13 Mar 2016

Commonwealth 'visa-free' idea popular

6:53 pm on 13 March 2016

New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians and Britons would like the right to live and work in each other's nations without the need for a visa, a poll suggests.

The proposal was least popular in Britain, where only 58 percent of those surveyed backed the idea.

The proposal was least popular in Britain, where only 58 percent of those surveyed backed the idea. Photo: 123RF

The survey, carried out by The Royal Commonwealth Society, shows significant levels of support for a European Union-style system of free movement between the four nations.

Support for the idea was strongest among New Zealanders with 82 percent of those surveyed in favour of the idea.

There was also strong support among Canadians (75 percent), Australians (70 percent) and people under the age of 35.

The policy proposal was least popular in Britain, where 58 percent of those surveyed backed it, but one in five did not think it was a good idea.

"I think it could work," said Lord Howell of Guilford, president of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

"We need to welcome our friends with open arms when they visit us, and, in doing so, work to ensure as much free mobility as possible."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea seemed incredibly popular among young Commonwealth nationals in some of London's pubs.

"Well I think if you observe history it seems only fair," said Jo McGregor, a barwoman from London.

"Why should people from Australia or New Zealand have a harder time [working in Britain] than people from Europe? We've got the same Queen, we fought the same wars, we have the same language and similar culture."

However, former Australian foreign minister and now High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer immediately poured cold water on the proposal.

He suggested exempting countries from visas could be bad for Australia's border security.

"If we had exemptions ... we wouldn't know who was coming in from that country in advance," Mr Downer said.

"We have to manage our borders in a coherent, sensible way. We're not about to change those arrangements for anybody."

'Sense of disappointment' in UK visa system

Mr Downer said there was a sense of disappointment among Australians that it was not as easy to get a visa to work in the UK as it once was.

Britain was trying to reduce migration by restricting the numbers of those coming from outside the European Union.

From 6 April, Australians and New Zealanders staying longer than six months in the UK would have to pay £200 ($NZ419) for the "free" National Health Service (NHS).

Those who wanted permanent residency in the country would also have to be earning a minimum of £35,000 ($NZ73,430) to be permitted to stay.

Officials and members of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party had warned the tighter, more expensive visa regulations could have a long-term impact on the UK's relationship with Australia.

"If the British want Australian companies to continue to invest very strongly in the UK they should think about making sure their visa arrangements are liberal enough that Australian investors are able to bring Australians over to help run those businesses," Mr Downer said.