NEW ZEALAND EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL LTD

  • Max Bradford
Tertiary Education

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

As I'm sure you're well aware, students from overseas enrich our country. They bring with them not just financial benefits to New Zealand, but the diversity of their different cultures and through this the opportunity for all who come into contact with them to increase our understanding of the world.

In turn, the students who study in New Zealand take away with them not only their education - and the high level of skills and academic training New Zealand offers - but in their hearts, New Zealand and the friendships they make here will always remain special. This is of immense benefit to New Zealand for far longer than the time students spend here. This lasting value is the understanding of our country and culture, and the relationships built here by young people who may well go on to become leaders in their own countries.

These links are important for people and for businesses operating in a world which is becoming increasingly globalised as traditional boundaries are broken by trade, new technology and new ideas.

Strong educational links with overseas countries help New Zealand's international competitiveness by educating our future workforce to be aware of culture diversity and global economic and social forces shaping society.

The Government is very aware of the positive social and economic contribution overseas students make to New Zealand.

There are a number of reasons why New Zealand is an ideal destination for international students

our schools, polytechnics, universities and private education institutes have an excellent international reputation;

we are a friendly and ethnically diverse people - non-intimidating and tolerant;

our English is closer to British English than to American English and this is seen as an advantage;

we value long term links with other countries through education, families, business and trade;

we have a low cost, high standard of living; and

we are a clean, green country which loves its outdoors - a country the size of Japan with less than 4 per cent of the population - offering students a variety of new experiences.
In return, we fully recognise the important contribution foreign students make to New Zealand.

One of the Government's key aims in immigration policy is economic growth through international linkages and skills.

What better example of this than the international student market. It has the potential to create further jobs in New Zealand, enhance the quality of our educational services, increase our foreign exchange earnings and foster international linkages.

Education is also a valuable export industry for New Zealand.

The latest figures estimate that our education services earn New Zealand somewhere between $350 million and $500 million a year in foreign exchange (depending on whether you take a conservative or generous estimate).

Look at the comparisons with, for example (Statistics New Zealand figures in the year to 30 June 1998):

wood pulp exports $357.1 million
vegetable exports $331.7

Or from a different perspective, New Zealand's merchandise exports (Statistics New Zealand figures in the year to 30 June 1998) to overseas markets such as:

Belgium were $467.2 million
Malaysia $439.4 million
Italy $392.7 million
Singapore $386.8 million
The Philippines $298.7 million
Canada $280.4 million
Russia $258.6 million

Education is a growing global market. New Zealand was a late entry into it, and we have to make up for lost time. The growth in overseas students studying in New Zealand has compounded in recent years at 30 per cent per annum - although this has slowed considerably more recently.

But in spite of this success, looking at our position internationally shows there is plenty of potential for us to do better. According to the most recent OECD figures (1995 figures published in 1997) New Zealand's share of international students is just 0.45 per cent of global international tertiary students. Australia's share is 6.64 per cent fourteen times the number of overseas students we attract - with an economy approximately five times the size of ours.

The Government's immigration policy in relation to overseas students is very much focused on facilitating entry to New Zealand. It is also a balancing act between the benefits and the risks. In an ideal world, there would be no immigration restrictions on people coming to New Zealand to study. The reality is we don't live in an ideal world, and we must protect New Zealand - New Zealand taxpayers - from the costs associated with people who abuse our immigration policy.

Our immigration policy for overseas students provides the opportunity for people from most countries to undertake a single course of study or training in New Zealand for up to three months while on a visitor's permit - and for many people there is no need to even apply for a visa before travelling here because of our visa free arrangements with a growing number of countries. This means that for many people wanting to do a short course in New Zealand - for example English language training - they don't even need to apply for a visa before travelling here.

For students wanting to study for a course of study or training longer than three months (who are not New Zealand or Australian citizens or residents) a student permit is required. The conditions are hardly arduous for genuine students - in fact they're pretty logical:

good character and health (no serious convictions and unlikely to be a burden on our public health system);

evidence of enrolment at a recognised educational institution;

evidence they've paid their overseas student fees (or on a scholarship);

a guarantee of accommodation;

evidence they can support themselves while here (without resorting to working illegally) and that they have a ticket home (or can purchase one).
And, of course, it should go without saying - students are expected to attend their classes and work at their studies.

The exception to general policy is, as you know, students from China and Iran. I know your industry is keen for New Zealand to be more welcoming of students from China, particularly, and the past year has seen quite some relaxation of the policy given the historical risk if Chinese students overstaying or falsely claiming refugee status.

Last year, a trial was set up to provide for a quota of 400 students from China to study in New Zealand. Mid this year, the quota was extended to 1000 students and tight criteria lifted from 1 July 1998.

The change is a transitional move towards ending country restrictions on student visas.

But I ask you to keep that phrase in mind "balance between benefits and risks". Perhaps I can illustrate this best with some statistics.

In the 1996/97 government financial year, more than 1200 Chinese people claimed refugee status in New Zealand - more than double that of the previous year and more than double the number from the next highest country (India). In the 1997/98 year, the total for China fell to about 500 people. This is a significant drop, but China remained the leading country for refugee status claims in New Zealand.

Number of People Claiming Refugee Status Country 1994/95 1995/96 1996/97 1997/98
China 59 475 1238 509
South Korea 1 10 39 303
India 321 521 405 223
Fiji 19 39 134 195
Iran 62 189 185 151
Total* 976 1965 2748 2605

* Includes all other countries not listed

And why should this be of concern to New Zealand - which is already one of only a small number of countries in the world which expresses its commitment to helping refugees by having a formal Refugee Programme providing for the resettlement of 750 refugees here each year.

The reason these figures are of particular concern is that the majority of our refugee status claims - more than two-thirds - are eventually determined by our refugee appeals system not to be genuine cases. New Zealand is committed to helping the plight of refugees - but frankly, I do not see why taxpayers should pay for the many and growing number of cases which are simply time-delaying abuses of our immigration policy.

What I am talking about is illegal migrant trafficking. And the dollar cost to New Zealand is huge. It's estimated each application (which may include several people as a family) costs at least $30,000 including processing, legal aid and income support, but not taking into account health, education and other publicly funded services. And given the growth in numbers of applications, the time between application and a final decision has, in some cases, been taking up to three years - sometimes more if further appeals are taken through the courts.

Thirty refugee status claims will cost us at least a million dollars - the number of claims in the 1997/98 year will cost New Zealand at least $50 million.

This is why we have special requirements for high-risk markets. But as I have said, we hope to end country-specific restrictions for student policy.

Nevertheless, we are actively introducing measures to relax entry requirements for certain groups of migrants, such as students, while at the same time tightening up our processes where abuse is evidence, particularly in refugee claims.

The Government has therefore introduced a range of measures to implement these objectives. Earlier this year a $23 million package, much of aimed at speeding up the processing of refugee status cases, was announced in the Budget.

Last week I introduced into Parliament the Immigration Amendment Bill. It's an important piece of legislation because it will make our system less open to exploitation and scams. The Bill is all about fast and fair processes which encourage legitimate visitors - including students - and new migrants to come to New Zealand, give certainty to genuine refugees that they can stay here, and provide for the quick removal of illegal immigrants.

The Bill reinforces the fact that New Zealand has a right to decide who is allowed to come to and stay in our country, while ensuring a fair balance is struck between this, our international obligations and the rights of individuals affected.

One of the key measures in the bill which will be of particular interest to your industry is a new "limited purpose permit" for high risk markets - and particularly to open up more opportunities for overseas fee-paying students who might otherwise be declined a visa because of the high risk of them not being genuine students intending to return home after their studies are completed.

A "limited purpose permit" will be granted for an express purpose and for a stated length of time. The holder won't be able to change the conditions - or apply for a different type of permit, such as a work or residence permit.

The conditions will pose no difficulties for genuine students - but will put limits on anyone who is simply using their student permit as a cover to come to New Zealand for entirely different reasons.

The Bill is expected to go through its second reading within the next several weeks and then be referred to the Select Committee for public submissions, before being reported back to the House towards the end of the year. I encourage you to take a keen interest in the Bill.

I have taken some time to outline those measures to you to show how the Government is taking active steps to facilitate opportunities for the overseas education sector to expand your market.

Our hope is that you will regard the changes as very positive for opening up new markets, and expanding existing markets, to overseas students. That represents something of a change in philosophy by the New Zealand Immigration Service. It is one we can implement because they will have much better tools to prevent abuses of our borders while giving you the incentive to chase genuine overseas students who want to get the significant benefits of a New Zealand education.

So it will be up to you. The government will, with the passage of the Immigration Amendment Bill, and the changes in the policy we have announced give you the chance to do well for your industry, and for our country.