Cecilia Torres Caldera was an international student at the New Zealand National College before the government forced it to shut down this January.
The business student was visiting her family back home in Mexico when she received an email saying the school had been closed. Students were told to attend a “very important” meeting in mid-January.
“I received an email saying the school had been closed and there was a very important meeting for students in mid-January,” she told The Spinoff. “I wasn’t too worried because I thought that New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) was going to transfer us to a new school. I heard that was what they used to do.”
She'd left the country for a brief family visit when New Zealand National College collapsed. Now her student visa has been cancelled and she's stuck overseas for good.https://t.co/l0uNiZ6UJS
— The Spinoff (@TheSpinoffTV) March 11, 2018
In January, the Auckland business school was deregistered by the NZQA after the authority had found “serious problems” and intervened several times, Stuff reported. International students have reported losing thousands of dollars as well as troubles with having their fees refunded and visas sorted.
One student has been asked to leave the country, according to Immigration New Zealand Area Manager Marcelle Foley.
Only 200 further visas have been approved from the pool of more than 300 ex-students of the college. Three have been declined and one withdrawn, she added.
Now, it looks like Caldera is joining the unfortunate rest.
After receiving the email about the meeting with students, Calders said she later received an email saying she should not travel to New Zealand because her student visa is no longer valid on the day of the meeting itself
“I’m devastated,” said Caldera. “I’m stuck in Mexico with only a few pairs of jeans and shirts. Everything is in New Zealand.”
Immigration later told her she would be able to enter New Zealand on a visitor visa, however, as she held a return ticket. Things slowly turned from bad to worse when she was stopped at the airport, and an immigration representative from New Zealand told her: “You can’t come back because you have intentions to study in New Zealand”.
She was denied entry.
Told to apply for a visitor visa, Caldera was denied this as well. Immigration NZ was concerned about the “genuine purpose” of her visit and said her visit was without “lawful intentions”. She was told to ship her possessions using a courier back to Mexico.
“It sucks. They’re treating me like a criminal.”
“I didn’t break the law and it was the government who let this school operate in the first place. All my stuff is in New Zealand, my friends are there, my boyfriend is there. Now I’ve wasted six months because I won’t get any qualifications, and I’m not even allowed to come back as a visitor.”
Caldera isn’t the only one caught in this pickle. Her classmate, Benjarat Mahanil’s visa was cancelled when the school was shut down.
He was told to apply for a visitor visa after being denied entry, but only given 20 days to send his passport to officials in Bangkok, Thailand.
As he was in Hong Kong then, he couldn’t. He’s now reapplying to return to New Zealand to get his school fees refunded, a process that is ridden with difficulties for ex-students of the college.
For international students in private training establishment, their fees are held in a trust account and declared to Immigration New Zealand. If their college is closed, they are entitled to a refund of their course fees which have been sitting in NZTC’s trust account.
Advocacy group Migrant Lives Matter estimated each student has lost up to NZ$14,000 in tuition fees. However, those who have been reimbursed say they have been shortchanged by several thousands, Stuff reported.
When they showed their receipts, NZQA said those receipts were found to be fake. In many cases, only NZ$6,000 of the NZ$14,000 fees paid were placed in the trust account.
NZQA said in a statement that the organisation was refunding money based on money that had been declared and paid into the trust account.
“It is not clear why students submitted receipts for a lower amount of money than they paid and signed a declaration to that effect.”
“In this case, NZQA is fully aware of the allegations, and is unable to comment further as this is a matter under investigation.”