New Zealand PM argues for retention of UK visa work rights

23 September 2013


The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, is on an official visit to the UK and has held talks with senior UK politicians about the UK's visa regime for New Zealanders. In recent years, it has become harder for most New Zealanders to live in the UK.

Mr Key visited the UK having been invited by Queen Elizabeth II to stay for the weekend at her Scottish retreat Balmoral. While in the UK he held talks with Mr Cameron, with the UK's Foreign Secretary William Hague and with the Mayor of London Boris Johnson. New Zealanders' rights to work in the UK were at the top of the agenda.

Mr Key told The New Zealand Herald that New Zealand's historical and cultural links to the UK would make it 'grossly unfair' to further erode New Zealanders rights to work in the UK.

New Zealanders able to work in UK until 1973

Until 1973, New Zealanders and Australians were able to work freely in the UK. Then Britain joined the European Economic Community and this freedom was curtailed. More recently, after a period of an 'open door immigration policy' with net immigration reaching about 250,000 a year between 1997 and 2010 under the last Labour government, Mr Cameron's Coalition government came to power promising to cut immigration to below 100,000 a year.

The government has introduced numerous changes to the UK's visa regime and has so far cut immigration to about 150,000 a year. The government intends to continue to make efforts to cut the figure to 100,000 by 2015. Mr Key fears that this may mean that it will become even harder for New Zealanders to work in the UK.

The New Zealand Herald reports that recent visa restrictions mean that only 350 New Zealanders move to the UK to work each year with Tier 2 (General) work visas.

London mayor wants Australians/New Zealanders to be able to work freely in UK

Mr Key has some support within the UK's corridors of power. Last month, Boris Johnson, mayor of London, wrote a newspaper column calling for Australians and New Zealanders to be given the unfettered right to live and work in the UK. Mr Johnson suggested a 'Bilateral Free Labour Mobility Zone' between Australia and the UK.

By extension, he was calling for a similar arrangement with New Zealand. Mr Johnson did admit that this might cause problems with the European Union but said that they should be told to 'stuff it'.

Mr Key has also indicated that he is concerned that the UK might be considering ending the reciprocal Youth Mobility Scheme agreement which allows young people from New Zealand to work in the UK and, conversely, young people from the UK to work in New Zealand.

To stop New Zealanders working in UK would be 'grossly unfair'

Mr Key said 'We would think it grossly unfair and not representative of the historical ties. Those ties and bonds remain strong but…it's important we continue to make the case for New Zealanders' birth right to spend a couple of years working in the UK.

The government has not recently announced any plans to cut the Youth Mobility Scheme. The scheme allows young people from several countries, including Australia and New Zealand, to apply for a Tier 5 temporary work visa. 22,500 Australians and 10,000 New Zealanders are allowed to apply annually. They can stay in the UK for two years and are allowed to work.

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