On your surfboard, Bruce … Britain gives job-hungry visitors the third degree
- Lisa Pryor
- March 21, 2009 Sydney Morning Herald
Thinking of working in London? Before you book a ticket to Heathrow, you might want to double check the visa rules. Changes are afoot which will make it harder for foreigners to work in Britain. Especially if you are the wrong side of 30.
The new rules will not hamper working holidays, the rite of passage in which young Australians serve drinks to fund their own drinking. They will still be free to save up pounds before embarking on a culturally enriching journey culminating with binge drinking at Gallipoli and snogging someone from Ballarat in a nightclub in Corfu.
But the changes will limit the opportunities of slightly older people who roll their eyes at the antics of immature backpackers. These older professionals want only to blend into the local culture by taking career jobs, snorting coke and taking weekend trips to Barcelona.
The changes which take place on April 1 affect those applying for highly skilled migrant visas. In less than a fortnight, it will no longer be possible to qualify for one of these visas unless you have a masters degree. The details are all terribly complicated and messy but it is fair to say it could spell bad news for professionals - whether we're talking engineers or lawyers, physiotherapists or accountants - who have spent four, five or six years at university, obtained double degrees, honours degrees, professional accreditation and industry experience, but not a masters.
The reasons for the crackdown, which also makes it tougher for British firms to sponsor foreigners, are obvious. The British economy is going to the dogs. More than 2 million are unemployed. The recession is expected to be longer and deeper than for other major economies, says the International Monetary Fund. Oil refinery and power plant workers have been striking, standing in the snow, calling for British jobs for British workers. "This is only the start of the fight for us lads," strike committee member Tony Ryan told London's Telegraph. "British workers are being discriminated against up and down the length of the country."
When the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced tougher migration rules on February 22, she too spoke about British workers. The new rules would be "more selective about the migrants coming to the United Kingdom".
European Union membership means there is little Britain can do to limit the number of workers arriving from Italy or Poland, but they can limit the numbers of antipodean workers with impunity. Cutting back on the intake of Australian actuaries or South African podiatrists allows them to make a show of protecting local jobs, even though it is unlikely to help the most lowly paid workers.
At least the young still have hope, having got off scot free in the purge of foreigners. Clive Hunton, communications director at the British high commission in Canberra, says the high commission has been promoting the working holiday visa, now known as the youth mobility scheme visa, "very heavily with the emphasis on very". "The more Australians who apply for one, the happier we will be," he says. He also points out that the number of highly-skilled migrant visas only accounts for a small number of the work visas issued. In the year to March 2008, 1103 highly-skilled migrant visas were issued to Australians, compared to 15,200 youth mobility scheme visas. He also says that some professionals such as lawyers and accountants may find their qualifications are considered the equivalent to a masters and thus they are still eligible for the highly-skilled visas. Consult UK NARIC - Home for more information.
But the word on the street is that these days there are big delays getting any sort of visa. This week I have gathered anecdotal reports of visas taking taking two, three, even five months to approve, when they should take between five and eight weeks. Hunton says they are getting through applications as quickly as they can, and asks for patience "while the new administrative process is bedded down".
As Australia also moves to curtail migration, the British changes remind me that those of us who have got used to working freely overseas have much to lose if the world gets caught up in a ***-for-tat tightening of migration laws.