As New Zealand reports zero new cases of COVID-19 several days in a row, the state of Wellington is planning to bring international students back into the country safely.

This may include a compulsory quarantine period and special flights.

As the second semester of New Zealand universities begins in July 2020, universities are hoping international students will be able to resume or begin their studies in the country.

According to Scoop, universities are investigating measures to bring international students back, which “include the possibility of using chartered aircraft to streamline the process”.

Economic development agency WellingtonNZ General Manager David Perks said that border controls have impacted the international student sector and that he hopes it can be rebuilt soon.

“The economic importance of international students is apparent, but they also bring important diversity to our learning environments by enriching the social and cultural life both within educational institutes and Wellington in general,” he said.

“When you add in the fact that many international students who graduate in Wellington choose to live and work here, it’s plain to see the importance of getting all our students back as they bring vibrancy and prosperity to the heart of Wellington.”

Wellington Airport Chief Executive Steve Sanderson told Scoop that Wellington Airport is collaborating with ministries, border agencies, airlines as well as other airports to safely facilitate international arrivals.

“Currently international arrivals are subject to public health requirements and quarantine processes to ensure any Covid-19 risks are well managed,” he said.

Statistics New Zealand found that international students studying for less than 12 months spent NZ$3.9 billion in the year to March 2019.

Dr Eric Crampton, chief economist for think tank The New Zealand Initiative said that allowing international students into the country is a “pretty obvious move”, and that over six months, approximately 1.5 billion New Zealand dollars is set to be made if the government opens the borders to international students.

The author of “Policy Point: Open for Minds: Export Education and Recovery” also said that international students can enjoy a proper study abroad experience in the country compared to other countries that are still fighting the virus.

“New Zealand’s COVID-free status means international education for the universities, the tertiary sector and even secondary schools — it isn’t just a ‘get back to where we were’ scenario … we’ve got a real ability to grow here. If you look at America … universities are shifting to really disrupted ways of teaching,” he said.

“New Zealand could be offering a real university experience for students from places we wouldn’t have an easy time drawing students from otherwise. We could be marketing in the US, say ‘come to New Zealand, spend two weeks in quarantine, and have a real university experience’ instead of sitting at home doing online learning with the equivalent of Zoom.”

The ideal situation is to have international students return by July. The Minister of Education Chris Hipkins appears, however, to be more cautious, mulling plans to open borders only in November or even January 2021

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