( dpa )- New Zealand has protested to Britain about a proposal to halve the length of time of visitors' visas to three months, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced on Sunday.
Clark said it was an issue of serious concern which ignored historical ties between Britain and New Zealand, a former colony first settled by British immigrants in the mid-19th century.
New Zealand tourists and business people can currently enter Britain without having to obtain a prior visa for up to six months, while film crews and academics can stay for 12 months. The British government is proposing to reduce all stays to three months.
Clark said New Zealand understood Britain's efforts to limit immigration, but said New Zealanders posed a very small risk.
"Our two countries have a unique relationship, and New Zealanders should not be disadvantaged due to concerns about nationals from other countries," she said.
Clark said New Zealand was also making representations about a proposal to abolish ancestry visas under which New Zealanders whose grandparents were born in Britain were entitled to enter freely.
"We believe the ancestry visa should remain in place as testimony to these connections, and the New Zealand government will continue to lobby for this at a high level," she said.
Clark said New Zealanders accounted for 1,940 of the 8,490 ancestry visas issued in 2006.
More than two-thirds of New Zealand's 4.2 million population are of European ethnicity and over a quarter of a million residents recorded at the last census in 2006 were born in England and Scotland.