Unis should ‘put more pressure’ on the gov’t, says student locked out of New Zealand

New Zealand border restrictions
The strict New Zealand border restrictions have left students like Juan L (name changed upon request) from Chile in despair. Source: Mark Mitchell/AFP

The New Zealand border restrictions have earned the ire of thousands of international students who continue to be locked out of the country for close to two years.

In December 2021, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the country’s borders will remain closed until the end of February. The government, however, announced yesterday that the MIQ lottery system — the only pathway home for overseas citizens and visa holders — would be temporarily paused, citing the risk of the Omicron variant.

The strict New Zealand border restrictions have left students like Juan L (name changed upon request) from Chile in despair. 

At 44, this University of Auckland student has made big sacrifices to study in New Zealand. This includes leaving his job, renting out his house, selling his furniture and even removing his kids from school to pursue his study abroad dream. We talk to him about his thoughts on the New Zealand border restrictions and how it has affected him:

Where does your interest to study digital security come from?

I like IT security and it’s what I’ve been working on for over 15 years. I chose to study this in New Zealand because of the quality of life indicators, the scenery, the security, the climate, the education and the cultural diversity.

What’s the biggest challenge in dealing with the New Zealand border restrictions? 

The uncertainty of not knowing when the New Zealand border restrictions will lift. While I was preparing to leave my home country in April 2020, I rented out my house, sold my furniture and everything in it, quit my job and withdrew my children from their school.

What’s your advice for other foreign students dealing with being stranded outside New Zealand?

Considering the very bad communication, I would try to forget about it and try and live life again. This has been really hard because of all the changes with their plans for the reopening, but I think it’s the best choice you have.

What are your thoughts on the New Zealand border restrictions and the country’s three-tier COVID-19 system?

Although these tight measures have worked for the country, the New Zealand border restrictions have gone too far. One cannot live in a bubble forever and eventually we’ll have to live with the pandemic and an endemic. 

My master’s starts in March 2023 and I think the New Zealand border restrictions will lift in the middle of next year.

What has your uni done to support you?

In my opinion, definitely not enough and there’s a huge lack of communication. Unis should put more pressure on the government to reopen in phases for international students who are enrolled for programmes for at least a year. 

What backup plan do you have?

Honestly, I don’t have one. I’ve been doing some research on Australia but nothing too concrete. New Zealand is my one and only option at this moment but if nothing happens next year, I may consider Australia.

Do you have any advice for international students who want to study in New Zealand?

I’ve been through some really tough times so I wouldn’t recommend anyone applying to study in New Zealand at this point. The uncertainty is quite difficult to live with — Canada is one of the most student-friendly countries that could be an option.