New Zealand / Covid 19

Sir Ben Ainslie presses case for America's Cup visas for UK team

08:56 am on 4 June 2020

The skipper of the UK's America's Cup sailing team says he may not be able to prepare properly if the crew can't secure exemption visas to travel to New Zealand soon.

Sir Ben Ainslie wants clarity on when he can bring a 100-strong team to Auckland. Photo: AFP

Sir Ben Ainslie is just one of the world's top sailors clamouring for precious visas, which have been rolled out by the government already to the likes of the Avatar film crew.

With preliminary races of the America's Cup due to start in Auckland in December, teams are anxious to be some of the first to get back into New Zealand waters.

"We're waiting with bated breath," Sir Ben said.

The team had applied for exemption visas for about 100 people needed to support their race, including workers to finish a boat shed and team base in Auckland's Viaduct Basin.

"Pretty soon we need some clarity on when we can get our people in."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said it was working closely with different America's Cup teams on applications for entry.

"This is at early stages for the America's Cup teams and no exception request is sitting with the Minister as yet, and no special exceptions have been granted to America's Cup teams to allow non-New Zealanders to enter the country," a spokesperson said.

Phil Twyford. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Minister of Economic Development Phil Twyford, who is also responsible for the America's Cup, said: "The government is very interested in the America's Cup. We want to see it happen, and I'm sure those applications will end up on my desk quite soon."

United States challenger American Magic is shipping its racing boat to New Zealand, even though there is no final sign-off for visas, because the vessel was uninsurable in its current location of Florida from 1 June, it said in a post on its website.

The Marine Industry Association said even if the teams were granted entry, the lion's share of America's Cup revenue comes from the docking superyachts that usually accompany them.

Its chief executive, Peter Busfield, said without them, the country would be $250 million out of pocket.

"We've got an opportunity in New Zealand to allow superyachts with prebooked refit work to get an exemption to come to New Zealand."

Busfield said it was unfair to let the Avatar film crew return to New Zealand, but not those involved in other big earners like the America's Cup.

And they're not the only ones wanting exemptions. Thousands of people on temporary visas who weren't in the country on 19 March were left with no way of returning to New Zealand when the border closed.

Auckland businessman Harpreet Singh works with hundreds of Indian migrant workers, and he said they were desperate.

An Immigration New Zealand spokesperson said it had received 12,884 requests for critical border exceptions, and about 2023 of these had been approved. Another 200 essential workers have been approved by Twyford.

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