British think-tank urges visa freedom between Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
British think-tank urges visa freedom between Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand

Canadians who want to live or travel in the United Kingdom could be granted the ability to do so without the current shackles of visa requirements and limitations, should the British parliament heed the call of a British think-tank.

That call involves urging for the creation of a vast “bilateral mobility zone” that would give citizens of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada the ability to travel freely, without the need for work or travel visas, between those Commonwealth nations.

"We want to add distinct value to Commonwealth citizenship for those who wish to visit, work or study in the U.K.," reads the report released by the Commonwealth Exchange. "The Commonwealth matters to the U.K. because it represents not just the nation’s past but also its legacy in the present, and its expanded potential in the U.K.’s future."

The idea of easier mobility between Canada and some of its closest Commonwealth allies would be an exciting concept. There are currently 90,000 Canadian-born residents of the U.K., and another 34,000 living in Australia and New Zealand.

The Commonwealth Exchange report takes on the larger question of the U.K.’s place on the international stage, noting that while the economies of European Union members are struggling, the Commonwealth nations such as Australia and India are booming. Despite this, its connection to those countries is weakening.

For instance, as many as 73,000 people were immigrating to Britain from Old Commonwealth nations– specifically Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa – a decade ago. By 2011, that figure had dropped to 23,000.

The number of Canadian immigrating to the U.K. has increased from 6,000 in 1999 to 9,000 in 2012. But visa requirements continued to limit that.

An account from a Canadian musician offered to the Commonwealth Exchange notes that she was forced to leave London at the end of her two-year working holiday visa, despite having gainful employment. She has since managed to secure a temporary visa, which in reviewed every three months.

“I now live my life in the U.K. three months at a time, never knowing when the quota might be full. This has the most deleterious effects on both my personal and professional life,” she writes.

The study makes the benefit of stronger ties between Commonwealth nations seem self-evident. The Commonwealth comprises 53 nations, with a total population of 2.3 billion people. And it shares English – the language of business and the internet – as its common tongue.

The report notes:

The UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand share the same Head of State, the same language, and the same common-law legal system. Critically, they are all highly economically developed democracies, and there is also a distinct common culture and familial bond between them. Taken together this has led some to ask why policies of free movement don’t already exist.

This statement drives the debate toward the monarchy, and to detractors of the Crown it could be seen as promoting closer ties based on that shared history.

The group Citizens for a Canadian Republic, for instance, promotes doing away with the Royal Family as Canada’s heads of state. But it does support Canada remaining involved in the Commonwealth, suggesting historic and economic ties are free to stand as separate discussions.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has previously discussed the idea publicly and wrote that he welcomes the “long-overdue discussion.”

"[W]e should welcome the brightest and the best from a wider range of countries. As we re-examine our relationship with the European Union, we have a vital opportunity to recast our immigration system in just this way. And the first place to start is with the Commonwealth," he wrote.

The idea is based on the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, which allows residents of Australia and New Zealand to live and work in either country without restrictions - save for those who pose health or security concerns.

There are some limitations, most notably that New Zealanders in Australia do not have access to welfare or the right to vote, but it is otherwise a relatively free flow between the two countries.

Canada already has various travel arrangements in place with Britain, Australia and New Zealand, including visitor’s visas and the Youth Mobility Program.

But this notion of a bilateral mobility zone between Toronto and London would remove those limitations altogether.

For now, we’ll be holding our breath. The United Kingdom is facing a federal election next year, and revolutionizing the country’s foreign relations strategy and immigration standards would surely need to wait until there is time to focus.

Still, the suggestion alone is rather interesting.