ's labour market at a reduced cost for students who have been misled and exploited.

Ranson said New Zealand's reputation as being a good country for international education "has been damaged".

"These students were encouraged to enrol on the grounds that upon completion of successful study, a pathway to NZ residence would open up," Ranson said.

"An offer to extend study at a reduced cost in relevant fields could go some way to reducing that damage and restoring faith."

Lees-Galloway said any extended educational courses would be for the Minister of Education to consider.

The minister said work rights will be maintained for the international students who are already here.

"It's only fair that we don't change the rules on them now that they're already here ... those rights will be grandparented." Lees-Galloway said.

"But future students, those who come from next year onwards, the new rules will apply for them."

The proposed changes going out for consultation include:

• Remove the requirement for post-study work visas to be sponsored by a particular employer

• Provide a one-year post-study work visa for non-degree level 7 or below qualifications

• Provide a three-year post-study work visa for degree level 7 or above qualifications

• Require students completing non-degree level 7 or below qualifications to undertake at least two years of study in order to gain eligibility for post-study work rights, and

• Require international students studying level 8 or 9 qualifications to be in an area specified in the Long Term Skills Shortage List in order for their partner to be eligible for an open work visa, and in turn the partner's dependent children to be eligible for fee-free compulsory schooling.