International students from India would be at the centre of new immigration policy under the Labour-led government going by mainstream media reports.

An NZ Herald report of January 29, quotes Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway saying that he wants to close the "back door" path to residency.

The Labour-led Government has campaigned for improving the integrity of the immigration system to make sure international education system is focused on quality education for genuine students, and to remove the "back door" path to residency for lower-qualified international students.

However, there are concerns that the new Immigration Minister Ian Lees-Galloway had received or continues to receive, briefings from the Department of Immigration New Zealand (INZ) suggesting that students from India are the biggest lot that exploits the “back door” path to residency so conveniently made available by the department.

It is apparent that the Indian students are facing an institutional bias from INZ – an anomaly – that the new Immigration Minister should rectify, and not perpetuate.

This is when INZ’s website has for years referred to Student Visas and Graduate Work Visas as a “pathway to residency” – something which is now conveniently termed as “back door” path to residency as public opinion on immigration started to turn sour.

The NZ Herald report cites a collective ministerial briefing received from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment from November, released under the Official Information Act, stating that migration pattern of international students from India was a concern.

The briefing papers argue that students from India, in particular, show a higher rate of transition from student visa to permanent residency, "suggesting that students from some markets may be more driven by migration prospects than education quality when choosing to study in New Zealand".

It is not clear if the report only cites migration pattern of Indian students or from other markets as well, however, for now, there are concerns about the blatant, and to an extent, disparaging bias, that INZ has toward Indian students. 

In the absence of clarity, whether the new Immigration Minister has been briefed about comparable migration patterns of international students from source destinations other than India, it appears that the damage has been done toward perpetuating the bias against Indian students in New Zealand.

There is already a steep decline in the number of applications received from international students from India from 25,977 in 2015 to only 9429 in 2017.

Immigration Law Specialist Alastair McClymont of McClymont & Associates acknowledges the concern and says, “What disappoints me about this [briefings to the Minister] again is that INZ is seeking to put the blame on Indian students.

“We all know that Education Agents in India promote international education in New Zealand on the basis of work rights and a pathway to residence.

“This marketing is done in conjunction between Immigration New Zealand and Education New Zealand.

“Representatives from these government agencies sit in education fairs in India with education agents and actively promote work rights and residency pathways.

“Yet when it becomes politically unacceptable, INZ washes its hands of its own complicity and attempts to persuade the new Minister that the students are exploiting the system by applying for residency.

“Indian students are a convenient scapegoat which INZ and the government must carry responsibility for,” Mr McClymont asserts.

Simultaneously, what is also damaging for international students in general is that this briefing says the growth in international student numbers potentially pushed out New Zealand workers and suppressed wages, without any data and evidence to back it up.

Time to correct public perception about “back door” to residency

Given the fact that popular sentiments against immigration have turned southward in recent times for reasons right or wrong, it is high time to dispel the perception against Indian students for exploiting so-called “back door” to residency.

If it was a “door” then it has to be deemed as a “front door,” duly opened by the government of the day and operated by INZ.

The letters issued by INZ on graduate study work visa approval for applicants, until some time ago use to duly state “Pathway to Residence – Skilled Migrant Category.”

A screenshot of visa approval letter issued by INZ encouraging Graduate Work Visa as a pathway to residence in New Zealand (Picture: Supplied)

In fact, approval letters issued now are also mentioning exactly the same as confirmed by Mr McClymont.

The students from India had been only taking advantage of opportunities, duly made available to them by the government and INZ.