Up to 265 international students could get longer visas after an Ombudsman ruling that Immigration NZ acted unreasonably.

Officials issued international students shorter post-study work visas than they were eligible for in a breach of Immigration NZ policy, the Ombudsman has ruled. 

In November 2018 the government indicated it would allow a two year transition period for new policy changes to the post-study work visa category.

Those changes meant migrants who held a student visa or had a successful visa application on August 8, 2018, for Levels 4 to 10 qualifications, could be eligible for a three-year open visa. 

An employment offer relevant to the qualification was no longer required to secure the two-year extension to the existing open one-year work visa that was required prior to the rules change.

Students who applied for a student visa after August 8, 2018 could be granted either a one, two or three-year open work visa depending on their qualification.  This policy favouring more “skilled” students came into effect in November 2020.

However, two students who had visas on August 8, 2018 and met the criteria to receive the three-year open work visas, were instead given just one year open work visas. 

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Both students’ complaints were investigated together by chief ombudsman Peter Boshier as they were made on the same basis.

The Office of the Ombudsman found Immigration NZ officers misinterpreted the actual policy.

Immigration NZ said in its defence that the Visa Pak guidance, which is a set of instructions the department gives advisers who process visa applications, did not accurately represent the policy changes.

However, Boshier concluded the immigration instructions and Visa Pak guidance were clear and that it would be “highly unusual” to expect an immigration officer to look past these and use a Frequently Asked Questions’ document when making a decision.

Immigration NZ said it had amended its guidance to officers to accurately reflect Cabinet’s intention and extended both complainants’ visas for a further two years.

At the time of Boshier’s investigation Immigration NZ identified just short of 500 people in a similar situation as the two complainants who may have been given shorter visas than they were eligible for. 

In November 2018 the government indicated it would allow a two year transition period for new policy changes to the grant international students open post-study work visa category.
Photo: Lynn Grieveson

However, Immigration NZ border and visa operations head Nicola Hogg told Newsroom that after looking at the matter more closely, it had reduced this number to 265 that may have been wrongly given shorter post-study work visas. 

“In November 2020, immigration instructions were amended to reflect the policy intent of changes to the post-study work visa category. When the instructions were issued, it was not explicit that only students studying an eligible qualification would qualify for a two-year or three-year post-study work visa under transitional instructions,” Hogg said.

“Decisions made by Immigration NZ at that time were in line with policy intentions.”

She said after the department was notified of the first complaint made to the Office of the Ombudsman in June 2020, “immigration instructions were amended to reflect that only those studying an eligible qualification would be granted a two-year or three-year post-study work visa and a public clarification was issued”.

Hogg said the department has issued a public clarification on the eligibility of two and three year post study work visas following the complaints.

Of the 265 people who were granted shorter post-study work visa than their entitlement, 247 are in New Zealand. 

“Due to the complexity of each situation, Immigration NZ reviewed these individually,” Hogg says.

So far Immigration NZ’s review has confirmed 74 people as eligible for the remedy, she says.

This includes 57 post-study work visa holders who will be granted another visa with the three year maximum from the date the original post-study work visa was granted and 17 others who have been contacted by the department.

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