Education

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

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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.

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.”

cc:

Honourable
Minister of Education Mr. Chris Hipkins,

New Zealand
Qualifications Authority,

New Zealand tertiary
education providers,

New Zealand
Media.

© Scoop Media

 

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