There’s a renewed push in London for Australians and New Zealanders to be granted special status to live and work in the United Kingdom without restriction.
A Commonwealth Exchange (CE) think tank report, proposes bilateral mobility zones be established between the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The plan is based on an idea by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, who was outraged last year when an Australian teacher was kicked out of Britain while European Union citizens enjoy unfettered access.
The CE report argues so-called “Boris bilaterals” should be modelled on the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA) between Australia and New Zealand.
“The TTTA should be seen as a starting point for the UK to build a flexible, fair, reasonable and reciprocal regime,” report author Tim Hewish writes.
“New Zealand’s two-year wait for welfare provision and five-year wait for eligibility for citizenship appear sensible ideas that the UK may wish to replicate.”
The report acknowledges some in Australia and New Zealand might be concerned about being swamped by Brits.
The mobility zones would be two-way streets and the UK has a population of 63 million compared to Australia’s 23 million and New Zealand’s 4.5 million.
Mr Hewish also notes Australia’s “turbulent” attitude towards Asian asylum-seekers who’ve been branded “boat people” might be a stumbling block.
“It may be seen as hypocrisy for any Australian government to, on the one hand, allow freedom of work and movement of Britons yet, on the other, refuse entry to nationals from Asian countries.
“However, one could argue correctly that there is a difference between asylum-seekers and prospective economic migrants.”
The author argues there’s little chance of change ahead of the UK general election in May 2015 but after that bilaterals could be up and running within six months.
In the longer term, the new approach could be opened up to include other Commonwealth countries, Mr Hewish writes.
Yearly immigration into Britain from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa peaked at 73,000 in 2004 and dropped to 29,000 in 2011.
The report argues because the UK government can’t control European immigration “policies to reduce immigration have had an undeserved impact on the Commonwealth”.
“(But) it would be shameful and a deep error to disregard the shared language, legal system, and customs that the Commonwealth family provides,” it states.
The CE report further recommends a Commonwealth concession for UK business visas and, in the longer term, a Commonwealth-wide business visa system based on the ASEAN business travel card.
The later would include fast-track passport lanes at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
In his foreword to Monday’s report, Mr Johnson suggests as the UK re-examines its relationship with the EU, it should recast its immigration system.
“The first place to start is with the Commonwealth,” the mayor writes.
“It seems that almost all parts of the Commonwealth are brimming with a new energy and optimism at precisely the time that the European Union is struggling.”