Working in the United Kingdom is a rite of passage for many Australians. And while there’s more Australian and New Zealand-born people working in the UK than at any time in the past 20 years, there are plenty who have missed their chance through age, or were forced to return after completing their one allocated visa in their 20s.
Now, with net migration to the United Kingdom dropping to its lowest level in three years following the Brexit vote, experts say it’s the perfect time for Australians to renegotiate its visa options.
So, what are the current rules?
At the moment, Australians can apply for a Youth Mobility Scheme visa, which is limited to one visa for a two-year period, for those under the age of 31. Australians can also get sponsorship through companies, and other professionals stationed in the UK can also apply for a separate visa.
You can also apply for a five-year UK Ancestry visa at a cost of 496 pounds (almost $900) if you have a grandparent born in the UK. There’s also a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, but you must have at least 50,000 pounds in the bank (roughly $85,000).
There are heaps of Australian and New Zealanders working in the UK, but they’re not filling up the full allocation of youth visas, with just a third of places being filled.
So, could Australians be part of the solution for an impending skills and labour drain?
The deputy director of the Monash European and EU Centre, Ben Wellings, said it could be.
“I think it’s going to have to be,” Dr Wellings said. “The way that the Brexit vote has been interpreted by the current UK Government has been really along the lines of this was a vote against migration and the free movement of labour around the EU. And if you look at the home offices statistics you’ll see that net migration in the UK’s actually dropped since the Brexit vote.”
He said while it’s not known whether that was skilled or unskilled labour, it might be the right timing for the issue.
“In a funny way Brexit is an opportunity for Australia, because it re-opens a market to which there’s only been access via the EU,” Dr Wellings said. “The short answer is basically, yes”.
And that’s the hope for CANZUK International.
The lobby group have long campaigned for the free movement between Australia, Canada, New Zealand the UK since 2014.
CANZUK International chief executive James Skinner said the UK’s decision to leave the EU presented “the perfect opportunity” to negotiate immigration reform between Australia and the UK.
“Our polling conducted earlier this year revealed that 72 per cent of the Australian public support free movement with the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, and we are working closely with senior government officials to ensure that freer movement is a top priority for any future Brexit negotiations,” he said.
Mr Skinner said while the group’s main objective was a free movement agreement, increased visa options are also a priority.
“In the interim, a five-year work visa could be introduced for anyone below the age of 31,” he said. “This would build upon the current Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417) that allows British citizens to work and travel in Australia for up to two years.
“As negotiations towards CANZUK free movement develop, this visa could then be expanded to those below the ages of 35 or 40.
“Progress could then be made towards increasing the five-year work visa to seven or ten years, and then eventually to full free-movement by negotiating an accession agreement for Canada and the United Kingdom to join the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement.”
Should the negotiations happen at the same time as upcoming trade talks?
Dr Wellings said Australia needed to be careful.
“Well, it would seem like an obvious moment but there are risks in doing that as well I think,” he said.
“So, an example of how that might happen is, when the British went to India in November, Theresa May and some of her senior cabinet ministers went to India in November, to try and see if a free-trade deal with India could be done after Britain gets out of the EU, [India] said, yes we’re interested, but … we want access for our IT professionals to the UK market when Britain comes out, having interpreted Brexit as an anti-immigrant vote the Government was kind of stuck there on its own rhetoric.
“It couldn’t sort of say well yes we’d love to have lots of Indian professionals turn up, because they think that’s what the people that voted for Brexit were voting against. So it might be best to pursue the trade and the citizenship from Australia’s point of view as two separate buy parallel categories.”
So what do Australians who have worked in the UK think?
Queensland resident Christina Gonzalez, 24, first moved to the UK in March 2015 and told the ABC any new visa options for Australians would be welcomed by many.
“I moved to the UK to gain international work experience and to also travel through Europe,” she said. “I was on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa and I continued my work in finance as a personal banking advisor and eventually becoming a client relationship manager.”
She said she wanted to extend her time there, but was limited by available visa options.
“I spoke with numerous lawyers and immigration workers throughout my time there, to look into any possible way I could stay,” she said. “I didn’t feel two years was enough, it felt as if I only just got started. There was another visa that could have been offered to me, known as the Tier 2 Sponsorship Visa. This is where the company can sponsor you within a specialised role that either … fits with the current UK shortages or they have exhausted all possibilities within the UK/EU before hiring me. Unfortunately this option was unsuccessful despite the number of job offers I was presented with. The Government made it so difficult for the company to justify why I’d be a perfect candidate (a current employee) ahead of anyone else in the UK/EU.”
The UK visa department even suggested that her only option was to consider marrying her partner at the time, which she labelled “ridiculous”. She said there should be more options for Australians now that Brexit negotiations were underway.
“It is clear that Australians have a positive impact over in the UK, as well as to their economy and tourism”.
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