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Are international students taking jobs from Kiwis?

08 March 2021 | news

University study is hard work. And for many university students, it’s made harder by having to work to cover living expenses.

Understanding how students cope with their work and study commitments is important for those managing and making policy in the tertiary sector. Universities New Zealand has investigated the issue, using data gleaned from the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI).

So how many students do actually work alongside their study? How much do they make? And do international students really take jobs from domestic students? 

In 2019, more than 110,000 domestic students were employed at any time during the year, whereas only 11,460 international students were employed. Domestic students also tend to work more hours per week than international students across the year.

More domestic university students juggle study and work (81%) than students enrolled at other tertiary providers (between 66-75%). However, students at polytechnics and wānanga tend to work more hours than those at university and earn a higher annual income.   This is largely explained by the fact that a much larger proportion of polytechnic and wānanga students are studying part time while already in the workforce.

For international students, however, the opposite is true – fewer international university students work while studying (37%) when compared to international students enrolled at other tertiary providers (54-66%). Student visas for international students are issued only to those enrolled in full-time study. About 18% of international students at universities are enrolled part time (fewer than 2000 students a year). Most international students in employment are on work or other non-student visas, and have obtained special permission or varied the condition of their visas to allow them to study.

Visa requirements

The requirement for international students to be enrolled full-time and have the means to cover their cost of living in New Zealand is one of many conditions of a student visa. Most international students do not work, even if they have the opportunity to do so. And if they do work, they work fewer hours per week than domestic students.

Domestic university students are mostly employed in: retail trade (18.6%); accommodation and food services (13.6%); education and training (11.9%); and health care and social assistance (11.4%).

International university students are mostly employed in accommodation and food services (32.6%); education and training (17.9%); and retail trade (12.2%).

Not surprisingly, there’s a seasonal employment pattern for full-time university students. More work during summer months (November to February) and July than during months coinciding with semesters 1 and 2, while students at other tertiary providers have relatively stable employment rates throughout the year. This suggests that summer months and the mid-year break are an opportunity for full-time university students to generate extra income to support themselves during the core university teaching periods.

Table 1 below presents the employment rates, estimated annual hours of work on minimum wage and industry’s entry level wages, average annual income from wages and salaries for tertiary students by enrolled subsectors.

Table 1: Employment summary for domestic and international students by tertiary subsectors in 2019

  Domestic students International students 
Universities Polytechnics Wānanga PTEs Universities Polytechnics PTEs
All 136,062 129,024 32,202 41,763 31,089 17,016 7,644
Number employed 110,817 96,288 22,296 27,657 11,460 11,181 4,155
Percentage employed anytime during 2019 81% 75% 69% 66% 37% 66% 54%
Mean annual income  24,249 36,448 47,312 23,204 9,635 18,728 12,972
Estimated annual hours worked on minimum wage 1,370 2,059 2,673 1,311 544 1,058 733
Estimated annual hours worked on industry's entry level wage 1,073 1,601 2,053 1,020 442 848 &599
Main industry worked in (%)  100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Accommodation & Food Services (%) 13.6 9.5 4.6 14.6 32.6 29.8 36.9
Administrative & Support Services (%) 4.8 5.3 5.1 8.8 7.8 10.7 9.0
Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing (%) 3.2 4.9 3.2 4.8 2.3 6.6 6.1
Arts & Recreation Services (%) 3.3 2.3 2.5 2.6 1.6 1.2 1.7
Construction (%) 2.5 12.1 3.4 3.4 1.7 4.6 1.7
Education & Training (%) 11.9 9.1 27.7 16.2 17.9 2.0 8.2
Electricity, Gas, Water & Waste Services (%) 0.4 0.7 0.7 0.4 s s s
Financial & Insurance Services (%) 1.7 1.4 1.6 0.9 0.8 0.5 0.8
Health Care &  Social Assistance (%) 11.4 12.2 15.7 11.0 2.7 11.1 8.2
Information Media &  Telecomms (%) 1.6 1.0 1.2 0.8 1.2 0.5 0.4
Manufacturing (%) 4.7 7.8 4.7 5.7 3.6 4.0 2.7
Mining (%)   0.1 0.3 0.1 0.1 s s s
Other Services (%)   2.2 3.9 4.5 4.2 1.7 2.2 2.4
Professional, Scientific &  Technical Services (%)   8.9 5.9 5.3 5.4 6.2 3.5 2.5
Public Administration & Safety (%)   4.7 4.9 9.3 3.2 1.6 1.9 2.0
Rental, Hiring & Real Estate Services (%)   1.3 1.3 1.0 0.8 0.9 0.8 0.8
Retail Trade (%)   18.6 11.3 4.7 12.2 12.2 16.1 11.6
Transport, Postal & Warehousing (%)   1.8 2.8 2.4 2.4 1.8 1.7 1.7
Wholesale Trade (%)   3.0 3.1 2.1 2.4 2.5 2.1 1.9
Source: Universities New Zealand, Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI). Notes: Counts are rounded for confidentiality purposes. ‘Employed’ is defined as earned at least 1 NZ dollar in wages and salaries during 2019. Minimum wage was 16.50 dollars before 1 April and 17.70 dollars after 1  April 2019. Industry entry-level wage are average wages for age group 20-24 from Household Labour Force Survey (2019).

Young (aged 24 or below) Bachelor’s students represent about half of the university student population. Weekly working hours were estimated using monthly income and industry-specific hourly rates for the 20-24 age group.

For a 15-point undergraduate course, the expected study load is 150 hours spread over 15 roughly weeks, or about 10 hours per week. For a full-time student enrolled in three to four courses in a semester, the weekly expected study load is about 30-40 hours per week. For part-time students enrolled in two courses, the expected study load per week would be about 10-20 hours.

Full-time domestic students doing a Bachelor’s course typically spend 30-40 hours on study and about 10-13 hours in paid employment during a typical semester week, while full-time international students typically spend 30-40 hours per week on study and about 9-11 hours per week working. Most of this work is concentrated over the summer and mid-semester breaks.

Over 60% of young part-time domestic students studying a Bachelor’s course also work and their employment rate is relatively constant through the year. They typically spend 10-20 hours per week studying and about 18-25 hours per week at work.

But fewer than 20% of part-time international students work (11-17 hours) while studying (10-20 hours).

So, are international students taking jobs from New Zealanders?

According to information published by Government agency Education New Zealand, there were 115,713 international students in New Zealand before Covid, creating 48,800 jobs for New Zealanders. That means, one job for New Zealanders for every 2.3 international students on average.

By contrast, the total number of hours worked by international students equates to an average of just 180 hours of work per student per year. Divide that 180 hours into a typical 1960-hour working year and you can estimate that every 10.9 international students collectively work the equivalent of one full time job.

So no, international students are not taking jobs from New Zealanders. They create five full time equivalent (FTE) jobs for each FTE job they occupy. And the jobs they take are overwhelmingly part-time, short-term and/or casual jobs in lower-paid sectors such as retail and hospitality.

Background to the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) data

The IDI, managed by Statistics New Zealand, links tax administrative data with tertiary enrolment data from the Ministry of Education. Tax data contains monthly total gross income for all New Zealanders.

UNZ used IDI data for insights into how university students manage work and study, looking at employment patterns of domestic and international university students, focusing on young students enrolled in Bachelor degree studies.

Tax data tells us how many students work during the year or month, from this, the student employment rate can be calculated. How much time students spend in paid work is not available in the IDI, but can be estimated. For young Bachelor’s students, we assume that they are employed at the average hourly rates for 20-24-year-olds working in the same industry, as reported in the 2019 Household Labour Economic survey.[1] Using the industry and age-group specific rates we can estimate hours of work by dividing taxable income by the rates. We have used 2019 data, which is unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


[1] Hourly rates are obtained from the Household Labour Force Survey (June quarter of 2019), extracted from Statistics NZ tool, NZ. Stats available on