Visas up for discussion in Britain-NZ talks

Wellington, Jan 17 NZPA - Growing problems for New Zealanders trying to obtain British visas will be up for discussion in talks with British ministers this week.

As part of efforts to slash immigration levels by 2015, the British Government last year announced a cap on the number of workers it would allow in from outside the European Union (EU).

From April, the number is to be limited to 21,700 a year, compared to about 28,000 in 2009.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Liam Fox arrive in Auckland on Thursday for two days of talks, and Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the migration cap was among a number of issues on the agenda.

"The history of the relationship since the United Kingdom joined the EU has been that some of those special features in the relationship have been diminished and we're looking to try and slow that process down and reverse it where possible," Mr McCully said.

"We would call for an acknowledgment of the special character of the relationship, the fact that New Zealanders have got strong family relationships in particular.

"We're looking to try and ensure that we can get the best possible deal we can for New Zealanders, that's basically the point."

Mr McCully said the talks also presented an opportunity to develop New Zealand's relationship with the EU.

"The relationship that UK has with the European Union is now very important relationship for them, but they have also been very strong supporters of ours in our dealings with the EU," he said.

"We have been trying to develop a more comprehensive partnership with the EU, we have individual agreements with the EU ... but there's no comprehensive basis to the formal relationship and we've been quietly looking to move that ahead."

Concerns that have continually been raised about an expensive departure tax to be introduced for flights to New Zealand would also be reiterated, Mr McCully said.

"It's a structural issue, deferring it is not something that I think they'd be open to doing," he said.

"We'd be hoping to see the review that's being undertaken result in a system that does not penalise the nations that are furthest away from the UK, including the close friends in New Zealand and Australia."

Mr McCully said a central focus for the talks would be on security issues, and the role of Commonwealth countries would also be discussed.

"The Foreign Secretary has made it clear he wants to give a higher priority to Commonwealth issues and to the opportunity for the Commonwealth to be a more constructive force."

Mr McCully expressed particular interest in discussion about the Commonwealth, saying he was a strong advocate for the group being a stronger player.

"It should be a more potent force on the world stage than it is."

- Content provided to you by NZPA



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