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NZ Universities Concerned Over Visa Rejection Of Indian Students

Before the Covid pandemic, international education was the country's fifth-largest export market. Photo: Lincoln University

New Zealand universities have directly engaged with the government about the high student visa rejection rate of Indian applicants in 2024.

Most universities have done so through Universities New Zealand, an organisation representing and advocating for all eight of New Zealand's tertiary institutions.

"At the start of semester one this year, nearly 10 percent of visas to study at a New Zealand university were not yet allocated to an Immigration NZ official for processing, and another 2 percent were still being processed," Chris Whelan, chief executive of Universities New Zealand, said.

Whelan said 18 percent of visas overall were still not confirmed at the start of the term in 2024.

"This meant uncertainty for students, and far too many had their studies impacted by late starts and, once they were able to start, having to deal with the double pressure of familiarising themselves with a new country while catching up on missed studies," he said.

Whelan said such uncertainties were unfair to students and detrimental to New Zealand's reputation as a world-class study destination.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, international education was the country's fifth-largest export market.

"We need to do better for these students if we want this country to enjoy the benefits of international education," Whelan said.

Vic Uni sign

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A spokesperson for Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington was concerned that visa processing delays could affect international students.

"Our vice-chancellor, Nic Smith, has personally reached out to Minister [Erica] Stanford, stressing the urgency of finding a solution," the university spokesperson said.

"In our engagement with the government, we're working closely with all eight universities in New Zealand, as well as key bodies like Universities New Zealand, Education New Zealand and Immigration New Zealand.

"We are committed to working alongside policymakers to ensure that international students can pursue their studies in New Zealand without unnecessary obstacles."

The University of Waikato expressed similar concern.

"Processing times remain a challenge, and we feel the government could do more to reduce visa processing times, which will positively impact our ability to continue to attract high-quality international students to our campuses," a university spokesperson said.

The University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology, Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University, Lincoln University, University of Otago and the University of Canterbury expressed a similar sentiment about visa delays and the high rejection rates.

"Lincoln University is concerned and continues to closely monitor visa clearance rates and wait times," said Damien Lodge, deputy vice-chancellor student life at Lincoln University.

"The university is part of a working group together with Universities New Zealand and all the other New Zealand universities to address issues and collectively present them to the minister of immigration," he said.

Clock tower building on campus

Despite challenges, universities in New Zealand are increasingly engaging with Indian entities to foster more collaboration and attract students to New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

High rejection rate

Immigration New Zealand has rejected about 40 percent of student visa applications from Indian applicants in the first four months of 2024, according to latest statistics from the agency.

The rejection rate has decreased from 49 percent in the first three months of this year.

Between 1 January and 23 April, Immigration New Zealand processed 5018 student visa applications from Indian students, with 2010 rejections and 3008 approvals.

Of the declined applications, 337 had offers from a New Zealand university, 678 from a New Zealand Te Pūkenga provider (polytechnic) and 992 from a private training establishment.

In the same four months, Immigration New Zealand processed 8012 student visa applications from Chinese students, with only 206 visa rejections - a rejection rate of just 2 percent.

Waikato University sign

The University of Waikato says that processing delays continue to pose significant challenges for international students. Photo: CC-BY-SA-2.0 / NZTEU

Efforts to attract Indian market

Meanwhile, universities in New Zealand are increasingly engaging with Indian entities to foster more collaboration and attract students to New Zealand.

In July 2023, a third university was close to signing with Mumbai's Bombay Stock Exchange Institute, opening opportunities for Indian students to study in Aotearoa.

In April, Education New Zealand - the government agency promoting Aotearoa to foreign students - announced that it had joined with the High Commission of India in Wellington to celebrate the growing education connections between the two countries by headlining India as the "country of honour" at the New Zealand International Education Conference, NZEIC KI TUA 2024.

"The decision to select India as the country of honour at NZIEC KI TUA followed significant bilateral engagements between New Zealand and India over the last year," a spokesperson for Education New Zealand said.

"These included the New Zealand-India Connect Initiative in February, where senior members of all eight New Zealand universities joined Education New Zealand in a week-long program of meetings and engagement in India.



"The recognition of India as the country of honour acknowledges this strong relationship and provides a platform for further partnership and development of bilateral relationships," the spokesperson for Education New Zealand said.

According to a 2019 Education New Zealand study, international students contributed $3.7 billion to New Zealand's economy, with a significant portion going to universities.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted this, leading to many universities cutting jobs and forcing the government to introduce funding to help struggling institutions.

In the second half of 2023, the situation improved, and Education New Zealand reported that international student numbers were about two-thirds of the pre-Covid-19 border closure figures.

Visa processing times

"There are various reasons a student visa application may be declined, including that the applicant has not provided sufficient information to show that they meet the visa criteria, such as proof of funds or genuine intentions to study in New Zealand," Celia Coombes, director of Student Visa at Immigration New Zealand, said.

Coombes said that processing student visa applications remained a key focus for Immigration New Zealand.

"We have recently implemented initiatives to help facilitate student visas as quickly as possible, while protecting the integrity of the immigration system," Coombes said.

She said about 90 full-time equivalent workers were assessing student visa applications, but this number fluctuated depending on the volume of applications the agency received.

Coombes said the average processing time for international student visa applications completed between 1 January and 23 April was 31 working days, or six weeks.

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