The passionate House of Commons debate centred around a report – keenly backed by both London mayor Boris Johnson and by TNT Magazine – which shows that thousands of Antipodeans are forced to leave the UK or are prevented from entering, and how this needs to change.
Some of the government’s MPs agreed that the country discriminated against Commonwealth citizens – most notably Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians – by not affording them ‘privileges’ that were automatically handed to European Union citizens by law.
“Being a subject from one of Her Majesty’s realms or being from a Commonwealth nation should count for something when looking to visit, work, study or live in the United Kingdom,” said Romford MP Andrew Rosindell at the debate on Tuesday January 27. “At the moment it appears to count for little.”
Mr Rosindell said the UK had placed “most of our eggs in the EU basket”, and had lost out by shunning citizens from countries with traditional ties.
“Over the past 13 years immigration from Australia and New Zealand – two nations with which we have a shared history and culture like no other, except perhaps for Canada – has almost halved, whereas immigration from the EU continues to rise at a rapid pace,” he told the House of Commons.
The report, ‘How to Solve a Problem like a Visa’, was compiled by Tim Hewish, executive director of the think tank Commonwealth Exchange, and shows that Australian migration to Britain plunged from 40,000 in 1999 to 26,000 in 2011 because of visa restrictions.
The report proposes to reverse the current ‘discriminatory’ British government immigration policy, which caps the number of migrants it can take from outside Europe at 20,000.
Mr Hewish said: “People are disappointed, just short of anger, by the fact people have travelled God knows how many thousands of miles to come to this country to set up shop, whether with a business or for a business, and that takes economic and personal risk, and to be turned away after such a short time, or even straight away, puts you off this country, which is sad to say.”
London Mayor Johnson has openly fought for a ‘bilateral mobility zone’ agreement between Australia and Britain, modelled on the trans-Tasman agreement between Australia and New Zealand.
This would mean that any Australian or New Zealander who wanted to travel to, live in and work in Britain would get a free visa. The same would apply for British citizens who wanted to work in Australia.
However, First Secretary of State William Hague appeared to sound a cautionary note when he spoke to News Corp Australia. Mr Hague accepted that European Union membership had changed the UK’s relationship with Australia, but insisted that migration restrictions did not prevent visits.
“There still are many, many different ways, many visa routes as it were, for Australians to visit the United Kingdom, and they’re not all fully used so I would encourage people to look at that in detail – it’s not difficult at all for Australians to come to the UK,” said Mr Hague.
To read TNT’s previous reports on this issue, click the links below…