Delta variant detected in New Zealand: What students should know

international students in New Zealand
Many international students in New Zealand have been locked out of the country since last March, and are not expected to return until 2022. Source: Mark Mitchell/Pool/AFP

International students in New Zealand universities should brace for another year of being kept out of the country despite its previous six-months virus-free track record.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently confirmed New Zealand was dealing with the highly transmissible Delta variant linked to the outbreak in Australia that authorities have been struggling to contain. 

According to reports, the country will go into national lockdown for three days. Auckland, where the first case was detected, is scheduled to be in lockdown for a week. Here’s how these new developments are set to impact international students in New Zealand.

What international students in New Zealand should know

Many international students in New Zealand have been locked out of the country since last March. New Zealand has maintained a hard stance against international arrivals.

In May, a Navitas Agent Perception Research found that agents see little prospect for international students to travel to the country in 2021. Earlier in the year, the government approved two border exceptions for students: one for 250 PhD and postgraduate students and another 1,000 for returning bachelor and postgraduate students. 

On its website, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said it had suspended visa processing for most individuals who are outside the country. The government has extended the suspension to Feb. 6, 2022.

“The suspension can be lifted if the border restrictions change,” it said. “Immigration New Zealand will continue to process visas for those who are not subject to the COVID-19 border restrictions, and for those who have been granted a border exception.”

Aspiring international students in New Zealand still don’t have a timeframe when they can return. Education Minister Chris Hipkins was quoted saying by RNZ last week that he did not know when large-scale international student arrivals might resume. He warned that the start of 2022 might be much the same as the start of this year — when very few students were allowed into the country.

“Student visa applicants who are outside New Zealand can study online without a visa,” INZ notes. “When New Zealand’s border restrictions are lifted, you can provide evidence of your online study to support your visa application. If you choose to study online in your home country first, you will still need to meet standard student visa requirements to be granted a student visa.” 

international students in New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a nationwide alert level 4 lockdown. Could this put a spanner in the works for international students in New Zealand? Source: Marty Melville/AFP

Virus outbreak expected to grow

While international students in New Zealand are not expected to return until 2022, the country’s response to the pandemic is among the best in the world, according to a Bloomberg survey. New Zealand has recorded only 26 COVID-19 deaths in a population of five million since the start of the pandemic, reported AFP. Ardern said investigators were trying to work out how the man caught the strain linked to Australia.

On Wednesday (August 18), after nine more positive tests were detected, Ardern said that the country must brace for additional COVID-19 cases. She said the rapid rise, taking the total number of cases to 10, justified her decision to issue nationwide stay-at-home orders Tuesday (August 17) when one case was identified.

She said one of the new cases was a nurse at Auckland Hospital and another was a teacher at a high school — both are high-risk environments for rapidly spreading the virus. “We’re expecting more,” she was quoted saying as officials revealed modelling predicting there could already be up to 120 cases in the community linked to the cluster.

international students in New Zealand

Aspiring international students in New Zealand still don’t have a timeframe when they can return. Source: Marty Melville/AFP

“Our case has originated in Australia, now the job we have is to work through how and when it got here,” she said. “The natural place to start is to look at our managed isolation (border) facilities.”

Ardern was confident that even with more cases, her government’s strategy of eliminating the virus would succeed rather than just containing it. “Yes, Delta poses a greater threat, but the same tools that have worked before will do so again if we follow the rules,” she said. Ardern said wastewater testing in Auckland had detected no sign of the virus, giving cause for optimism.