Post-Study Immigration In New Zealand: What Are The Options For International Students?

Post-Study Immigration In New Zealand: What Are The Options For International Students?


Towards the end of their academic course in New Zealand , international students are confronted not only by their final exams but also the difficult issue of what they are going to do after their course finishes.

Aside from going home and looking for a career path, what are the options open to international students? Are there any options to stay on in New Zealand?

Effective from 26 November, 2018, the New Zealand government revised regulations relating to Post-Study Work Visas (PWV). While PWVs were available under the old regulations, the new framework is considered significantly more generous. These changes give international students the option to continue their stay in New Zealand for 1 to 3 years depending on the level of their qualifications and location.

While there is no new pathway to permanent residence, the PWVs can assist international students to build relevant foundations for their eventual residence application. In addition, the PWVs will allow students to gain practical work experience in a highly regarded employment market. This will certainly add to their marketability and bargaining power in their home labour markets.

For students already holding a PWV under the old regulations or already had an application for one accepted for processing by Immigration New Zealand on 8 August, 2018, there are generous transition provisions in place. These are beyond the scope of this article as those visas are no longer available and will not be considered further.

The New Regulations

The biggest change under the new regulations is on the Employer Assisted visas. These have been done away with entirely for PWV purposes. Students will no longer be restricted to employment with a single employer, or for a specific job or tied to a particular location. They will now have complete freedom to work as and where they wish. For students completing their courses outside of Auckland, there is a special incentive. More information on this is set out below.

In addition, students holding a PWV will now be able to support their family’s application for a visa. Their partner will be able to apply for an open work visa or visitor’s visa and their children will be able to apply for a student’s visa. The length of stay for family members will be the same as that the principal visa holder.

The entitlement to a PWV is entirely dependent on the level of qualifications achieved by students. Only Level 4 and above qualifications are entitled to apply for a PWV. (Detailed information on the qualifications framework can be obtained from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority website).

Level 4 to Level 6 Qualifications

Where a student has completed a Level 4 to Level 6 course, the student is entitled to apply for a PWV for a period of 1 year provided that:

  1. the study period was not less than 60 weeks; or
  2. If the student has two qualifications:
    • the study period of each qualification was not less than 30 weeks; and
    • the second (newer) qualification is higher than the first qualification.

Please note that for the purposes of this PWV, English For Speakers Of Other Languages courses are not an acceptable qualification.

The PWV entitles students to apply for almost any job, in any location and with any employer. There is also no requirement to report any changes in employment or location to Immigration New Zealand.

If the student desires to stay longer than 1 year, he/she may be able  apply for another PWV. However, they will need to complete another qualification in New Zealand. The new course must:

  • have a study period of not less than 30 weeks; and
  • be a bachelor’s degree or post-graduate qualification; and
  • be at a higher level than the qualification they already have.

For students studying outside Auckland there is a special concession conditional on having completed their studies by 31 December, 2021. These students will be entitled to a PWV of 2 years. For distance learning students, the course provider must also be located outside Auckland. If the studies are completed after 31 December, 2021 or the course provider is located in Auckland, the student will only be entitled to a PWV of 1 year.

Level 7 or Higher Qualification

A student with a Level 7 Bachelor’s degree or higher qualification, can apply for a PWV of up to 3 years irrespective of their location.

A Level 7 Graduate Diploma student can apply for a PWV of only 1 year. However, if the student is registering or intends to register with a professional or trade body (e.g. Chartered Accountants), he/she can apply work for a PWV for 1 additional year. Where the Level 7 Graduate Diploma student is located outside Auckland, he/she can apply for a PWV of 2 years provided that the studies are completed by 31 December, 2021. Where the studies are completed after this date, the entitlement is still only for 1 year.

Time Of Application

The application can only be submitted be after successful completion of the course and no later than 3 months after expiry of the applicant’s student visa (6 months for doctorate students). The applicants must ensure that they have a valid visa to remain in New Zealand at all times.

Additional Requirements For All Applicants

As part of their application for a PWV, all applicants must pay the application fee and provide evidence of:

  • good health – must include a chest x-ray and/or a medical certificate;
  • good character – in the form of a police certificate not older than 6 month from the date of application;
  • genuine intention to work in New Zealand;
  • their New Zealand qualification – in the form of the certificate or a letter or academic transcript from the education provider confirming successful completion of the course; and
  • sufficient funds to meet their living requirement in New Zealand – in the form of a minimum balance of NZD4,200 in their bank account at the time of application.

Further information on PWVs and other immigration matter can be obtained from the Immigration New Zealand website.   

Permanent Residence

If your interest is to eventually get permanent residence, studying in New Zealand is not the easiest option to do that. The new regulations for Post-Study Visas do not provide any new pathway to permanent residence.

However, international students can use their additional time in New Zealand to build a solid foundation on which their future residence application can be based. Some steps international students can consider are:

  1. Look for a job that is listed in the Skilled Migrants Category.This could prove absolutely crucial in the application for permanent residence.
  2. Make themselves a valued and trusted member of staff through high quality of work, good attendance and hard work. The employer may than consider sponsoring an application for permanent residence.
  3. Continue improving their skills by taking additional courses and attending seminars all which should be carefully documented.
  4. Students should network as much as they can and develop a wide circle of contacts. Some of these people may develop into useful references to be used in the residence application.
  5. Students should immerse themselves in their community by attending and participating in community events. Such a record can be used to demonstrate that applicant would be a positive contributor to New Zealand.

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