A New Zealand shame: exploitation of international students

Thousands of students come to New Zealand every year from all over the world to study. Their socio-economic backgrounds are as diverse as their nationalities. We welcome them with open arms and are only too happy to take their money. But how are we treating them and is the real reason they are coming here actually legal under New Zealand law?

Not necessarily says New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Mr Peters is concerned about the rise in cases of students, particularly those of Indian nationality being brought in by agents of questionable repute. Those agents are then made to work low wage jobs in return for staying.

Minister of Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, accuses Mr Peters of wanting to shut New Zealand down to business and points out the fact that these students bring in N.Z.$3 billion per annum. Mr Joyce is wrong. Just because it is creating money for New Zealand that we are all too ready to take, does not mean that those dollars are:

  1. Ethically earned – in a way that fits the limitations of reasonable endeavour
  2. Legally earned – were these students actually eligible to work in New Zealand? If so, were they made aware of their rights and responsibilities under New Zealand law? If not then it might not be entirely people trafficking, but it is certainly an exploitative practice

But Mr Peters alludes to something darker, more consistent with the people trafficking allegations being made: the bringing out to New Zealand of students for money making purposes by corrupt agents who should not be able to do business of this sort. Mr Peters alludes to the students being forced to stay in New Zealand and have to work low wage jobs on the basis of being able to stay in the country. Although  Mr Peters does not directly say so this potentially suggests that their passports and/or other legal documents are being withheld from them, with some sort of punishment attached if they try to do so.

Mr Peters’ claims are therefore not new, but they are certainly not those of a politician wanting to continue as Mr Joyce suggests with the “shutting down of New Zealand for business”. He is supported by Labour leader Andrew Little who reiterated a long held and unfortunately valid concern that foreign students are treated like cash cows, the inference being that they are only good for the money New Zealand generates.

New Zealand needs to toughen up on the agents who can bring people into the country. All agents should be verified by Immigration New Zealand and have a license that needs to regularly renewed with a “warrant of fitness” type exam every few years to ensure that an agent is aware of changes in the law and operating requirements that have happened since their last renewal. Immigration New Zealand needs to make clear to the Indian Government that the only agents recognized are ones that they have vetted.

Would the Minister of Tertiary Education like it if he were treated like a cash cow?

I doubt it.

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