Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has intervened in the debate about foreign students, warning Kiwis about showing "casual racism" towards them.
Dame Susan told Newshub she is concerned about the way some Kiwis are blaming the 125,000 students here for taking low-paid jobs off New Zealand's young people.
"[They are] being told to go home, perhaps being abused at the bus stop, people making fun of their names and all of these things. We call it casual racism, it probably doesn't feel very casual to them actually because they're the ones that it's directed at," she said.
"We can't blame international students for the lack of employment for our own young people. You know, we need to be doing the things that are looking after our young people to ensure that they do get the appropriate education and the skills required so that they can get meaningful employment."
International education is now a $1 billion a year industry, and Dame Susan called on New Zealanders to look after international students better.
"I think the most important thing is that everyone understands that international students aren't just an economic commodity, they're actually human beings," Dame Susan said.
"The problem is we have these students here, we've welcomed them and invited them into our country, it's our responsibility to look after them."
The Government changed immigration rules in 2013 to allow students to work part-time, which has since seen a huge uptake of them in low-paid roles ranging from service stations to fruit-picking. The huge rise has seen concerns that students are being exploited in poorly-paid jobs.
Dame Susan is helping develop an international student well-being strategy.
"The most important thing from our point of view as the Human Rights Commission is to protect the rights of students."
Dame Susan said the racist attitude towards students was only limited to some Kiwis, and called on people to work with rather than against students.
"We often have that situation where we say well we need to look after our own first, but we shouldn't be pitting one against the other, we should be finding the resources to do both because that's our responsibility as an international citizen," she said.
"It's really up to all of us to actually stop competing about that and looking at ourselves as them and us because that's not going to move us forward as a country."