Online visas widen 'gate' for students

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 03/09/2014

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Foreign students and tourists can now apply for student and working holiday visas online and track the progress of their applications on the internet.

Victoria University vice-chancellor Roberto Rabel said the move would allow more students to pick New Zealand over rival study destinations, many of which accepted visa applications online.

"It is very difficult to say in advance what kind of impact this will have, but it does make us more competitive than we were previously," he said.

"The Australians have been particularly adept in ensuring that visa application processes are being constantly refined to make it easier for international students to get through the gate."

Education New Zealand estimated that there were more than 67,000 foreign students in New Zealand and that international education was the country's fifth-largest export.

The ability to apply for student and working holiday visas online is the first fruit from a $105 million revamp of Immigration New Zealand's (INZ) information technology systems that has been coming for at least seven years.

Next year foreigners will be able to apply for tourist and work visas online.

INZ's goal is that by 2017, 70 per cent of all visa applications will be received electronically.

An Italian PhD student was the first person to successfully apply online for a visa to study in New Zealand, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesman said.

Although students could apply for visas, pay fees and upload visa documents online, they would still need to send in their passports to be stamped until next year, when INZ planned to begin issuing paperless, electronic visas, he said.

Applications for working holiday visas now had to be submitted online, he said.

INZ's technology overhaul was first proposed in 2007 after an auditor-general's inquiry found flaws in INZ's ability to prevent and detect identity fraud.

A Thai national working for the agency in Bangkok had been caught swindling thousands of dollars from Cambodian visa applicants in 2003.

Rabel said the international education market was very competitive, with Singapore and Malaysia joining traditional destinations such as the United States, Britain and Australia in seeking a slice of the pie.

"We have got to keep our eyes on the ball as a country and keep on innovating, but there is a very positive focus on the sector from everyone involved and the Government," he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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