Pacific visa-free travel backed

Photo: NZ Immigration

Visa-free travel for business has been part of most bilateral talks Samoa’s prime minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa has had with Australia and New Zealand.

This is a concept that has received backing from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Pacific countries have long highlighted the difficulties involved in short-term business travel to Australia and New Zealand. APEC, the Asia-Pacific regional body that brings together some 21 economies from across the geopolitical spectrum, has successfully introduced the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC).

Asian businesses are able to travel to most countries within the region without going through the red tape. Similarly, visa-free travel in Europe has been an enabler for many businesses.

Outgoing Forum secretary-general Henry Puna has backed the idea and called on all Pacific leaders to push for a Pacific Business Travel Card.

“It takes political will to allow for that to happen. What is happening in Europe and Asia is fantastic. You can travel through borders without going through the red-tape, visas or clearances,” said Puna responding to questions from the Samoa Observer.

“I think some of our members are pushing for that particularly accessing Australia and New Zealand.”

Puna hopes that more will be discussed in the next Forum Leaders Meeting in Tonga.

Pacific Islands Forum chair and Prime Minister of the Cook Islands has also backed the idea of visa-free travel especially to New Zealand and Australia.

“It is necessary if we are serious about Pacific countries’ economic growth. Visa-free access within our region is going to be essential, particularly to the larger markets in New Zealand and Australia,” said Brown.

“Beyond that, labour mobility, removal of restrictions on entry through to New Zealand, Australia is going to be critical for building our economies within our region. So definitely expect that to be a point of discussion at the Leaders’ Meeting.”

It has been suggested by academics that the natural champion and home for such a card would be the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Applications for a PBTC would work the same way as application for an ABTC does. The most interest would be from Pacific island business people wanting to visit Australia and New Zealand. Nearly all Pacific island countries already offer each other visa-free travel.

However, some countries only allow short stays, of 30 days, so the 60-to-90-day stay offered by the PBTC could be attractive. Plus, the PBTC would be a “no questions asked on arrival” visa.

Once it was issued, you wouldn’t need a sponsorship letter or other supporting documents to show at immigration. Samoa and most countries in the region are for the idea given the amount of time consumed getting visas to Australia and New Zealand.