India has taken over as New Zealand’s second largest and fastest growing source country for international students.
International education contributes $2.85 billion to New Zealand’s gross domestic product.
As long as we are attracting high calibre students who are qualified in areas with skills shortages, international students significantly benefit New Zealand’s economy and society.
Most international students, regardless of where they are from, are attracted to New Zealand’s scenic beauty, quality education and come here in search of better opportunities.
Many of them find that New Zealand does indeed offer all those opportunities and more.
International students benefit from their New Zealand education and about 20% stay on as permanent residents and contribute significantly to New Zealand.
However, for many others, experiences of student life in New Zealand can be very different.
According to recent media reports and accounts from students themselves, Indian international students are being misled by offshore education agents who entice them to study in New Zealand by assuring them of managerial positions and permanent residence upon completion of low-level management courses.
In some cases, students’ expectations of the quality of education provided and the standard of facilities are not met. They find themselves studying less and working longer hours in order to be able to survive in New Zealand.
Such students are much more vulnerable to worker exploitation as they are forced to agree to substandard work and pay conditions and are often afraid to draw attention to themselves and jeopardise futures opportunities to apply for permanent residence status by making a complaint.
The New Zealand experience of these international students is one of struggle and hardship. Ultimately, they face reality that is completely different to the version they were ‘sold’ prior to entering New Zealand.
The New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI), a professional association of immigration advisers and lawyers, is pushing for increased regulations for offshore education agents.
The fifth Labour government (1999-2008) introduced licensing requirements for immigration advisors to regulate the provision of immigration advice as there were few market incentives for advisors to provide good services.
The then Immigration Minister acknowledged that immigration scams caused significant harm to migrants, and tarnished the reputation of New Zealand as a migration destination.
The Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 required all immigration advisers to either be licensed or exempt. At that time, offshore education agents were exempt from the licensing requirements based on industry advice but were only allowed to provide advice on student visas.
However, it now appears that offshore education agents who are exempt are offering advice on pathways to permanent residence in addition to advice on student visas and permits without being authorised or trained to do so.
Need for control
The lack of licensing requirement means that many of them may not have correct or up-to-date information on changes to Immigration legislation or policy, and that there are less checks and balances to ensure that exempt advisers do not wilfully mislead students for increased commission.
A 2014 independent report commissioned by the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry noted that student visas accounted for a high proportion of visa applications submitted by exempt advisers when compared with the other visa categories.
The report also stated that the licensing system has been effective in terms of removing the worst operators from the profession, but there were ongoing issues. Their consultation with the sector indicated that the area of highest risk was in the student visa advice market and particular concern was expressed about the advice given to migrants seeking permanent residency in New Zealand through Student visa pathways.
The report acknowledges that “the cumulative harm of incompetent and/or unethical advice can be significant in some cases, and irreversible in others. Some applicants have faced serious financial loss due to exorbitant fees; others have suffered irreparable damage to careers, family dislocation, and significant personal hardship; some people have had to leave New Zealand, be removed, or remain here illegally (and face removal in the future). At the very extreme, we were also told during this review of cases of suicide.”
Every individual studying in New Zealand, whether a citizen, resident or international student, deserves to receive a high quality education. Offshore agents who mislead students coming to New Zealand set them up to fail and give New Zealand a bad name.
It is about time the government intervened to ensure that the advice provided by offshore education agents is competent, realistic and is provided by agents acting ethically.
Phil Goff is former Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice Minister and has been Member of Parliament for 35 years. Elected from Mt Roskill, he is today Labour Party’s Spokesperson for Ethnic Communities and Auckland Issues.