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Open Letter Re: Tertiary Student Exemption To COVID-19 Travel Ban

Dear Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister), Hon David Clark (Minister of Health) and Hon Chris Hipkins (Minister of Education)

We are students, educators, staff and leaders across the tertiary sector in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have an urgent message for you, supported by New Zealanders who work and study in trades training organisations, polytechnics and universities.

The impact of the travel ban imposed by the government on Sunday 2 February and continued on Monday 24 February as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), which prohibits the travel of Chinese nationals and foreigners through China, is disastrous to our community.

The loss of lives and poor health caused by coronavirus is devastating. We acknowledge the families, across the globe, who have lost loved ones or who are supporting relatives in poor health. However, while we recognise the need to prioritise public health and safety, this travel ban is an unreasonable and unempathetic response. It fails to consider the impact on international students and staff travelling from or through China, in light of minimal public health risk.

Firstly, this travel ban feeds racism.

The government's decision to impose a travel ban on any foreigner coming from or through China pegs coronavirus as a “Chinese” disease. Coronavirus is a global issue. Over 25 countries have confirmed cases of the virus, and it cannot be simply attributed to one country and one race.

The ban has fuelled hysteria that coronavirus is a “Chinese” disease, and is responsible for spreading xenophobic and anti-Chinese sentiments within the Asian community. It has uncovered deeply rooted racism, including in the form of questions such as “Where are you from? Oh, not China? No coronavirus then.”

Both domestic and international students have been the target of this xenophobia. This includes long-standing Chinese and Asian communities in New Zealand.

This travel ban contradicts World Health Organisation advice that travel bans create hostility and fear. The perpetuation of misinformation by the government and within the media has fuelled panic and xenophobia. The potential benefits of this travel ban have been outweighed by the harm that it caused.

It is important to remember that international students coming from China are not tourists; they are not coming here to travel, they are coming here to study and learn in one of our cities.

Secondly, it cripples our tertiary education sector.

Most importantly, international students bring diversity of perspectives and add to the richness of our learning communities. International students are our friends and colleagues, and we want them to be able to begin their tertiary study with us this year.

Additionally, the current funding model for the tertiary sector relies on the economic contribution that international students make. As a whole, international students contribute $4.8billion dollars per year. One third of this comes from Chinese students alone.

The lack of public funding for the tertiary sector means that it is not just international students who will experience the negative impacts of this travel ban. This ban affects all students and staff in tertiary education across Aotearoa.

The financial loss that our tertiary institutions will suffer as a direct consequence of this ban will lead to courses being axed and staff losing their jobs. This will undermine the student experience that all students (domestic and international) pay thousands of dollars for each year.

Thirdly, this travel ban undermines the wellbeing of international students and staff travelling from or through China.

The short notice of the travel ban, only weeks before the academic year begins, left students and tertiary providers to bear the impact of the government’s decision. The eight-day extension of the travel ban on Monday 24 February only adds to this uncertainty.

The government’s response, including the lack of warning has contributed to the undermining of staff and student wellbeing. International students have been left in the lurch as to the impact the travel ban will have on their ability to continue their studies in New Zealand. Current students who have invested time, effort and finances into their education are afraid they will be unable to continue to complete their studies. First-year students are equally concerned that they will not be able to fulfil their dream of tertiary study, having already invested in fees, accommodation and visas for the year ahead.

We are calling on you to act urgently to reconsider your decision. This means:

Lift the travel ban, or at a minimum implement a tertiary student exemption

International students from China ready to begin or continue their tertiary studies in Aotearoa in 2020 should be able to do so.

We support a full lift of the travel ban, and at a minimum allow for international students travelling from China, who have existing visas to be exempted from this travel ban.

International students arriving from China will need to self-isolate for 14 days, following guidance from the Ministry of Health. They will also be supported by their tertiary provider.


The lack of empathy and heightened racism from New Zealanders has created a hostile environment for students coming into the country. Panic and fear over the coronavirus has resulted in misinformation.

To ensure the safety of international students arriving from China, the government must support tertiary institutions to provide anti-racist communications to combat the rise of racism targeted at domestic and international Chinese students. There is no room for racism and xenophobia on our campuses.

Pastoral care

The New Zealand Code of Practice for International Students outlines that tertiary providers must ensure, so far as is possible, that international students have a positive experience that supports their educational achievement in New Zealand.

Given the government's response to the coronavirus and the implementation of the travel ban, tertiary providers must be financially supported to provide international students with increased student support services, counselling and medical support.

To ensure the wellbeing of international students arriving from China, the government must support tertiary institutions to provide holistic pastoral care for these students.

E-learning in tertiary campuses and academic support

To ensure that all international students arriving from China are able to remain up to date with their study, the government must support tertiary institutions to:

  • Make all course materials and course information available electronically;
  • Provide additional academic support for the affected students (i.e. catch-up classes);
  • Relax enrolment deadlines, assessment and/or examination deadlines and mandatory classes;
  • Implement alternative arrangements for the affected students to allow them to remain on top of their studies.

On behalf of,

New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations

© Scoop Media

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