• Which Immigrants to Get Tough On?

    When Britain joined what was then the Common Market in 1972, a century-old trading pattern that had served British interests very well came to an end. Britain had enjoyed an unrivalled range of trading relationships which provided not only the cheapest and most efficiently produced food and raw materials from around the globe, but also preferential markets for British manufactured goods overseas.

    That allowed a cheap food policy at home (using subsidies to farmers to bridge the gap between the costs of domestic and foreign production), and cheap food in turn meant that manufacturing costs could be kept down, thereby creating a significant competitive advantage over manufacturing competitors.

    Common Market membership brought an end to these advantages. It meant, through the Common Agricultural Policy, to whose costs Britain was a major contributor, a substantial increase in food prices and therefore in costs, making British manufactured goods more expensive. It also meant an end to preferential markets for those goods overseas, and meant instead direct competition in a single marketplace from more efficient manufacturing rivals.

    A country like New Zealand, which had had a symbiotic relationship with the British economy, found that food and raw materials produced over a century for the British market were denied free access, with the corollary that British manufactured goods were seen less and less in New Zealand. The countries with which Britain substantially severed links in favour of new arrangements in the Common Market are today, of course, some of the fastest growing and developing economies in the world.

    But the change was not just in trade. Commonwealth citizens found themselves obliged to queue at length at immigration controls when visiting friends and family or holidaying in Britain, while those arriving from Europe walked straight through. The sacrifices jointly made in wartime seemed to count for little.

    The personal and family links between Britain and Commonwealth countries nevertheless proved to be remarkably resilient. Despite the dismissal of the Commonwealth by British policymakers as being of little importance, and the obstacles placed in the way of Commonwealth visitors, the family links and social relationships between the citizens of the UK and of countries like New Zealand remained strong, and are constantly refreshed.

    While Britain is, for New Zealand, less and less important as a trading partner or even as a foreign policy or military ally, the flow of people – family members, students, holidaymakers – between the two countries is as strong as ever. This is particularly significant for young New Zealanders. The “big OE” (or overseas experience) is virtually a rite of passage for young Kiwis. Although the rules about working in the UK have been tightened up considerably over the years, young graduates in particular will, almost as a matter of course, set off for the UK to “see the world” when they have completed their studies.

    Some will treat their sojourn as a working holiday, financing it with short-term and usually low-paid jobs. Others – perhaps professionally qualified – will take on more permanent and skilled employment. In either case, what then often happens is that – young people being young people – friendships and relationships, often romantic relationships, are formed. Those that develop into something more permanent will require a decision to be made sooner or later as to where that development will progress. The outcome is usually that either young Kiwis will find themselves seeking permanent residence in the UK with their new partner and family while others will return to New Zealand with a British partner.

    In either case, the family links between Britain and New Zealand are not only strengthened but actually extended. This is today the most significant aspect of the relationship between the two countries. How sad, therefore, that the UK’s European obligations (whatever their other merits) should once again intrude so as to blight what remains of that relationship.

    A British public, apparently alarmed at the influx of migrants from Europe, demands from its political leaders that action should be taken. A British Prime Minister, anxious to placate his critics but hogtied by his commitments to his European partners, casts around for some step that will show that he is tough on immigration.

    He has, it seems, found a suitably soft target. There is nothing much he can do about migrants from the EU but those young Kiwis (and other non-EU migrants) who insist on coming to the UK can be deterred by making life tougher for them. From April, the rules will be tightened yet further. Those seeking an employment visa will not only have to pay for the visa but an immigration health surcharge as well. If they earn less than £35,000, their right to stay will be shortened. If they earn more than that, those employing them must pay an annual levy of £1000 for each such employee.

    The numbers of New Zealanders seeking long-term employment in the UK have already dropped from 18,000 in 2000 to 8500 in 2014. We can expect further falls as a result of these measures and a further weakening of the links between the two countries. But David Cameron is unconcerned. He knows whose interests are expendable.

    Bryan Gould

    16 February 2016.




1 Comment

  1. Sanctuary says: February 16, 2016 at 4:01 pmReply

    If you think the ties are as strong as ever then you are dead wrong. The British OE is now rare. Young NZers now go to all sorts of places for their OE. Other parts of Europe, the USA, South America, Japan and now a trickle to China. I am astonished at how complacent, self absorbed and self important Europe has become. They seem to have little grasp on how fast they are being left behind. Having said that, I am currently living in Spain and the Spanish government seems to have worked out at least some of the growing irrelevance of Europe and is busily beefing up its cultural presence in South America and the Pacific. Europe is finished. It simply isn’t dynamic enough to deal with the Pacific century. And the UK is already a shithole mess more than halfway towards a Tory police state, a country that so frightened of its own masses it will go rogue before the middle of this century.

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