OE to the UK set to get tougher

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and Prime Minister Bill English at 10 Downing Street in January. Photo / AP

By Claire Trevett

Prime Minister Bill English says the British Conservative Party's new plans to clamp down on immigration will sting New Zealanders wanting to live in the UK, including on the traditional OE, but there is little he can do until Brexit is completed.

The British Conservative Party's election manifesto includes plans to drastically cut net migration from 273,000 to less than 100,000 by targeting students and working visas.

It proposes cutting back the number of skilled migrants to get visas, higher levies on employers who take on migrant workers and tripling the National Health Service Immigration Health Surcharge from £200 to £600 ($1130) a year for those in the UK on visas of more than six months and £450 for international students.

That surcharge increase will also affect those on the traditional OE, although there is no mention of scrapping the two-year youth mobility visa which allows young New Zealanders to get a two-year visa to work and travel in the UK.

English said the changes would affect those on their OE but they would have to grin and bear it until Brexit was complete. "It can be a fantastic experience for them. It's going to be a bit harder, they need to make sure they're well organised and we are looking to the time when we can negotiate better access in the future."

He said on his visit to the UK in January, May had made it clear he need not bother even trying to get a better deal for New Zealand until Brexit was done.

"We are not going to make headway with the UK on those issues. So we are focusing on building relationships for post-Brexit when they've signalled they will be looking for a closer trade relationship with New Zealand and we believe it provides an opportunity for rebuilding some of those historic ties and maybe better access for Kiwis."

May has identified New Zealand as one of the first countries the UK hopes to negotiate a free trade agreement talks with, and English said access rights for New Zealanders would be discussed at the same time, but not necessarily as part of the agreement.

The British election is on June 8 and Theresa May's Conservative Party are expected to win convincingly. Part of May's campaign has been the crackdown on immigration - concern over high levels of migration to Britain from within the EU was seen as one of the main drivers in the Brexit vote.

The Conservative Party also plans to increase the earnings threshold for people wanting to bring in family from overseas and toughen the visa requirements for students - as well as requiring students to leave Britain after their course unless they meet the higher requirements to remain in Britain.

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