UK Prime Minister's immigration comments not a threat to New Zealand - High Commission

Theresa May (Reuters)
Theresa May (Reuters)

A crackdown on Kiwis working in the UK is unlikely, according to the British High Commission, despite tough comments from the UK's top politicians.

Prime Minister Theresa May said this week that controlling immigration is a priority for her government, prompting fears that the traditional Kiwi OE (overseas experience) could be coming to an end.

"We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully independent, sovereign country. We will do what independent, sovereign countries do. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws," she said, speaking at the Conservative Party conference.

"What appears clear to me is that this isn't a crackdown," says Joel Watson, First Secretary of the British High Commission in New Zealand. "It's a consultation process looking at reducing numbers going into the UK."

"The 'death knell for the Kiwi OE' is overstated and misleading," he says.

"I don't think it will have an impact of those hoping to travel there."

Bernie Kelly from Borderless Talent, a recruitment firm that specialises in placing New Zealanders in UK jobs, agrees.

"There is not immediate threat to the big OE, and Kiwis are still very, very welcome," he says.

However, the UK has introduced new measures to reduce reliance on migrant labour, including changes to the Tier 2 (General) visa, which 600 New Zealanders used to enter Britain in 2015.

An immigration skills charge now applies, which the UK government says incentivises employers to train the domestic workforce.

The Tier 2 visa is the main immigration route for non-EU citizens to apply to work in the UK.

The changes won't affect the Youth Mobility Scheme for Kiwis aged 18 to 30 - 4000 New Zealanders entered the UK through that arrangement in 2015.

Kiwis still won't need a visa to visit the UK for less than six months.