The Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has confirmed this week that the earlier proposed immigration changes in post-study work rights of international students are to go-ahead and be implemented from November 26.

As expected, the policy changes are expected to affect the number of international students coming to the country.

One of the major policy change proposed is of repealing the employer assisted post-study work visas at all level of courses.

However, there is not much clarity yet about what it actually means for the international students.

Essentially, the question that needs more clarification is how post-study work visas will operate in the new setting and what would it entitle the applicant, especially if they choose to seek residency in the country.

In the current settings, post-study employer-assisted work visas are meant to give applicants (who have earlier completed international education in NZ) an opportunity to get relevant experience and points that support residence applications

Current settings of post-study work rights for international students

Under the current ‘Study to Work’ pathway for international students who have completed their qualification in New Zealand were eligible for:

  • an initial one-year open work visa: this entitles the international student to work in any role for any Employer;
  • then a two-year employer-assisted work visa: this entitles the student to work in a role in the same area as their qualification.

This rule applied broadly to international students who have completed a qualification that is either, a Level 4-6 qualification that involved a single course in New Zealand of 60 weeks or a Level 7 or higher qualification.

The points gained during this two-year employer-assisted work visas helped former international students with valuable points in their application for permanent residence under the skilled migration category.

New settings to be implemented from November 26 2018

Under new settings,

  • International students below level 7 qualification will only get 1-year post-study work visa.
  • International students for degree level 7 or above qualifications will get 3-year post-study work visas (without the requirement of sponsorship from any particular employer).


It implies that a student undertaking degree level 7 or above education will get three-year post-study work visas without any requirement of being sponsored by a particular employer.

International students in level 4-6 education will only get 1 year post study work visas, unless they choose to study out of Auckland, which will entitle them to get 2 year post-study work visa.

This announcement implies that these students in level 5-6 courses will not have enough points to progress towards permanent residency, thus requiring either studying again in a higher degree or applying for essential skill work visas – which can potentially be a source of exacerbated exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

The government have not entirely taken away the opportunity from these students to avail successive work visas, including essential skills, work visas, and possibly permanent residency in the country.

Thereby government’s latest changes can potentially create a new section of international students from level 5-6 courses, who will be more desperate after losing the 3 year post-study work visas, and thereby more susceptible for being dragged into exploitation on the pretext of getting essential skills work visa to remain legitimately in the country and still pursue the elusive dream of getting permanent residency.

Thus leaving options for them to apply for essential skill work visas – which require labour market test and proof from the employer that they have genuinely sought to employ local New Zealanders for the job – essentially meaning more cost for the employers to hire someone on essential skill work visas.

The chances are that following this announcement, which if believed at Government’s face value, is intended to cull the exploitation of international students, will fail to achieve the desired goal, and on the contrary end up exacerbating the level of exploitation of international students.