Visitors to UK face tough new visa rules

By Tony Gee

New Zealand tourists wanting to travel to the UK next year may have their six month visas halved to three months under tough new rules outlined by the British Government.

The proposal, from the British Home Office, would apply to all non-European Union travellers and is aimed at stopping overstaying by tourists in the UK.

Another move, outlined in a consultation paper unveiled this week by UK Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, would require some UK families to pay a cash deposit of up to £1000 ($2663) for every relative from anywhere outside the EU who visits Britain.

Families whose relatives did not return home on time would risk forfeiting the money.

As well as halving standard tourist visas, the UK government is also looking at introducing special visas for major one-off events such as the London Olympics in 2012.

Specific business visas could also be introduced.

New Zealand travellers now need a visa only if they are going to spend more than six months in Britain.

A spokesman for New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he had yet to receive any formal advice from the British Government about the restricted visa proposals.

He had heard about them only through overseas media reports.

When details became available, the spokesman said, New Zealand officials would seek discussions with British authorities.

New Zealand would be likely to highlight the long-standing relationship and special links between the two countries, and any effect the proposals might have on the thousands of younger New Zealanders who travel to the UK each year.

"I imagine our officials would make representations on this basis. It would certainly be an issue we would also seek to address at ministerial level as well as by officials," the spokesman said yesterday.

He said a formal New Zealand response to the proposals was likely to come some time early next year, depending on whether there was any timeframe set by the UK Government.

A much earlier proposal from a group of mainly continental European countries - known as the Schengen zone - several of them not in the EU, would also have severely curbed travel by New Zealanders and other non-EU visitors in 15 countries.

After representations by New Zealand authorities, plans to restrict Kiwis to just three months total travel time within the Schengen group of countries have not currently been implemented.

This means New Zealanders can continue to spend up to three months in each country.

The spokesman cautioned however that the Schengen proposal to restrict non-EU tourist travel, as far as New Zealand is concerned, is not yet dead.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

* New Zealanders travelling in Britain could be limited to three months instead of six.

* Travellers who want to stay for more than six months must be fingerprinted and photographed to get a new visa.

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