international postgraduate students
Is this a small step towards the reopening of New Zealand’s borders to international students? Source: Sanka Vidanagama/AFP

New Zealand’s borders will be reopening to a small number of international postgraduate students soon, but their numbers will be fewer than originally announced by the government last month. Universities New Zealand, which represents the country’s eight universities, said 194 eligible students have been contacted and will now start their visa process, reported RNZ

It said the students are from China, the UK, the US, India, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Italy and France and it will take up to another month to know whether all students are able to come. Previously, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced in October 2020 that it will reopen borders for 250 international students to continue their postgraduate studies in New Zealand, with the first batch likely to arrive in November, and the rest next year.

New Zealand’s borders have been closed to almost all foreign travellers for the better part of the year; the country temporarily suspended applications for temporary visas from outside New Zealand on Aug. 10, 2020. Hipkins said this new exception “is a balanced decision that recognises the vital role international education will play in the recovery and rebuild of New Zealand and the need to continue the fight against the pandemic.”

Universities New Zealand said the actual number is less than the original quota because the criteria for selection are very strict. International students need to have a visa and be enrolled to study at a university in 2020. Their research needs to involve a practical component such as medicine, veterinary, engineering, laboratory sciences and they would not be able to progress or complete their studies unless they were in New Zealand, said the report.

International postgraduate students outside New Zealand’s borders risk losing scholarships

The reopening of New Zealand’s borders to a small number of international students is still a source of frustration for many postgraduate students who are stuck outside of New Zealand. On Twitter, there is a “#waiting_for_NZ_visa” and “#let_phd_students_enter” hashtag campaign by international students who are still unable to return to New Zealand. The suspension of temporary visas from outside New Zealand did not sit well with many students who risk losing their scholarships or who are unable to continue studying remotely. 

One Twitter user Saghaarr said, “Putting so much effort and time into winning a NZ university scholarship, yet I am frustrated over losing my PhD offer because of delayed visa procedures.” Another user who goes by the moniker masoud70701 said, “We #iranian_students have scholarship offers from prestigious universities in #NZ, however, we are still #waiting_for_NZ_visa more than 6 months. Plz support us.”

User Khsa1104 said, “Although respecting NZ visa strategies under the pandemic situation, most of our visa applications go way back before the COVID-19 outbreak. So, this waiting is unfair.”A Twitter account, Supporting Offshore NZ PhD students, said, “Online learning does not work for researchers. They have to continue their education in NZ. They also can be easily managed for isolation. Please support and #let_phd_students_enter.”