New Zealand, Australian workers to suffer under Theresa May's immigration pledges
New anti-migrant policies announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May will make it harder for New Zealanders and Australians to find and keep jobs in the United Kingdom, and will charge them more to access the country's National Health Service.
The bad news comes as New Zealanders and Australians are flocking to Britain to take jobs in unprecedented numbers, according to official statistics released this week.
May, whose Conservatives are on target for an overwhelming victory in the June 8 election, launched her party manifesto in Yorkshire on Thursday (Friday NZ Time).
She said Britain had "a chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to build together", saying it should be "a great meritocracy".
She promised "a country that asks not where you've come from but where you're going to" – but her manifesto aims to drastically cut migration by deterring newcomers.
At least four policies will work to deter Kiwis, Australians and other foreigners hoping to move to – or already in – the UK:
- Doubling the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers to £2000 (NZ$3500) a year, using the revenue to train UK workers – putting Kiwis and Australians at a new disadvantage on the British job market.
- Toughening visa requirements for students, requiring them to leave the country at the end of their course unless they meet new, higher requirements.
- Increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge to £600 (NZ$1050) for migrant workers and £450 (NZ$780) for international students, to cover their use of the NHS.
- Increasing the earnings threshold for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.
May said it was "right" to want to bring the UK's net migration to sustainable levels – tens of thousands rather than hundreds. At current levels it held down wages and put pressure on public services, she said.
"I want to see people here having the skills to take on these jobs, while still have a system that brings the brightest and best into Britain," she said.
Australia's High Commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, said it was clear that the Conservatives were "going for broke" on their immigration policies to try to bring down the numbers coming into the country.
"Assuming the Conservatives win the election, the only way (Australians) will get any improvement in our situation will be in the context of the Free Trade Agreement negotiations," he said.
Australia and the UK are in the early stages of putting together an FTA which will follow Brexit.
New Zealanders and Australians have flocked to the UK seeking work in the last year. There are more Australian and New Zealand-born workers in the UK labour force than at any time in the last 20 years, according to new figures.
In the first quarter of 2017, there were 157,000 Australian and New Zealand-born workers in the UK Labour market. This was 31,000 more than at the same time in 2016, and beat the previous record of 150,000 in the first quarter of 2005. It is the highest number since the ONS data series began in 1997, when the figure was 78,000.
The Conservative party have been promising since they came into power to reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands – however net migration has remained much higher.
The number of EU-born migrants working in the UK is at a six month high, according to figures released this week, recovering from a post-Brexit slump.
All the employment growth in the first quarter of 2017 came from people born overseas: the number of UK-born people in work fell by 1000 to 26.2 million, while the number of non-UK workers rose by 388,000 to 5.8 million.
Workers rights have emerged as a major point of conflict in Brexit, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel warning Britain that an end to freedom of movement for EU citizens "will have its price".
At a labour conference in Berlin, she threatened new "obstacles" for Britons in Europe.
"This is not malicious, but … (if) there is a cap of 100,000 or 200,000 EU citizens, more are not allowed into Britain, that will not work.
"Then we would have to think about what obstacles we put in place from the European side to compensate."
- Sydney Morning Herald