Australians would find it easier and cheaper to live and work in Britain under proposals in a new report backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.
Mr Johnson said he hoped the scheme would reverse the dramatic drop in Australian migration to Britain – from 40,000 in 1999 to 26,000 in 2011.
He – and the report – propose a “bilateral mobility zone” agreement between Australia and Britain, modelled on the trans-Tasman agreement between Australia and New Zealand.
Any Australian or New Zealander who wanted to travel to, live and work in Britain would get a free visa – although they would not get immediate access to welfare support.
The same would apply for British citizens who wanted to work in Australia.
“Extra Brits would never be seen as alien,” the report predicted.
“Nor would Aussies or Kiwis in Britain. The issue may come down to political climates and the resulting political will.
“It would certainly allow a greater flourishing of our common unity.
“The UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand share the same head of state, the same language and the same common-law legal system. Critically, they are all highly economically developed democracies and there is also a distinct common culture and familial bond between them.
“Taken together this has led some to ask why policies of free movement don’t already exist.”
However, the report conceded that the idea would have to wait until after the British elections next May – and warned that “grasping the nettle of immigration policy is always replete with trials in Britain”.
The report quoted an unnamed Australian teacher who described how red tape had almost prevented her from staying and working in Britain, after her application to renew her work visa was initially declined.
“Jumping through hoops, playing the waiting game and being in limbo is definitely something I wish not to have [again] any time soon,” she said.
“The amount of processes that Australian and New Zealand and other Commonwealth citizens have to do just to stay in the UK is absolutely ridiculous.”
It also quoted an Australian electrician who arrived on a youth mobility visa, planning to work and travel for a few years, “fell in love” with Britain, and found a company willing to sponsor him to stay.
However, the company changed its mind because of the “strict and long process” required to get a visa, which included conducting a labour market test to ensure that nobody in Britain or the European Union could do the job better.
The report also recommended extending the same option to Canadians.
Mr Johnson first proposed the idea of a “bilateral labour mobility zone” between Britain, Australia and New Zealand in August last year.
In a foreword to the report, he said it was “the beginning of a long-overdue discussion about how we engage with Commonwealth citizens”.
“In 2013, I visited Australia and was reminded of the myriad enduring bonds between ‘the English-speaking peoples’, to use Churchill’s phrase,” wrote Mr Johnson, who has just published a biography of the former prime minister.
“I was also struck by the strength of the Australian economy … 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.
“As we reconsider Britain’s place in the world, I want us to reconsider how we engage with Commonwealth peoples.”
The report was written by Tim Hewish, a former academic and Conservative researcher who co-founded a new think tank called Commonwealth Exchange, which is aimed at promoting trade, education and strategic co-operation within the Commonwealth.
He wrote that the Commonwealth had “fallen out of fashion in recent years” but this was to the detriment of Britons.
The Commonwealth had a population of 2.3 billion including a growing labour force and middle class, with a common lingua franca – English – and much of it sharing English common law.
“However at present the UK underutilises this network and the Commonwealth is undermined by an outmoded UK visa regime,” he said.
Migration from what he called the “old Commonwealth” had crashed: Australian migration to Britain had gone from 40,000 in 1999 to 26,000 in 2001; New Zealand migration from 18,000 in 2000 to 8000 in 2011; and South African migration from 37,000 in 2004 to just 5000 in 2012.
The report also recommended extending the Youth Mobility visa, which applies to only a handful of nations, to more Commonwealth countries.
It says there should be a “Commonwealth concession” on the cost of tourist and business-tourist visas.
Last October, Chris Hancock, general manager at the Walkabout pub in central London, told Fairfax Media he had noticed the decrease in Australians from behind the bar.
The cost of living in Britain had grown significantly, he said.
“Rents are through the roof. The general consensus among Aussies is they can make more money at home on the mines.
“When the pound was worth three Aussie dollars, London’s jobs were plentiful and rents not so exorbitant; it was possible to go over, work in a bar job, and see Europe. You could party hard and still save a nest-egg for the return to Australia, Now, not so much.
“They realize how expensive it is to live in London and they think, ‘Bugger it, I’ll travel a bit then go home.’ “
Comment is being sought from the government and the opposition
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