Taking exception to the broad generalisation of international students as being mere part of temporary migrant workers, Education New Zealand (ENZ) highlights their significant value and contribution to the NZ economy and society.

ENZ was responding to the interim report of the Productivity Commission’s immigration settings enquiry, which had a deadline to make a submission till December 24.

Notably, the government has tasked the Productivity Commission with an all-encompassing enquiry on immigration in 2020, with the stated ambition of resetting the entire immigration sector, following which an initial interim report was released in June 2021.

Subsequently, the commission has invited responses from the members of public and all concerned stakeholders.

ENZ has refuted some of the damning observations suggested in the Productivity Commission’s enquiry about the sector, particularly about the key value of the sector and the question of “absorptivity” within NZ, ostensibly linking it with the perceived strain on social and public infrastructure.

ENZ says that international students should not be characterised as coming to NZ to seek employment, invest or run a business. Rather, international students are motivated by different drivers in deciding whether to come to NZ and are different to other temporary migrants included in the scope of the inquiry.

International students bring foreign exchange to NZ to fund their studies and living costs, which contributes to NZ's economic development.

In 2019, the total value of the international education sector was estimated at $5.23 billion. Tuition fees by international students in NZ accounted for $1.21 billion of the valuation, $4.93 billion came from spending by them in NZ.

The submission also discusses the broad benefits international students deliver for NZ, including regional development, research output, and strengthened bilateral relationships with other countries.

Notably, in recent years, international student sector has felt unwelcome in the country by boisterous public narrative blaming the high pre-Covid net immigration numbers for pressure on public infrastructure including housing sector.

Responding to this suggestion, that seemed to be not refuted effectively in the Productivity Commission’s interim report, ENZ said, “Pressure in the housing market has grown considerably across NZ over recent years [however] There is little evidence to suggest that international students are causing house prices or rents to rise.”

Comparing five different regions of NZ (Canterbury, Otago, Auckland, Wellington and Bay of Plenty) over a seven-year period from 2013 to 2019, the region with the biggest percentage increase in international student numbers (Canterbury, with a 71 percent increase in international students) showed the slowest increase in house prices (21%) and rental prices (just 2 percent).

Other regions with smaller increases in the number of international students had far more pressure on the housing market. This pressure has continued to increase dramatically since December 2019, while the number of international students in the country has significantly decreased over the same period, from approximately 60,000 at any given time in 2019 to approximately 19,000 currently.

Similarly, also refuting the suggestion that an overwhelming number of international students move to apply for long term residency in NZ under the Skilled Migrant Category visa, ENZ said, “49 percent of international students had left NZ after five years and 59 percent of international students left eight years after being in the country.”

ENZ also disagreed with the recommendation that a priority for evaluation should be student work visas. Evaluations relating to international students have previously been undertaken and should be reviewed prior to undertaking further evaluation.

Arguing against the suggested capping on the number of international students to be allowed in the country, ENZ said in its submission, “Not all international students have in-study work rights and any use of those rights should not drive a decision to limit the number and/or type of international students to come to New Zealand without understanding the broader benefits of international education as outlined in the International Education Strategy.”

The full report of ENZ’s submission to the Productivity Commission is available here: Sub-138-Education-New-Zealand.pdf (productivity.govt.nz)