New Zealand and Malta introduced major changes to work rights in 2018 while the UK deliberated over amendments. Matthew Knott profiles the changes and examines their appeal and impact.

With two major announcements of amendments to work rights for international students last year, we highlight what the changes are and the anticipated recruitment benefits for institutions in New Zealand and Malta, while interviewing agencies from markets where work rights are seen as a key factor in the selection of a study abroad destination.


After announcing a record year for ELT students in 2017, Malta looked to consolidate and build upon that growth with the announcement that long-term, non-EU English language students will be able to work after the 13th week of study for a maximum of 20 hours per week while they are still studying.

Meanwhile, non-EU students – referred to as third country nationals (TCNs) in the legislation – on higher education programmes of Level 5 or above can work from the commencement of their programme and are now entitled to a six-month post-study extension period to seek employment.

James Perry, Executive Director of FELTOM

James Perry,  Executive Director of Malta’s ELT school association FELTOM,  says, “The possibility of TCNs working while studying English in Malta will definitely boost the interest of students choosing Malta as a destination to study in,” adding that the adjustment to the legislation is “a good start” and that the association will monitor progress and suggest adjustments as required.

One step the association has already taken is to partner with a local recruitment agency, Konnect, in order to facilitate job searches in Malta for students at member schools, James explains.

Although it is too early to gauge the effect of the policy on recruitment figures, an immediate impact was that non-EU students that were already in Malta, particularly those from South America, have applied for the work license.

And agents are at the forefront of FELTOM’s attempts to spread knowledge of this new competitive advantage in the ELT marketplace.

Referring to the impact, Maura Leao,  President of Brazilian agency association BELTA,  says the new options will make Malta more attractive, and she adds that since the implementation of the scheme, the country has joined Australia, Ireland and New Zealand as a desired destination for long-term language plus work-seeking students.

Marcela Osorio,  Executive Director of Colombia’s agency association ANEX, adds that the changes will play well there. “The possibility of employment weighs a great deal at the time of selecting the final destination.”

Maura Leao, President of BELTA

New Zealand

Although the industry feared a restriction of work rights for international students from the new coalition government installed in late 2017, the amendments announced so far have been positive for degree-level students.

Reflecting the aim of ‘higher-value’ students espoused in its International Education Strategy, New Zealand removed all employer-sponsored post-study work options, but introduced a three-year open visa for undergraduate and above international students.

Students on qualifications between Level 4 and non-degree Level 7 are now eligible for a one-year work visa. However, following an industry consultation period and in respect of regional growth – another plank of the strategy – students outside Auckland will be entitled to a two-year permit, if they graduate before the end of 2021.

Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities New Zealand, welcomed the impact of the policy on institutions and employers. “Though most international students return to their home countries after they graduate, a proportion have the qualifications and skills that New Zealand employers need but can’t find enough of from the pool of domestic graduates. Having the option of staying in New Zealand for up to three years after graduating makes New Zealand a more attractive study destination for these international students, while contributing to our businesses and economy.”

Sonia Singh, Managing Director of Indian agency SIEC, concurs. “Since the new regulation of post-study work was adopted by New Zealand, we have seen queries increase by at least 20 per cent and this is applicable for commencements from next year. In anticipation of the projected demand we are gearing up to train our advisers on New Zealand and its new policy.”

Although some vocational students will have a shorter stay after removal of the sponsored scheme, Kim Crosland, Chief Executive of association Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand (ITENZ), relates, “Overall having certainty regarding work rights was welcomed. The changes that were made following consultation to ensure current student rights were not impacted was appreciated.

“The additional year provided for those studying outside Auckland was an interesting late addition to the policy settings,” says Kim. “We expect government will review this in the near term and decide whether it is to continue – a prompt decision on this is needed to ensure continuity for students, providers and employers in these areas.”

Kim continues, “The changes appear to have been well received by the global market,” adding, “We do know that certainty is key for those making overseas study decisions, so – provided the settings remain constant – we do not expect a fall-off in interest due to the changes announced.”

Agents on work rights

“The possibility of work rights when studying abroad often makes a difference for Brazilian students,” says Maura. She explains the two-fold attraction: “Helping to pay the daily expenses during their studies helps in the decision of going abroad for a long-term programme. It is also an important international experience required by the job market and this will be a differential in their professional career.” She adds that in the BELTA Market Research on 2017 trends, language plus work programmes were the second-most desired course type, and that these courses have become more popular due to the economic situation in Brazil, as well as increased awareness of the cultural and language benefits of working overseas.

In neighbouring Colombia, Marcela comments, “The majority of Colombian students ask about the possibility to work, because they are interested in having work experience in order to progress in their academic studies and develop their professional profile.”

In the higher education sphere, SE Asian nations are viewed as sensitive to work right settings. Sonia advises, “Post-study work (PSW) rights can be considered one of the major deciding factors for Indian students when they are making decisions to study abroad. Out of the scale of 100 – 75 per cent is awarded to the availability of PSW and 25 per cent to other factors. This is demonstrated by the huge surge in numbers to Canada, followed by Australia.” In a previous feature on PSW (See ST Magazine, July 2014, p26), Indian agents referred to the importance of work rights in repaying government-backed loans for study abroad.

It is noteworthy that during recent years, the language destinations that offer work rights for language students – Australia, Ireland and New Zealand – have experienced strong growth bolstered by Brazil and Colombia.

Maura explains that the top destinations for work and long-term language study in the Brazilian market are the aforementioned three countries, and she adds that a bilateral working holiday agreement with France signed in April 2018 has opened up the possibility of French language study and work for up to a year.

For higher education programmes combined with post-study work opportunities, Canada is the preferred destination, although for some specific programmes the USA is popular. Despite suggestions of its withdrawal, the US has maintained the Optional Practical Training (OPT) regulations introduced under the Obama administration, where international students can work for a year in a field related to their programme, which can be extended by 24 months if they graduated from a STEM subject.

While students clearly benefit from work rights, Maura adds, “I believe the country also wins from having trained individuals that paid themselves for their studies. It is a win-win relationship.”

Font: Study Travel Magazine


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