Grant Roberston: Don’t expect return of students in 2020

New Zealand is unlikely to see the return of foreign students, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said this morning.

Interviewed for Bloomberg’s Inside Track webinar, Robertson said it would take some time for New Zealand to establish the quarantine facilities necessary to allow for students to return to the country.

“Growing our capacity for quarantine that we have absolute confidence in requires facilities that will need to be very carefully designed and used,” Robertson told Bloomberg.

“Moving toward an international student market for that will take some time.”

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There has been growing pressure on the Government to find ways to open the borders to foreign students and tourists.

Tourism is worth about $16 billion to the country, while foreign students contribute to a $5 billion industry.

Given quarantine would likely require a two-week period of restricted movement, international students have been tipped as a group the Government should focus on getting back into the country.

Earlier this month, the National Party said it would like to see the borders opened to students, provided that can be screened, tested twice and pay for their own quarantine facilities.

“If it doesn’t move quickly, New Zealand is at risk of missing out on international students for the second half of 2020, which will cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars,” Opposition deputy leader Nikki Kaye said when releasing the policy.

As far back as May, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was looking to enable international students to return to New Zealand if they could be quarantined safely.

“Unlike tourists who are coming here for a short period of time, international students are coming here for a year or more,” Hipkins said at the time.

“It’s quite possible that we would be able to work with international education providers to manage a period of quarantine at the beginning of, say, a year’s worth of study so they can come into New Zealand.”

Since those comments were made, New Zealand has caught a number of Covid-19 cases at the border – underlining the risk that the virus could return to the country if appropriate precautions aren’t taken.

The comments from Robertson today suggest that the Government will need more time in order to put measures in place to ensure safe entry of those coming from abroad.

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