International PhD students call for longer student visas

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Foreign PhD students are calling for a longer student visa so they can continue their study without having to worry about spending time and money on getting extensions.

Kris Faafoi

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Among them is Ali Khan, a doctoral candidate at the Victoria University of Wellington, who said the current visa normally expired in three years but most PhD programmes could go up to five years.

He said students had to go through the hassle of getting police and health checks and apply for a new visa, which burdened them emotionally and financially.

Ali Khan, a PhD student at the University of Otago but has been stuck in the US since early this year, calls for the government to treat PhD students and doctoral candidates as essential workers and allow them back for research.

Ali Khan. Photo: Supplied

As a US citizen, Khan said it could take long to get police checks, and x-rays in the health checks was not good for their health.

“It causes an extra incremental pain point for PhD students who are also in an extended programme. The process itself doesn’t match the programme and there are procedures within the programme that need to be eliminated.”

Another PhD student from Victoria University, who did not want to be named, also said it created anxiety for them.

He came to study in New Zealand 2019 and would need to go through the visa application processes soon next year.

“The visa should be longer than the three years that is usually given. I think the three year window puts a lot of pressure on students. You have to start think I need to get money ready, get the extension … go through the health checks,” he said.

“I think it’s a good idea if it goes out a little further, like four or five years because I think most students don’t finish their PhD in three years.”

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi’s office did not answer RNZ’s query about whether a longer five-year student visa for PhDs would be considered but said there were options for students who wanted a longer visa.

“The Student Visa is normally granted for the same length of time as the study paid for. There are options within the immigration system for students to get a longer visa if this is required.”

Immigration lawyer Alex Lee said any ability to stay in this country was always dependant on progress students made in a particular course or programme.

He said it was fair for the government to make sure that a student was making progress in their study and continued to be a person of good character and their medical status continued to be clear.

“Going and getting the clearances and submit the applications for the extension is not necessarily a difficult process but it does require some efforts,” he said.

“I don’t necessarily feel that New Zealand is trying to disadvantage the students. It’s a process unfortunately everyone has to do.”

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