Information about English language proficiency

Updated 28 October 2021

English language requirements for students with a border exemption

An international student who has a border exemption from the Ministry of Education must have passed a recognised English language test within the three years before the programme starts.

This is to make sure nominated students are not disadvantaged by unavoidable delays caused by the additional requirements resulting from COVID-19 restrictions.

Providers are still responsible for ensuring international students have the appropriate level of English language proficiency, as required by Clause 16 of the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 and Clause 40 of the Education (Pastoral Care of Tertiary and International Learners) Code of Practice 2021.

Providers should consider other means of verifying the English language proficiency of international students, as described below.

See the exemption notice (PDF, 105KB).

Online English tests

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many English language proficiency testing centres are currently closed. This means that for many international students, the online form of the tests may be the only option available to them for some time.

The online form of the tests listed in the Table to Rule 18 can continue to be used as evidence of English language proficiency for international students enrolling in New Zealand and offshore until the end of 2022.

We are evaluating the online tests, with the aim to list the tests suitable for permanent use on the Table in 2022.

Our expectations of providers verifying international students’ English language proficiency

We expect providers to maintain vigilance in continuing to verify the test certificates they accept, as they do for standard face-to-face test results. We recommend that providers keep records of the English language proficiency information they base their enrolment decisions on, should there be any doubt regarding a student’s English language proficiency at a later date.

In addition to checking that online test certificates are genuine, providers should consider other means of verification listed in Outcome 3 of the Guidelines for the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016. These include:

  • interviews with students (these could take place offshore or via Skype or another form of communication)
  • testing and assessment in skill requirements for individual subject areas
  • the student’s academic record and attendance at previous schools and/or organisations in New Zealand (where relevant) should be examined and taken into account before the offer is made.

For all other questions and enquiries relating to COVID-19 please contact NZQA at

For other information and advice for students, whānau and the education sector, please refer to the Ministry of Education website.

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