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Employment rights for international students benefit NZ, says UNZ

02 December 2020 | media

Universities New Zealand strongly disputes the NZIER’s claim [Could do better – Migration and New Zealand’s frontier firms] that eliminating employment rights for international students would benefit New Zealand.

“The long-term reputational and financial impact on New Zealand would exceed any short-term benefits to New Zealanders,” says Universities New Zealand’s Chief Executive Chris Whelan.

“Being able to get work experience makes New Zealand an attractive destination for international students—even though many students do not end up working while they study here. And these skilled students make an incredibly important contribution to our economy, particularly through research, drivers of innovation and job creation in our economy.

“International students who do work while studying tend to end up working in sectors such as hospitality, retail and food. These are not jobs that are likely to be eliminated by capital intensification or investment in technology, suggested by the report’s authors as the answer to New Zealand’s ‘low productivity’.

“These are sectors where wages are low, work is casual or insecure, and where there is usually a shortage of New Zealanders wanting work.

“As well as the cultural enrichment international students offer to the institutions they are part of, they create many more permanent jobs for New Zealanders than they fill themselves. In 2019, for example, international students support 45,000 jobs in New Zealand. And, according to Education New Zealand-commissioned economic analysis, the average ‘value’ of each international student that studies in a New Zealand university is around $320,000.

“The revenue they generate for universities helps relieve the pressure on the broader funding system; they increase the scope of courses our universities can offer to domestic students, making smaller programmes viable where  domestic enrolments alone would be insufficient.

“International students who graduate and return home are net promoters of New Zealand. They recommend it to other international students, they promote tourism, and they are more likely to trade with and carry out joint research with us.

“Post-study work rights for our university graduates give them the opportunity to experience the work environment in New Zealand and to consider whether to pursue a transition to skilled migration. Only about 30% of the international students do stay in NZ after their PSWR, they fill the gap of our NZ graduates that go overseas after graduation.

“The international education system is driven by principles of reciprocity. If New Zealand prevents international students from working while they study, there is significant potential that overseas governments and agents will recommend that their citizens avoid New Zealand. It will adversely affect New Zealand’s reputation as a welcoming, friendly place to study and the willingness of overseas universities to organise work experience for New Zealanders studying abroad.

“These international graduates are the higher-skilled migrants sought by the world’s knowledge economies and offering work rights while studying and post-study work visas for PhD students studying here benefits the students, the universities they study at and New Zealand as a whole.

“International education requires stability in work-right settings. Long-term labour market needs can and should be managed through adjustments to skilled migration policies rather than changes to student work rights during and immediately after study.”