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Student Visa Declines: Indians Worse Off Than Sri Lankans

Visa approvals for offshore Indian students plummeted to near bottom in the 17 months to December 2023, new immigration data shows. 

Between August 2022 and December 2023, two in every five offshore applications from Indian students were rejected, a decline rate worse than Sri Lanka where three out of four applications were successful.



The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment last week released data on student visa applications filed via offshore education agents from the 10 countries it considers to be “high risk”. This data does not include Licensed Immigration Advisers based out of New Zealand.

The only country worse off than India was Nepal, which ranked at the bottom with only one in four applications ever making it through. China topped the list with an approval rate of 95 per cent, followed by Thailand and Colombia at about 94 per cent. 

Despite the low approval rate, Indian students were still the biggest cohort in absolute numbers–with 4,926 successful applicants–followed by China at 4,419. 

The latest approval rates for student visa applications from India are in stark contrast to 2018 when nearly 77 per cent of the applications were successful, and even 2017 when the approval rate stood at 70 per cent.

The data release will only exacerbate anxiety among the scores of Indian students who are hoping to study in New Zealand, with thousands of applicants already facing an uncertain future as student visa applications are piling on faster than Immigration New Zealand (INZ) can process.

Official data shows as of February 18, 2024, nearly nine in every 10 student visa applications from India were pending a final decision. The global number was slightly better, with seven in 10 applications awaiting a decision.

Vandana Rai of Auckland-based Immigration Advisers New Zealand Limited points out it’s not like the applications being rejected are sub par. 

“This is an issue that affects even the most qualified applicants with sound financial profiles aiming for high-value courses,” she says. 

“Drawing from our experience across various markets, it is evident that, as of the current date, a Sri Lankan student with a comparable academic, professional, and financial background stands a better chance of receiving visa approval than an Indian counterpart.”

Vandana says declines like these have created widespread uncertainty among many Indian students, especially when immigration officials aren’t clearly saying why they have declined a particular application.  

“They have begun issuing templated decline letters without providing any rationale, mostly citing vague reasons like lack of ‘bonafide’ intent. This has significantly damaged New Zealand's educational reputation, especially among high-value international students.”

Vandana says it’s time New Zealand acknowledges it competes with other nations when it comes to international students, and the adverse impact of Immigration New Zealand’s “disdainful handling” of student visa applications undermines Education New Zealand’s “wonderful efforts” to promote brand New Zealand throughout the year, investing millions of taxpayer’s money.

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