Recently, the pathway available to international students to seek permanent residency in New Zealand through skilled migration category has come under the public scanner. There have been some populist claims alleging that the presence of international students is distorting New Zealand's labour market. Added to this are convenient interpretations of several systematic studies and reports previously recommended to the key decision makers within the government and now made available to the general public, which questions the sanctity of this pathway available to international students towards skilled migration in New Zealand.
Therefore, it becomes easy for government bashers to use statistical data such as that international students now makes up nearly half of New Zealand's skilled migrants—up from 17% in 2006 to 43% last year to corner the government by suggesting that international education is diluting New Zealand's skilled migration system.
This piece seeks to contest some seemingly convenient interpretations of figures and data bolstering public perceptions about the international education and pathway to skilled migration in New Zealand. The objective is to address some glaring gaps in mutual expectations of both New Zealand and international students.
There is no denial of the fact that New Zealand's immigration system, including skilled migration system, should best serve the country’s interest. However, it is also important to note that New Zealand is not the only western, developed country in the world that provides a pathway to international students towards emigrating through skilled migration category. It is a time-tested and widely acknowledged practice around the globe, especially in the Anglospheric world (Australia, Canada, the UK, the US, and New Zealand). Indeed, all around the world, this pathway from international education to skilled migration is treated as a recognition of a quality way of producing skilled and onshore trained workforce.
There is a reason that special points are assigned for education acquired onshore in the point-based immigration system. It serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it brings revenue that accompanies with incoming international students. Simultaneously, it provides New Zealand with access to a skilled workforce that is trained onshore according to the needs and demands of the economy. Contrary to convenient interpretations, the figures indicating a hike in the number of international students making New Zealand's skilled migrants is a testimony to our success in creating an onshore trained skilled workforce. The fact that today we are conveniently choosing to question the value of this onshore trained workforce is like shifting the goal post half way through.
Commonly, the pretext on which this pathway to skilled migration through international education is being questioned is based on some reports seeking to improve our skilled migration system. This again emanates from reports suggesting that low-level diploma education alone or followed by some questionable work experience in New Zealand are not enough to produce a skilled workforce. In this regard, it is submitted that this is a subjective assessment of the entire process and leaves much at the whims of individuals rather than creating a reasonable process of how best to prepare a skilled workforce. The fact that low-level diploma courses are not enough to graduate into a skilled workforce or that some unscrupulous employers are resorting to inflated job titles to support their worker's residency application does not automatically shift the burden on the international students. So why question the pathway to skilled migration currently available to international students instead of improving our systems and processes. It is not fair to international students who after spending thousands of dollars on their education and following the processes laid out to them well in advance much before they make their choices of overseas education destination to be told that the process they have followed is now redundant.
Make no mistake. The point being made here is not about individual cases but of about having a robust system in place much in advance before international students come onshore. The suggestion being made here is that delinking international education with skilled migration pathway entirely, or partly, without giving a fair chance to those who have acquired skills and competencies onshore to meet the benchmark set by the New Zealand government is neither desirable nor a fair outcome. It neither serves the interest of New Zealand nor is fair to students. Alternatively, if the intentions are to defunct this pathway progressively, then there should be valid reasons in the best interest of New Zealand and information clearly communicated to those who are most liable to be affected.
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