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America's Cup: Political pressure mounts in NZ over Entry visa process

by 10 Jun 21:58 PDT 11 June 2020
American Magic is loaded ready for the voyage from Florida to Auckland © Jennifer Tille

Pressure is building in New Zealand over the Entry Process initially for America's Cup teams, but also for the superyachts expected for the regatta, and for the marine industry to benefit from the millions of dollars of refit work expected.

The matter took more prominence when it was revealed that 2000 applications had been approved, including those for a 57 strong production team for the Avatar production along with family members.

The Opposition spokesperson responsible for Economic Development, Judith Collins, along with Immigration spokesman Stuart Smith have taken a keen interest as the situation unfolds. The MP for Nelson, Nick Smith has been pursuing the exclusion of a South Korea fishing boat into Nelson $600,000 of repair work. The vessel has been at sea for several weeks - well outside the 14 day quarantine period recommended by epidemiologists advising the Coalition Government, and was allowed into Nelson in 2019 for a $6.5million refit.

The Ambassadors from both UK and USA have been directly involved in the entry visa issue, but even with their influence there has not yet been a successful outcome.

Earlier leaders of two Challengers, Terry Hutchinson (Executive Director of American Magic) and Grant Simmer (CEO INEOS Team UK) gave interviews, broadcast in New Zealand which underlined their frustration with being unable to plan their campaigns with any certainty, given the disruption caused by lockdowns associated with the coronavirus and then the cancellation of the two America's Cup World Series regattas.

Facing the same issues are the superyachts, of which 120 had expressed interest in coming to Auckland and 75 had paid berth deposits. With New Zealand having a closed border as part of the COVID19 response, there has been no real response as to how the America's Cup teams and superyachts will be allowed into New Zealand.

Already over 2000 exemptions have been issued by the NZ Govt to allow people into New Zealand mostly on compassionate grounds, but about 20% of those have been on the grounds of economic benefit and employment generation for NZers, or for technical engineering.

A production crew of 57 for the blockbuster Avatar, which included some family members who did not fit the immigration criteria were allowed into New Zealand in late May. However the America's Cup teams are yet to have an answer to their applications which were lodged over three months ago, and a couple of weeks before the New Zealand border was closed.

The Coalition Government has never fronted with a plausible explanation as to why the America's Cup teams and superyachts are being treated differently from the Avatar crew and the 2,000 people already allowed into New Zealand, particularly at a time when NZ is trying to gear up economically and faces a sudden rise in unemployment with the redundancy count increasing by 1,000 per day.

The Government's lack of urgency on approving visas for the America's Cup teams is concerning and risks losing a significant amount of economic benefit to New Zealand, National's Economic Development spokesperson Judith Collins says in a media statement issued on Thursday afternoon.

"Two weeks after Avatar crews and their families arrived in Wellington, America's Cup teams who need to get here and train are still waiting for their visas.

"The Government have brushed it aside as a matter of process but the lack of consistency implies they're playing favourites with who's allowed in to New Zealand and when.

"This isn't good enough when taxpayer funds are being spent to bring the America's Cup here, not to mention millions in economic benefits that risks being lost if teams aren't able to get here in time to train.

"The Government has invested $136.5 million to secure the regatta for New Zealand yet Ministers are now nowhere to be seen when the competition is at risk.

"With the teams footing the bill for the quarantine, the economic benefit, including significant flow on effects for tourism and hospitality, this is a no-brainer for the Government.

"It is not Covid-19 that is causing this hold up, and a whole lot of other economic benefit to be lost, it's the Government's poor response, lack of ability to think strategically and focus on what won't work as opposed to what will.

"The America's Cup will provide significant economic contributions to New Zealand's economy over the coming year of up to $1 billion, and create more than 8000 jobs.

"The Minister needs to prioritise approving these visas so the teams can get here and train, and so New Zealand can reap the economic benefits."

There has been no response from the Coalition Government other than informal comment that a decision is imminent, however that has been the response for several weeks, and two weeks ago the America's Cup teams were told they had to re-file their applications, which was done immediately by American Magic.

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