​Govt rejects visa-free deal with UK


​Govt rejects visa-free deal with UK

The federal government has rejected an offer from the UK government of a post-Brexit trade agreement that would include visa-free work and travel between Australia and the UK.

The Australian government has rejected an offer from the UK government of a post-Brexit trade agreement that would include visa-free work and travel both ways between Australia and the UK. The proposal is similar to the arrangement that has long existed between Australia and New Zealand.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham rejected the UK proposal in an interview last week. He said that priority should be given to “enhancing trade arrangements”, with visas to be addressed only as a side issue, not a separate one outside a trade agreement. He added that “there is a huge spectrum of grey between the black and white of no movement or unfettered movement”.

Some Australian commentators have also expressed fears of a potential “brain drain” of skilled employees from Australia to the UK, combined with an influx of unskilled immigrants in the opposite direction. However, there are divergent views about the probability of such an occurrence, with debate over the relative attractions of employment, economic and political conditions in each country.

The UK government has also announced that it intends to adopt a “points system” for assessing potential immigrants that appears to be similar to the Australian system.

Some UK commentators have speculated that Australia’s apparent unwillingness to pursue a “free movement” arrangement (combined with the New Zealand government’s previous similar rejection) may influence the UK government to give lower priority to negotiating similar arrangements with “preferred” countries – a goal it has previously indicated was a high priority. The UK Migration Advisory Committee is expected to release a report by the end of January 2020 that is likely to provide further insight into likely directions.

Some critics have also suggested a contradiction between the UK government’s wish to “tighten up” free movement between the UK and European Union countries – a key argument presented in the pro-Brexit case – and its desire that other countries including Australia should “loosen” their own arrangements.

Tourism campaign

Perhaps ironically, last month Australia released the “Matesong” campaign, an advertising campaign aimed specifically at UK residents to encourage them to visit Australia as tourists. There is evidence that Australia has long had an issue with tourists (from many other countries as well as the UK) travelling on “working holidays” but overstaying their visas and/or contriving ways to remain in Australia.

Estimates are that about 120,000 Australian citizens currently live in the UK, but about 1.2 million UK citizens live in Australia. More than 600,000 UK citizens were granted work, tourist or temporary visas in Australia during the 2018/9 financial year.
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