Renewed influx of international students boost migration figures

Record migration figures are being boosted by a renewed influx of international students.

Applications for student visas are up by 20 percent. And it will still take years to reach pre-COVID levels.

It's a long way from India's crowded capital Delhi, but after just two months in Auckland, international student Anuradha Bhattacherjee feels at home.

"I'm not at all homesick. Everybody feels like a family here. If I'm in class, everybody's interacting. I can talk to anybody. The professors are always available," she told Newshub.

Bhattacherjee is studying a masters in architecture at Unitec, which is experiencing a mini-boom in international student numbers from India.

"We have grown about 110 percent in terms of the demand from India compared to 2019 figures," said Don Sirimanne, head of product marketing and international market development at Unitec-Te Pūkenga

Pre-COVID, total international student numbers peaked in 2016 at 130,000. That dropped dramatically to 41,000 in 2022.

The most recent figures show for the first eight months of last year it climbed back to 59,000.

And student arrivals for 2024 show a February spike with Immigration reporting more to come, with a rise in visa applications.

"About 20 percent increase so that's really excellent a good base and we have a good pipeline," Education NZ general manager of marketing and communications Geoff Bilbrough said.

A pipeline that was once a big export earner. The sector made New Zealand $3.5 billion in 2019.

Although students are coming back, revenue is still down about 50 percent.

And the biggest players, universities, say it will take another three or four years to rebuild the industry.

Taking it slowly is actually the plan, so the broken educational promises and scams during the 2016 peak can be avoided.

Some of those were about gaining residency, but Education New Zealand says only 25 percent of students end up staying permanently.

"Around 60 percent of students leave immediately as they graduate and then within three years 75 percent of international students have left New Zealand," Bilbrough said.

But staying is the plan for Bhattacherjee. She loves the lifestyle.

"I would want my parents to be here, too. I'm a single child, so I would want my parents to be here with me. I want to stay here. It's really good," she told Newshub.

Because, she says, unlike in Delhi she can breathe here.