return to New Zealand
Based on an open letter Hipkins penned in May, the government cannot promise students any specific timeframes for entry in 2022. Source: Marty Melville/AFP

International students are not expected to return to New Zealand soon. New Zealand education minister Chris Hipkins told attendees during The International Education Forum 2021 in Auckland on July 12 that there have been no major amendments to the current plans in allowing international students to enter New Zealand again, reported The PIE News.

“Our top priority continues to be the health, safety and wellbeing of all people in New Zealand,” Hipkins was quoted saying. “The students will return to New Zealand in phases, beginning with a cohort of 300 that will be able to return from April, with the remaining students returning throughout the year as ‘Managed isolation and quarantine’ (MIQ) availability allows.”

MIQ helps New Zealanders and international travellers travel or return to New Zealand. They also manage the Managed Isolation Allocation System, an online portal for everyone travelling to New Zealand to secure their place in a managed isolation facility before they board their flight.

The government previously announced that up to 1,000 bachelor and postgraduate students might be eligible for an exemption to their border restrictions if they hold, or have held, a visa to study in New Zealand and have been nominated by their education provider. Last year, they also established a category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand and continue their studies.

However, fewer than 200 students out of the planned 1,000 were reportedly allowed into the country more than half a year into the recovery plan. This is largely attributed to the drawn-out application process, lack of spots in New Zealand’s MIQ spaces, and confusion when it came to eligibility, said The PIE News.

International students are not expected to return to New Zealand until at least 2022 as the country is not currently processing offshore visa applications until Feb. 2022. Source: Marty Melville/AFP

Students not expected to return to New Zealand until 2022?

Hipkins had previously penned an open letter in May to education bodies and representatives in the country, saying they will continue to support the return of students while border restrictions are in place. “I welcome the sector’s assistance on getting the approved 1,250 students back in New Zealand by July 2021. To support their re-entry, we have recently ring-fenced MIQ places for 400 of these students in June 2021. Depending on the outcomes of this group MIQ booking, further ring-fencing of MIQ places for international students could be considered,” he said. 

He added, “While we cannot promise students any specific timeframes for entry in 2022, it is important that we are ready to act quickly when the opportunity arises. Offshore online education provision offers new opportunities for diversification, and I am supportive of students currently committed to eventual study in New Zealand being able to commence tertiary study offshore. At the same time, we need to ensure we continue to deliver high-quality international education onshore in New Zealand.”

Immigration New Zealand notes that they have suspended visa processing for most individuals outside New Zealand unless they meet the strict border exception criteria or are currently in a COVID-19 quarantine-free travel zone.  

“The government has extended the suspension to Feb. 6, 2022. The suspension can be lifted if the border restrictions change. 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,” it said online.

Previously, the third installment of the Navitas Agent Perception Research found that agents see little prospect for travel to Australia and New Zealand in 2021. They are reticent about international students’ prospects to return to New Zealand or Australia in early 2022, given their hard borders.

Just 4% consider it almost certain that travel to either Australia or New Zealand will be possible in the second half of 2021. Ten times as many agents consider it almost certain that students would be able to travel to Canada (39%) or the UK (45%).