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Britain Turns Its Back On Commonwealth Citizens


By Keith Best


Wednesday, July 16, 2008.


There appears to be several moves to restrict the ties Commonwealth citizens have with the UK through migration.


Not only has Britain had historic links with many Commonwealth countries in the past but also many Commonwealth countries have their institutions based on those in the UK, have English as an official language and have links with a long-standing existing expatriate community in the UK – all the kinds of attributes that the Immigration Minister Liam Byrne MP has said that he wants to see in immigrants to the UK in understanding the British way of like and language.


Citizens from Commonwealth countries have helped make Britain what it is today, have fundamentally affected the culture and cuisine of the UK and twice last century gave their lives in support of our way of life.


So why is it that the Government is now turning its back on Commonwealth citizens? With only a residual global influence now is not the time to reduce that still further by limiting close links with more than 50 other states. Simply, it is not in Britain’s geopolitical best interests.


In November the Working Holiday Maker scheme – specifically enabling young Commonwealth citizens to come to the UK for a holiday and do some work for up to two years – will end. It will be replaced by Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme designed to facilitate cultural exchange for young people from countries that join the Scheme.


They will be able to come and experience life in the UK for up to two years, while young UK nationals enjoy similar opportunities in participating countries.


This takes the place of the Working Holiday Maker scheme which will be abolished. Unlike the Working Holiday Maker scheme which was reserved for Commonwealth citizens, however, the new Tier 5 will only apply to countries where there is no visa regime – which will exclude most New Commonwealth countries altogether and favour the largely white non-visa countries.  


Moreover, it will only be available to citizens of countries which offer reciprocal arrangements to UK citizens and which have a signed returns agreement with the UK – not even the USA so far has signed up to this.


It seems that it will be a sad return, however inadvertent, to the immigration policies based on race that underpinned the 1971 Immigration Act (favouring “patrials” who had family links with the UK such as those from the Old Commonwealth).


This measure needs to be viewed alongside the proposal to abolish the path to UK citizenship based on UK ancestry and to penalise family visitors by abolishing their right of appeal against refusal – on which IAS has a very high success rate.


I for one value the UK’s historic links with the 53 member states of the Commonwealth and, at a time when Britain’s influence in the world is limited, it seems hardly sensible geo-politically to weaken those links. Yet these measures seem to be further nails in the Commonwealth coffin as far as the British Government is concerned.


The question that the Minister must answer is whether this is inadvertent and an unintended consequence of ill-considered policies or if it is deliberate.


Keith Best is the head of Immigration Advisory Service.


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