International students may have to wait until early 2022 to study in New Zealand, and educators are rising increasingly concerned that the government is softening its stance on restoring pre-pandemic international admission rates. Despite public and private sector pressure to open New Zealand’s border this year to alleviate worker scarcity and revenue inadequacies due to the reduced tourism, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said in a recent statement that doing so is not yet recommendable. She said “We’re simply not in a position to fully reopen just yet. When we move we will be careful and deliberate because we want to move with confidence and with as much certainty as possible.”
Beginning in early 2022, the government plans to allow vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries to enter New Zealand without having to go through quarantine. People arriving from medium-risk countries will still be subjected to a brief quarantine, while those arriving from high-risk countries will be subjected to the full quarantine.
Part of the reason for the delay in opening borders is that New Zealand’s vaccine rollout is much slower than in other developed countries, with only about a quarter of the population fully vaccinated. 77 percent of eligible Britons, 62 percent of eligible Canadians, and 50% of eligible Americans, on the other hand, are fully vaccinated.
A small number of international students – around 1,250 – have been given the opportunity to complete their studies in New Zealand in 2021 under an exception to current border restrictions. However, according to the Times Higher Education (THE), rather than seizing the opportunity to return, many international students are deciding it isn’t worth it, citing “the rarity and expense of flights, as well as quarantine costs of up to NZ$5,520 per person.” The recovery of New Zealand’s international education sector, like that of all leading destinations, will be largely dependent on government policy.
However, rigid immigration controls, along with evidence suggesting that the government is not eager to bring back large numbers of international students, have put New Zealand educators in worry about their opportunities of enrolling large numbers of students once the pandemic is over. According to media outlet RNZ, a draft government document warns that bringing back large numbers of international students could “worsen housing and teacher shortages, enrich some institutions but not others, and create an over-reliance on students’ fees.”
According to the document, the government will be reviewing international students’ work rights, and students enrolled in non-degree courses may only be able to work in the country after graduation if their jobs meet certain criteria. The document indicates a more rigorous approach to welcoming international students into the country in the future, which is unsurprising given pre-COVID strategies aimed at “rebalancing” New Zealand’s international student enrolments, which were first announced in 2018.