Australia rules out visa-free work deal with UK

Plans for a UK-AUS trade deal appear optimistic, but totally visa-free work and travel is off the table, according to Australia's trade minister.

Australia rules out visa-free work deal with UK.
Simon Birmingham, Australia's trade minister, has expressed optimism that a trade deal can be reached with the UK by the end of the year but has appeared to rule out a British proposal to include visa-free work and travel between the two countries.In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, Mr Birmingham said that any deal that circumvented existing immigration restrictions would be deeply unpopular in both countries.While he suggested some changes to work rights would be proposed and accepted by both sides, the minister added that he “can't imagine full and unfettered free movement” will be on the table during negotiations.

More flexible migration and labour rights

At present, Australian tourists can visit the UK without a visa for up to six months but, to work, they must get either a working holiday visa, be sponsored or have UK heritage via a parent or grandparent. Britons need a visa to enter Australia, even as tourists.UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss floated possible talks on free movement during a visit to Australia in September 2019, although she subsequently appeared to backtrack on the idea. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also advocated for the creation of a special visa-free zone when he was mayor of London.However, Mr Birmingham said, “We're not into full negotiating mode and we will have to see what the UK aspires to, but noting that work rights and movement of people in the UK has been a big part of the European Union debate, I would be surprised if complete liberalisation around migration and labour rights was on their agenda."
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He added that he expected minor amendments to existing immigration rules to allow “more flexibility”, but stressed his priority was sealing a free trade deal focused on giving Australian exporters easier access to the British market.The Herald commented, "A largely foreign concept in Australia, free movement could unleash significant economic and social consequences, including a possible exodus of highly trained workers to the UK and influx of unskilled Brits to Sydney and Melbourne."

2020: a year of change

Over Christmas, Mr Birmingham held preliminary trade talks with British ministers, the newspaper reported. While the UK leaves the EU at the end of January, transitional arrangements mean existing economic, customs and migration rules will remain in force between the UK and the EU until the end of the year.Mr Birmingham said he hoped a trade deal between the UK and EU could be reached by the end of 2020, although he accepted the two nations were operating in "unchartered waters".But he added, “Those uncharted waters also mean unprecedented outcomes can probably be achieved. The incentive to get a deal done has got to be significant given how much is at stake, so I expect - given how much clarity and certainty the UK election provided - that goodwill exists on both sides of the Channel to nut out a deal.”The UK is Australia’s eighth-largest trading partner and the second-largest source of total foreign investment in Australia.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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