Moving places: Destinations and earnings of international graduates

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International students play an important role in New Zealand through the contribution they make to New Zealand’s economy, the diversity they bring to New Zealand and its education system, and the lifetime links that are created between their country and New Zealand.

In this report, we look at what international graduates do and earn after they complete their tertiary education studies in the New Zealand tertiary education system.  We look at results for all graduates who have ever been international students and who have studied at a government-funded provider.  The report uses similar methodology to the recent series of factsheets on post-study earnings and destinations of young, domestic graduates.  We find that outcomes vary depending on the qualification level and field of study that a student has completed their qualification in, and also differ to those for young, domestic graduates.

Commissioning agencies
Date of last publication
Jan 2017

Key Results

Do international graduates return overseas?

  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of all first student visa (FSV) holders in 2009 are overseas five years after they obtain their FSV.
  • There are big differences in return overseas rates between tertiary students who complete a qualification within five years of their FSV, compared to those who do not complete a qualification, for international students who study at a provider who submits unit-record data about their students to the Single Data Return (SDR).  87 percent of students who do not complete a qualification within five years are overseas five years after obtaining their FSV, compared to only 51 percent of students who do complete a qualification, for students with a FSV in 2009.
  • The return overseas rate for young, international graduates who complete a qualification at an SDR-submitting provider is 53 percent five years after they complete their qualification, and 61 percent after eight years.  The return rate for all international graduates is 49 percent five years after they complete their qualification, and 59 percent after eight years.  The rates for graduates of all ages are slightly lower than the rates for young graduates because a higher proportion of older graduates complete lower-level qualifications.
  • Young, international graduates who complete below-degree-level qualifications are less likely to return overseas in the first year after study, with only 16 to 23 percent doing so as many of them advance to further study in New Zealand.  However, departure rates are higher in later years. 
  • Eight years after study, 57 percent of Level 5-7 certificate or diploma young, international graduates have returned overseas, and 60 to 68 percent of graduates at all other qualification levels.
  • The percentage of young, international graduates who return overseas in the first year after they complete a qualification is highest for those who complete a Doctor of Philosophy (48 percent), followed by bachelors-degree graduates at 45 percent.  The rate of departure in the first year after completion for young, international students who complete a postgraduate qualification is 37 percent.
  • Between 2010 and 2014, on average, 13 percent of international graduates had domestic status by the time they completed their qualification.  Rates are lower for graduates completing their first qualification and considerably higher for graduates completing a subsequent qualification.
  • Just over half of young, international graduates with a Level 1-4 certificate continue studying in the year following the completion of this qualification.

Employment outcomes for graduates who remain in New Zealand

  • Employment rates in the first year after study are highest for young, international students who complete a graduate certificate or diploma, a Level 5-7 certificate or diploma or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), at 63 percent, 51 percent and 45 percent respectively.
  • As with young, domestic graduates, median earnings for international graduates who work in New Zealand after completing their studies increase with the level of qualification they have completed.  Earnings are particularly high for international students who complete a PhD.
  • Young, international graduates are more likely than domestic graduates to go overseas and less likely to work in New Zealand when they complete their studies, at Level 5-7 certificate or diploma, bachelors degree, graduate certificate or diploma, and PhD level.  This is expected as many international students come to New Zealand principally to study and do not plan to work in New Zealand after they complete their studies.
  • Young, international bachelors-degree graduates who remain in New Zealand and work after they complete their studies tend to earn less than comparable young, domestic graduates, except for those who have studied nursing or medical studies.  Compared to their domestic counterparts, earnings are lower for international bachelors-degree graduates who complete a qualification in management and commerce or society and culture
  • Earnings for international graduates who complete a qualification in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and work in New Zealand after they complete their studies tend to be higher, with high earnings for those who study information technology, engineering and related technologies, and health.

How do international graduates from different countries compare?

  • International graduates from different countries often show different study patterns.  For example, students from India tend to complete qualifications at Level 5-7 certificate or diploma, graduate certificate or diploma, or postgraduate level, whereas students from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are more likely to complete a bachelors degree.  There are also differences in the preferred field of study.
  • The proportion of male and female graduates varies depending on the country that graduates come from.  There is a high proportion of male Indian graduates at most qualification levels, whereas proportions of male and female graduates are more equal for Chinese and ASEAN graduates.
  • Outcomes for international students vary depending on which country they come from.  For example, Indian graduates are less likely to return overseas when they have completed their studies, and are more likely to stay in New Zealand and work, whereas graduates from ASEAN and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are more likely to return overseas.  Earnings for those who stay in New Zealand to work also tend to differ for those who come from different countries, but it is likely that differences in study patterns explain many of these differences.

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