It was the rapid growth of international graduates who went into low-grade jobs that compelled the New Zealand government to tighten immigration laws last year.
According to Otago Daily News, a draft analysis paper predicted overall immigration numbers exploding if the rapid increase in ex-students gaining automatic residency as skilled migrants was not contained.
The paper was prepared by the Treasury and Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.
Pushed by the government’s initiative to bring in revenue up to NZ$5 billion (US$3.52 billion) a year from them, the number of foreign students staying on as skilled migrants has climbed each year.
In 2006, former foreign students made up 27 percent of all skilled migrants, but rose to 43 percent in 2015. By 2020, it was likely to reach 48 per cent.
These numbers made officials worry the upper limits of both the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and total residency approvals would be breached.
“And as the target is reached, there is a risk that less experienced SMC migrants, working in lower wage industries, may crowd out the higher-skilled, professional SMC migrants New Zealand is competing in a global labour market to attract,” the April 2016 paper stated.
Visa applications halved
Last October, Woodhouse had announced the raise of the SMC threshold from 140 to 160 points, a review of the SMC points system, stricter enforcement of the English language test and a freeze on new immigrants bringing in their parents.
In response, student visa applications halved the following month.
Under the previous system, most graduating students will qualify for residency as skilled migrants, a requirement officials said did not put enough weight on their qualifications.
A graduate with a Level 5 qualification (the lowest level) can get the minimum 140 points if he or she had stayed on a post-study work visa, had a job offer and was under 30.
But the older system granted lesser points on those with more experience and qualifications making them less likely to qualify for residency.
“For instance, a 50-year-old chief technology officer recruited offshore with a job offer for NZ$120,000 (US$84,349) and 25 years of industry experience, with a diploma qualification, would only be eligible for 135 points,” Woodhouse said.
New Zealand Labour Party’s immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway is unconvinced the revamp will solve the problem.
He said the country was an easy choice for students to sit for easier qualifications as a route to permanent residency.
“That poses quite a risk and it demonstrates the government has prioritised making easy money out of international education over both the welfare of the students and the long-term outcomes for New Zealand,” he said.
However, Woodhouse and then-Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce told the Herald in December that rising numbers of foreign students did not represent a serious immigration problem.
Joyce said: “We’re bringing in graduates who are adding significant value to the New Zealand workforce, there’s no doubt they’re doing that.”