New Zealand immigration policy changes for foreign students

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On 24 October 2007, Immigration Minister David Cunliffe announced changes to New Zealand immigration policy for students wishing to remain in the country as permanent migrants.

From late November, many international students will be able to remain in New Zealand for 12 months, rather than 6, under a job search permit that will allow them to look for skilled work.

"There is increasing competition for skilled graduates and we need to allow them enough time to find a job in their area of expertise here in New Zealand, and not run the risk that they will go elsewhere," Cunliffe said.

The new rules will also allow current graduates in New Zealand on a six month permit to extend it for another six months.

Cunliffe stated that longer extensions would be allowed for architecture and accounting graduates whose discipline requires professional registration only after a certain amount of experience.

"As well, architecture and accounting graduates, who need three years practical experience to achieve professional registration, will be allowed to stay and work in New Zealand for three years without the need to reapply for a work permit," he said.

New Zealand relies on a points-based system to attract highly skilled immigrants. The government actively promotes immigration to the country -- which has been slowing down recently -- in an effort to combat labor shortages in key sectors.

Study supports the new changes

Recent research entitled 'International students: Studying and staying on in New Zealand', examined the study paths of students over a period of almost five years.

According to Cunliffe, the report found that 27 percent of all international students who began their studies between 1999 and 2001 gained residence in New Zealand or remained in the country to work.

"Notably, the majority of the people gaining residence did so through the Skilled/Business immigration stream – which means they are filling those skill gaps in our labor market," he said.

He added that the international education sector is a major contributor to the economy -- worth an estimated NZD $2 billion every year in foreign exchange.

"But this is also about the skills we can benefit from once those students have completed their New Zealand qualifications," he noted.

"It is important that we facilitate residence for qualified international graduates who have experience of living here while they study. In many cases, these are precisely the type of skilled workers we need in New Zealand," Cunliffe said.

Cunliffe said the new rules create an "easier pathway" for students to gain permanent residence.

Changes to Skilled Migrant Category

He also said he would be releasing details in November about the changes to New Zealand's Skilled Migrant Category, announced earlier this year.

"This will include a refined definition of skilled employment and some adjustments to the recognition of qualifications at the lower-end of the quality scale. This will ensure that our skilled residence policies focus on those migrants with an appropriate level of skill and expertise."

"These latest changes will ensure that New Zealand can compete in a global marketplace for the skills and talent we need for our economic transformation," he said.