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Open Letter To Hon. Minister Kris Faafoi - The Voices Of International Students

11 October 2021

Hon Kris Faafoi,

Minister of Immigration

E te Minita,

NZISA is the peak body association for all international students enrolled with education providers in New Zealand. This letter is published by NZISA on behalf of a student representative, to empower her voice and the voice of other international students. As a peak body organisation we, at times, help international students publish their voices through letters such as these.

NZISA has advocated on issues surrounding immigration, work rights and employment through our involvement in migrant work exploitation review, work rights for student visa and post-study work visa, as well as hardship faced during Covid-19. This letter is to emphasise that these concerns have long existed, and prevail regardless of Covid-19.

“My name is Varsha Ravi; I was born in India, raised in Botswana and moved to New Zealand to pursue my tertiary education. I am currently studying a conjoint Bachelors in Laws and Global Studies at the University of Auckland, majoring in Global Politics and Human rights and Chinese. As an international student passionate about advocacy, there were many concerns that were raised upon my shift to New Zealand, and this letter is a minute attempt to raise awareness of a mere fragment of them.

I would first like to begin by commending the government for offering one-off visas to fast-track skilled migrant residencies. This decision has highlighted the core values that our migrant community brings to the development of this country. I have also been made aware that Immigration New Zealand is restructuring internally, and that the government is reviewing strategies within the international education sector.

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I am writing on behalf of the international student community to bring awareness and to express deep concerns over the recent suicide of an individual who came to New Zealand as an international student. Before taking the painful decision to take their own life, this individual had conveyed some of their struggles through an anonymous confessions page specific to the University of Auckland. These are issues and concerns that ring synonymously with every international student and to lose an individual to concerns that can be mitigated, is heartbreaking.

Therefore whilst restructuring your infrastructure and services relevant to the international student community, this open letter is a plea to consider the following:

  1. Misconceptions regarding accessing Mental Health Services and the implications it has on visas: 

International students still find themselves in situations where they feel unsupported, not because mental health support services are unavailable, but mainly in fear of facing repercussions from institutions or Immigration New Zealand for having an “unacceptable standard of health”. Some international students will often not access support because they are worried that doing so will affect their visa status or their educational record. Part 6, section 34, outcome 8 of the Education (Pastoral Care of Tertiary and International Learners) Code of Practice 2021 specifically emphasises the importance in “respond[ing] effectively to the distinct wellbeing and safety needs of their diverse international tertiary learners”. These include but are not limited to a range of unique issues impacting mental health and physical safety such as social isolation and loneliness, racism and discrimination, stress regarding visa requirements and cultural barriers to conceptualising mental health concerns.

Looking at the situation surrounding this particular individual’s passing, there is clear evidence that eligibility and outcomes of accessing mental health support is misconstrued. As much as it is an individual’s responsibility to inform themselves, I strongly believe that governmental bodies and education providers share the responsibility to continuously educate international learners on the importance of prioritising their mental health and that doing so does not jeopardize their visa status and education.

  1. Support International students to transition smoothly to work after graduation:

New Zealand welcomes thousands of international students each year. We contribute to New Zealand's society through providing cultural diversity and differing approaches to problem solving, labour and regional growth. However, the values of international education are often overlooked. Under the current Essential Skills Work Visa, one of the requirements is that "you have been offered a job that no New Zealanders are available to do, and you are planning a temporary stay in New Zealand". In practice, this forces businesses to hire New Zealanders over international students. However, given the skillsets international students offer, a smoother transitional phase into the workforce will bring a long lasting economic and social benefit to New Zealand. Information regarding how many international learners successfully transition post-graduation into their field of study is inaccessible. Having such data accessible will be able to highlight the successful rate of transitions and will lead to exploring reasons as to how this rate can be improved.

International students have faced discrimination in workplaces and are falsely perceived to not “understand NZ workplace culture”. Such prejudice must be addressed as it fails to recognise the multi-dimensional perspectives international students contribute to work environments. There needs to be robust policy change, supporting the transition of an international from a student to an employed worker through appropriate skill set matching. After spending a good number of years in New Zealand assimilating into the community here, we wish to contribute to growing this country.

I believe a system that allows entry for many individuals should also make space to accommodate that amount, beyond education, such as in workspaces. This would highlight the value of retaining high-skilled individuals, for the benefits of New Zealand’s development.

One life lost is a loud call to address these issues. There is an air of invisibility when it comes to acknowledging the contributions international students continue to offer. The purpose of this letter is asking for that to change, it is asking to be seen, heard and acknowledged. We are hoping you will take into consideration these concerns and suggestions whilst designing policies surrounding your higher education and immigration restructure.

Yours sincerely,

Varsha Ravi, with support from NZISA.”


Honourable Minister of Education Mr. Chris Hipkins,

New Zealand Qualifications Authority,

New Zealand tertiary education providers,

New Zealand Media.

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