A new poll shows “overwhelming support” across Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK for the right to live and work freely in each other’s countries. However, the UK is going in the opposite direction by increasing the Tier 2 salary threshold for permanent residence making it harder to stay in the UK. In New Zealand, support reached as high as 82%, while 75% of Canadians and 70% of Australians also backed reciprocal living and working rights. The UK had the lowest percentage of support with 58% of Britons in favour.
The greatest support for free immigration between the Countries is from young adults aged 18 – 35, with some 90% of New Zealanders and 80% of Australians in this age group in favour. A further question revealed that more Britons were in support of free mobility with Australia, Canada and New Zealand than between the UK and nations within the European Union.
The poll is just one of a series of surveys that have been carried out following calls made by London Mayor, Boris Johnson – following his visit to Australia in 2013 – for a “free labour mobility zone” between Australia and the UK. However, since Johnson’s visit, the number of Commonwealth nationals working in the UK has decreased.
The decline has been attributed to a crackdown on immigration to the UK from non-EU nations; new UK immigration policies set to come into effect on 6 April, 2016 will make things even more difficult. This includes a requirement for tier 2 visa workers, who have been in the UK for six years, to be earning £35,000 or more in order to be eligible to remain in the UK permanently. Australians, along with nationals of New Zealand, entering the UK for longer than six months will also be hit with an annual surcharge of £200 (A$380 and NZ$426) in order to access health care services, from 6 April 2016.
A statement from UK immigration minister, James Brokenshire, in February said: “It was only fair that Australian and New Zealand nationals contribute to the National Health Service (NHS).” Migration experts have reported a surge in the number of Australians, based in the UK, now seeking a return home, due to Tier 2 visa changes and surcharges.
The governments of Australia and New Zealand have been particularly vocal in their criticism of the UK’s Tier 2 visa changes. John Key, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, said: “Extending the NHS surcharge to New Zealanders in the UK is pretty cheap and not really in keeping with the history of the two countries”.