New Zealand hires former Trump campaign director to lobby for business visas

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand has hired a former campaign field director for U.S. President Donald Trump to help its push for a long-sought visa that would give the Pacific nation’s business employees easier access to the United States.

New Zealand’s embassy in Washington hired boutique firm Sonoran Policy Group’s Stuart Jolly to lobby the U.S. administration for access to E1 and E2 business and investor visas, according to documents filed with a U.S. government database last week.

Jolly acted as Trump’s national campaign field director during the Republican primaries and joined the super PAC Great America, which backed Trump, as its national advisor in May.

“We are excited to help facilitate interactions with the U.S. Congress and incoming administration in order to ensure increased investment and trade between our two nations,” Sonoran Policy Group CEO Christian Bourge said in a letter to New Zealand’s deputy ambassador sent on Jan. 11. The letter was included in the U.S. government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act database on Jan. 25.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not immediately available for comment.

The E1 and E2 immigration programs have long been a priority for New Zealand as they would allow companies operating in the United States access to streamlined visas for their staff in line with neighboring Australia and around 50 other countries.

“It’s been the number one focus of the embassy over there,” said Catherine Beard, executive director of industry group Export NZ, adding that access to the visa program was generally granted after reaching a free trade agreement.

“We’ve been trying for years to negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.S. and we’ve never been high enough on their radar,” she said.

The NZ embassy’s contract with Sonoran runs for two months from Jan. 9 at a cost of $25,000 a month, according to the documents.

New Zealand expressed disappointment when Trump last week pulled the United States out of a 12-nation trade pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and is now looking to strike a bilateral trade deal.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Richard Pullin