International students increasingly having to be sold on NZ amid concerns over cost of living - expert

An immigration expert says international students are increasingly raising concerns about New Zealand's cost of living and harsh visa rules. 

The last of five COVID-19 border reopening phases happened at 11.59pm on Sunday - opening the maritime border, as well as applications for tourist, visitor and student visas from anywhere in the world. 

But there are concerns New Zealand will struggle to attract international students and migrants as the cost of living soars. 

Immigration and education agent Arunima Dhingra told Newshub while students haven't been put off, they are more cautious. 

Dhingra said international students from India, which is New Zealand's biggest market, are "quite wary" of coming here.

"More and more students, and their parents, are quite wary of the changing immigration policies, uncertainty of future of these students in NZ upon completion of their studies," she said. 

"Thankfully there is still interest amongst many in coming to New Zealand but with a heightened awareness that immigration policies in New Zealand have now become harder, financial requirements have increased and there is a general strictness in application processing, we are seeing many opt for other countries like Canada and the UK. 

"The general delays in all sorts of application processing is also something that no longer affects only onshore migrants but something offshore students are very cautious of and therefore because of all these factors combined, we find ourselves actually trying to 'sell' the NZ brand which is no longer selling on its own."

Dhingra said international students are also increasingly raising concerns about New Zealand's cost of living.  

"The fact that New Zealand is an expensive place to study and live in, is also something that many students are now raising. These are conversations that parents and students are having before even deciding on what to study here.

"The swifter pathways for students that study courses in green list, which is quite narrow to begin with, are not enough to compensate for the lack of residence pathways for the wider student population via the 'not yet opened'  Skilled Migrant Category."

She said while New Zealand is a great place to live and is relatively safe compared to other parts of the world, the Government can't rely on that reputation alone. 

"This approach is not going to work for us for long. After all, we are a tiny nation compared to most of our competitors and are far away from most mainstream student markets like India and China and are at the bottom of the earth. 

"Our government needs to be very careful to ensure that balance between remaining a sought-after destination and raising the bar for student requirements is struck correctly." 

But Immigration Minister Michael Wood disputed the claims saying they aren't backed up by the latest data.

"That certainly isn't information that has come through for me and it is not reflected in the most recent numbers that I have seen, which indicate for the initial cohort of 5000 international students we have opened up to, that we have effectively seen that filled up pretty quickly with expressions of interest," Wood said.

"Everything that I have seen still indicates New Zealand is a highly desirable location for international students to come to, consistent generally with the strong international reputation that New Zealand has."

It comes after an immigration expert told AM on Monday parents are increasingly concerned about sending their children to New Zealand because of a recent spate of crime - particularly in Auckland. 

Immigration consultant and former NZ Police Asian Liaison Officer Howie Yin told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green New Zealand's international reputation has changed. 

Yin said while he is still seeing some interest from international students, particularly from China and India, their parents are worried about safety. 

"Five years ago I would have said, 'Yes it is a safe country, don't worry about your child' but now I just can't say that," he said. "We watch the news, it's not that safe anymore."

He said news of robberies and assaults, in particular racially motivated attacks, are circulating around ethnic communities and deterring potential migrants.

In Auckland last week, a Chinese man was beaten outside a supermarket and an off-duty Indian police officer was racially abused and threatened.

The crime spate comes as high inflation pushes the cost of goods and services up. Data from Statistics New Zealand shows inflation rose a whopping 7.3 percent in the June 2022 quarter - the largest jump in 32 years. 

In response the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has hiked the Official Cash Rate pushing up the cost of borrowing money, in an attempt to dampen inflation. 

New Zealand is also facing a dire staffing shortage across several industries including healthcare, agriculture, teaching and tourism and hospitality.