Talking Point: Doors open to international students

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s exciting that we are about to open the doors to our international students again, and all the benefits they bring to our local economy and community.

For more than two years, regions like Hawke’s Bay have been without their usual contingent of international students due to Covid-19, but from mid-April, fully vaccinated students with valid visas can start to come here.

This will allow up to 5000 international students to travel to New Zealand in time for semester 2. From July onwards, even more international students can arrive under the border reopening plan.

Before the Covid-19 disruption, international education was New Zealand’s fifth-largest export industry, contributing about $5 billion annually to our national economy.

In 2019, Hawke’s Bay had about 1300 international students – about 40 per cent of them in our schools and 60 per cent in tertiary education. These international students supported 730 jobs and contributed about $60m to our local economy.

The benefits of international students are more than financial, though.

Locally, education association Learning Hawke’s Bay, with support from both Hastings and Napier councils, works hard to promote our high-quality education providers and the region’s exciting cultural and sports activities, beautiful natural environment, comfortable climate, as well as looking after the personal safety of students studying and living here.

International students are encouraged to delve into our communities to get the most out of their time in Hawke’s Bay.

This might include visiting local marae and learning about Māori culture and language; joining hobby clubs to learn crafts; participating in sport and tourist activities; working in orchards, vineyards, and hospitality businesses; or getting involved in charity work to support others in need.

Learning Hawke’s Bay also runs a student ambassador programme to ensure member schools have resources to run school-based activities for international students to be well supported and integrated into the school and local communities.

The benefits of such programmes go both ways.

For students gaining an education here, it puts “Brand New Zealand” and “Brand Hawke’s Bay” on the world stage. When people choose to study here, they usually return to their home nation (and new countries) with highly commended qualifications, as well as new networks and connections made through their time in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Having positive experiences in Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand also makes them advocates for our region and country – who we are as people, and what we have to offer.

In January, Hastings District Council joined Immigration New Zealand’s Welcoming Communities programme, which helps local councils create welcoming and inclusive environments for newcomers.

As we prepare to welcome new students chasing their dreams here in Hawke’s Bay, I personally thank our international student community for their commitment to our region and strongly encourage our local residents to extend a warm Bay welcome to them.

• Sandra Hazlehurst is Hastings mayor