There cannot be anything more hurtful than to find New Zealand deciding to turn its back on post-study work visa holders locked out of its borders, just on the day when Australia welcomes that unfortunate group back with open arms.
Sadly, January 19, 2021, has brought two starkly different sets of news for the same group of migrants – post-study work visa holders – who were unfortunately caught on the wrong side of the borders when the world hunkered down in March 2020 as the pandemic hit.
While the NZ government firmed up snubbing this unfortunate segment of temporary visa holders with a firm no-extension of their expired visas, the Australian government, on the other hand, announced an extension of visas for the same category of temporary migrant workers.
In news that shattered many hopes and dreams of temporary migrant workers locked out of NZ borders for no fault of theirs, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi told the Indian Weekender on Wednesday, January 19, that there was no plan for the extension of temporary visas of migrants currently offshore (which includes Post-study work visa holders).
In complete contrast, the Australian government has on the same day announced an extension of Temporary Graduate (Subclass 485 Visa) from next month, which will allow all visa holders who held a Temporary Graduate visa that visa expired between February 1, 2020, and December 14, 2021, inclusive of re-entering the country.
NZ’s post-study work visa and Australia’s Temporary Graduate (Subclass 485 Visa) are a similar category of visas, which provides unfettered work rights for a broad two-year period to those who have completed onshore international studies in the respective countries.
Post-study work rights are integral and often the most decisive component of the entire marketing package delivered by different host nations, including NZ and Australia, in the key international student markets like India.
In previous years, when countries like the United Kingdom – an erstwhile popular international education destination – have erred to remove the post-study work rights – the market had punished it badly, resulting in mass-flight of students to other markets, particularly to destinations like NZ and boosting its export education industry – an industry that was thriving at $5 billion annual revenue and supporting 50,000 local jobs in the pre-Covid era.
International students tend to see the two-year post-study work rights (visas) as a quid pro quo arrangement with the host country, in lieu of opting to pay exponentially high prices for the education courses, and most of the countries have enough institutional understanding of the need for two-year work visas.
Often those two years of work visa rights provide visiting international students with an opportunity to gain overseas work experience and upskill them in the areas of critical skill shortage in case they choose to take further steps towards living and working long term in the host country.
The two-year post-study work visa has also been an opportunity to earn some income and put it towards the initial capital investment in their respective international studies (which is on average tens of thousands of dollars or more).
Governments and authorities of the host nations are also aware of these acute needs of the international students for an unfettered work visa right, including NZ, and often incentivise them with an additional year of work visa right for opting to study in distant regional, rural educational centres and support the regional economy.
In NZ’s case, international students opting to study outside of Auckland are often offered an additional year of post-study work visa rights.
Most sensible nations, with a commitment toward the long-term interest of their respective nations, tend to nurture the international student market – which is often developed after years of persistent work and maximised opportunities when presented overseas and avoid any knee-jerk decisions.
They are not even distracted by major disruptions beyond their control, including this latest global Covid-19 pandemic, and have shown an inclination to restore normalcy as soon as they come in a position to do so safely and without compromising broader health and safety goals.
Though most international students studying in any major global education destination have been realistic about not being a priority for governments consumed in ensuring the safety of their own people and other migrants onshore, most nations have not let them down and have opened the doors, even if in some staggered manner.
And this has not necessarily been on purely altruistic or compassionate grounds, but the decisions have been fully embedded in the “real interests” – the interest of ensuring an unfettered supply of skilled workforce.
Except of course NZ, which has neither shown the compassion to honour the time-tested post-study work visa rights nor has shown the practicality and the foresight of preserving a pool of skilled workforce, educated and trained locally, for the country’s labour-starved business sector.
Driven by its narrow vision, this sixth-Labour government has ended the road for a segment of temporary migrant workers, who were in the most miserable and desperate situation.
It remains to be seen how much this will dent NZ’s long-term reputation of a welcoming international education destination, but it certainly does not do any justice to a Prime Minister who has built enough political capital on “kindness.”
This is not Kind, Jacinda.