New Zealand visa concern as student numbers drop

The total number of student visas has reportedly decreased almost 10% in the past year alone, forcing recently appointed Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse to defend his department's efforts to make it easier for international students to come to New Zealand.

Mr Woodhouse said he was setting an 'ambitious target' to double the country's international education industry - already worth NZ$2 billion (£1.1 billion) a year - by 2025.

The minister said this would include changes to health screening, reducing processing times for applications and extending work rights to students.

One industry spokesperson contended that it was the government's failure to clampdown on bogus education establishments that were damaging the country's reputation that had let to the fall in student numbers.

"The shonky establishments have proved far more resilient that the government expected," said Paul Chalmers, spokesperson for the International Education Group.

"The result has been to impact negatively across the majority of great schools."

However, Immigration New Zealand General Manager Stephen Dunstan said the existing visa policy was not to blame in the fall in international students but the continuing recovery in Christchurch following the earthquake as well as a high NZ dollar and a poor global economy.

"The earthquakes have meant a reduction of 36% of international students in the region since 2011," said Mr Dunstan.

"It's important to note there has been a drop in international education student numbers worldwide."

Mr Dunstan added that changes made to the Working Holiday Visa program which allow working holiday makers to study for up to six months meant that many students were not being counted in official figures.

"Student visas are not the same as actual number of enrolments because the data excludes many on visitor visas who enrol in short-term English language courses."

The New Zealand Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy that specialises in helping people apply for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa.