The Blog

Why We Should Allow Free Movement Between the UK and Australia

It is clear both the UK and Australia can benefit from easing movement of our citizens and are also missing out on the skills we can offer each other. Let's not weaken a bond touted as one of the strongest international relationships to exist. I implore our politicians and our experts to seriously consider the free movement and mutual recognition of qualifications put forward by the Commonwealth Exchange with the support of Boris Johnson.

Right now, a lot of Britons and Australians are talking about a 'Bilateral Mobility Zone' (BMZ) proposed by the Commonwealth Exchange and originally introduced by Boris Johnson. It's essentially about freeing movement between the UK and Australia.

You see, I'm one of those Australians living in the UK facing the end of my visa who would really love to stick around. With visas restricted to two years, I've witnessed friends leave the country despite wanting nothing more than to stay. I've spoken to Britons in Australia facing the same fate. Although skilled migrants, most have faced demotions in order to migrate. So naturally, I've been quite interested in this proposal, and the more I look into it, the more it makes sense. Here's why...

The 'Boris Bilaterals' - how would it work?

Essentially, this would be about freeing movement between Australia, New Zealand (possibly Canada) and the UK. This agreement is modelled on the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement that exists between Australia and New Zealand. It would mean mutual recognition of qualifications and the ability to move freely through each country without the need for visas (which are increasingly impossible to access) and the substantial costs that meet them. Migrants would be required to wait two years for access to welfare. The agreement would be based on benefits being totally reciprocal.

When our governments are taking a tough stance on immigration from the EU and Asia, why would we allow migration between the UK and Australia?

Because this isn't about turning our back on immigrants from other nations, (if it did I wouldn't support it) it's a policy that would be based on a swap, if you will, and is likely to be seized upon by both Britons and Australians. It's about capitalising on the social, cultural and political benefits for both countries, based on the strong ties that already exist.

The cultural and social ties that bind us.

Many British migrants are still choosing to relocate to Australia, and historically, Australians have always preferred to move to the UK than elsewhere. However, numbers for Aussies in the UK are declining since visa restrictions were introduced,halving since 2006. Now more likely to head to New York than London, due the a US-Australia Free Trade Agreement introduced in 2005. And since then, Australian's surveyed by the Lowy Institute now consider our ties to be closest with the US than the UK.

Which is a shame. Because the UK and Australia's relationship, in reality, is extraordinary.

As Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop said at Chatham House in the London earlier this year, "It is a fact that the relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom is one of the closest international relationships: "I can think of few that are closer in terms of our historic, political, economic, cultural and sporting ties."

Boris Johnson also touched on this in his Daily Telegraph column last year where he originally called for free movement - "We British are more deeply connected with the Australians - culturally and emotionally - than with any other country on earth."

Strengthening this bond through migration will help both governments capitalise on a valuable economic and political relationship.

Agent-general for the Victorian government in the UK, Geoffrey Conaghan, wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post UK in support of a BMZ: "There is plenty to suggest that a deep and valuable economic connection between the two also exists and is evolving. By working together to explore and strengthen this connection, we can re-establish our positions as world leading economies."

A BMZ, or at least easing movement, would be an added bonus to our strengthening strategic political relationship which has been of focus for both governments in 2014. One in which sees similar aid and trade goals, and a partnership with a mutual focus on strengthening relations with Asia.

The UK also gives Australia greater access to a truly global platform, whilst, as Conaghan writes, "Australia also presents a great opportunity for UK to strengthen its links with the growing economy of Oceania."

It is well-documented that Australia has one of the world's top performing economies.

But it is one which is about to see even more growth, and become considerably more valuable as a partner to the UK, as the Australian government has signed Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with Japan and South Korea in recent months, with a defining FTA to be announced with China later this week. An agreement giving Australia access to China's $10 trillion economy.

Foreign Editor of the Australian, Greg Sheridan, writes in his March, 2014 article Old Ties That Secure Our Future - "Australia is a big middle power, Britain a small great power. They are near enough in size, and very close in outlook, that they can be of great use to each other.

"Most people in both Australia and Britain don't realise how close the operational, political, intelligence, military, diplomatic and economic partnership really is."

This follows as Australia plans to move embassies in Baghdad and possibly Kabul, into the British embassy building. As Sheridan writes "This can only be done by countries which have a high degree of trust."

If our governments value this political and economic relationship, it would make sense to push for closer social and cultural ties between their people.

As Conaghan writes, "Migration is about people, ideas, investment and future relationships, and is of course key to the economic success of Australia and the UK."

Yet despite this, our governments continue to alienate citizens, hurting social and cultural ties.

Just how difficult is it for Aussies and Brits moving across the pond?

I can hear many of you asking "It can't be that difficult to migrate, there are so many Aussies in London/ Brits in Sydney?!"

Sure, but that's because initial entry is made possible. Australian's and Britons under 30 are eligible for initial two year working visas. But qualifications are not always mutually recognised and staying on beyond the two years is proving to be increasingly impossible with current visa restrictions.

Britons in Australia

Charlotte Davies is a Briton living in Australia. She has six years of experience in sales and marketing, including four years as marketing manager at one of the UK's biggest banks, RBS. She has a first class degree and a chartered diploma in marketing and her job is on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List, meaning, Australian's are on the look out for people just like her.

"This should be a good thing, as the government forecasts state that there will be a solid increase in the number of job openings for marketeers over the next five years."

Yet, she can't get sponsored to stay beyond April 2015. At which point, she'll be asked to leave the country.

"The constraints put on 457 sponsorship means that qualified, hard working people like myself cannot stay in the country beyond two years."

Despite Charlotte's qualifications, she has been working as a telesales executive or as a marketing coordinator in her time in Australia. A demotion that has seen her completely under utilised.

What makes matters worse for Brits in Australia, is that if they wish to spend longer than 12 months down under, they are required to work rurally for three months within their first year. A requirement which looks good on paper, as rural Australia needs workers and support, but is completely unregulated by the Australian government and can be incredibly dangerous, specifically for young women.

Charlotte describes cases where women swap sex for hours to be signed off by their employers, and the extreme isolation faced when working on farms, in her case, 80km from the nearest town.

"The family were very strict and rather xenophobic, I would work from 5:30am until 8pm with very little break, seven days a week, and would quite often be sworn and shouted at. The work was very labour intensive."

Charlotte describes this as a terrifying and exhausting experience. One which lead to an accident in the families ute she was driving. Once she completed 90 days though, she could return to Sydney.

Despite hard times, Charlotte says she desperately does not want to leave Australia.

"I can honestly say that Australia is the only place in which I've ever felt truly at home... I have an amazing boyfriend, lots of awesome friends...I've been settled here for the best part of 18 months, and fell in love with the country."

"My employers would love to keep me, and I'd love to stay, it's just that the government restrictions are preventing such a simple dream from coming true."

Australian's in the UK

Whilst many Australians working in the UK are being under utilised in the same way that Charlotte is in Australia, the clearest example is within the health industry while working for the NHS.

Anne Tuddenham is a nurse from Australia and she can't get registered to work here because she is short the clinical and theory hours required to be completed in an undergraduate degree. Yet her professional experience covers eight years.

"As a result of the Francis Enquiry ... there was a crackdown on the registration requirements of overseas nurses getting their PIN in the UK, Anne says.

"I understand the need for change, but I think disregarding experience as a professional, registered, full time nurse because they can't tick a box to say I learnt something a decade ago is a little unjust! Particularly because they are screaming for nurses here."

In what could be deemed as a consequence of red-tape, the UK are missing out on the experience that Anne and many other Aussie nurses can offer.

Within those eight years of experience, Anne worked at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, predominantly within acute surgical settings as a clinical nurse specialist. She has worked as an associate nurse unit manager and was seconded to a clinical support nurse within acute surgical wards. This means she was an educator of graduate nurses.

And although Anne doesn't meet the required undergraduate hours of practice to get registered, she is highly educated. Currently completing her masters in clinical education, she also has a graduate certificate in clinical nursing - surgical stream, a graduate certificate in diabetes health and education and a certificate IV in training and assessment.

Despite what Anne could offer patients in the UK, she's been demoted to a health care assistant, where she does the shopping and cleaning for patients at home.

And Anne is the rule in this case, not the exception. Most Aussie nurses just can't work here anymore.

So, isn't this worth a serious discussion?

It is clear both the UK and Australia can benefit from easing movement of our citizens and are also missing out on the skills we can offer each other. Let's not weaken a bond touted as one of the strongest international relationships to exist. I implore our politicians and our experts to seriously consider the free movement and mutual recognition of qualifications put forward by the Commonwealth Exchange with the support of Boris Johnson.