The Government was warned three years ago that a surge in international students was lowering the skill level of our immigrants.
International students now make up nearly half of New Zealand’s skilled migrants – up from 17 per cent in 2006 to 43 per cent last year. The skilled migrant category is seen as the economic cornerstone of our immigration policy, accounting for 50 to 60 per cent of all migrants.
But a series of reports obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act show officials have repeatedly warned ministers that low-skilled former international students have been manipulating the system to secure work and residence visas and may be pushing low-paid New Zealanders out of jobs.
A 2013 report to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said: “The abundance of former international students with similar skill sets and the popularity of low-paid ‘managerial’ roles in the hospitality and retail sectors means that the SMC (Skilled Migrant Category) may not be supplying New Zealand with the skills it needs.”
The warnings appear to have had a delayed effect, as international students are likely to face tougher obstacles in future under sweeping immigration changes and an upcoming policy review Woodhouse announced in October.
The new rules have lowered the annual residency intake to about 45,000 a year, raised the points threshold for skilled migrants from 140 to 160, toughened the English language test and frozen applications to bring in parents.
However Woodhouse and Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce have downplayed the change in direction, saying they remain generally happy with the skills that international students bring into New Zealand and with their contribution to the economy.
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