In 2019, there were 81,175 international students in New Zealand tertiary institutions.
Getting them back in the country is now a priority. Otherwise, higher education providers are anticipating a revenue loss of 600 million New Zealand dollars this year.
To minimise this loss, an idea has emerged to make Queenstown a quarantine town for incoming international students. This would involve them flying directly into Queenstown, then staying there for 14 days.
Why Queenstown, why now?
“Queenstown has got the hotels free, it’s got the space free, it’s got an international airport — it’s a logical site to be bringing international students into for quarantine,” said Penny Simmonds, chief executive of Southern Institute of Technology.
Simmonds pointed out that since international students in New Zealand stay up to three years, spending a fortnight in quarantine would not be a “big deal”.
“We have to be able to work quickly to work out a way in which they can safely come in.”
First, government agencies must review border controls and quarantine measures.
“We know that international education will be an important part of New Zealand’s rebuild and recovery, especially in the regions,” said Andy Jackson, Deputy Secretary Graduate Achievement, Vocation and Careers.
International students in New Zealand can help boost Queenstown
“Under the current circumstances, any concept that helps workers and businesses in the Queenstown Lakes district is worthy of consideration,” said Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult.
“Naturally, however, we would need to be satisfied that this did not bring an increased level of health risk to our residents.”
In early June, The Queenstown Lakes District Council opened the Kia Kaha Queenstown Lakes Community Hub. Its main purpose is to provide information and guidance to those stranded by COVID-19.
RNZ News reports that this centre has served over 400 migrant workers and employers as of 11 June. This paints a promising picture of Queenstown’s potential as an entryway for international students into New Zealand.
As one of the popular backpacking towns in the South Island, Queenstown has been hit hard by COVID-19. It typically welcomes two million international visitors yearly, which contributes NZ$2.4 billion to the local economy.
Now that New Zealand’s borders are closed to global travellers, businesses in Queenstown are relying on domestic tourism and trapped visitors to stay afloat.
According to the BBC, more than half of Queenstown’s 28,000 population is employed in the tourism sector.