We were delighted to be present and listen to the UK Parliamentary debate on Commonwealth Immigration and Visas secured by our Advisory Board member, Andrew Rosindell MP, this week.
You can watch the debate again on Parliament TV by clicking here. It is also available to read in Hansard here. As we made clear previously this was the first time since 2008 at this topic was debated in Parliament.
We were honoured to have the recommendations from our immigration report were mentioned on number of occasions by Mr. Rosindell, the Opposition Shadow Minister, and the Government Minister. You can read our How to Solve a Problem like a Visa here.
Importantly, the Government welcomed our proposal of extending the Tier 5 Youth Visa to other Commonwealth nations and urged them to come forward. As the Home Office Minister, Karen Bradley MP, said:
“My message to those countries is, “Please come forward and talk to us.” We are open to talking to countries that want to be part of the arrangement to see whether the eligibility requirements and reciprocal arrangements can be put in place to enable young people from the UK and Commonwealth countries to enjoy each other’s culture by living in each other’s countries.”
Equally, this was echoed by the Shadow Home Office Minister, David Hanson MP:
“As the potential Minister in 12 weeks’ time, I am particularly drawn to the idea of the youth mobility visa. It could be very positive…It is worth looking at the idea of annually reviewing the case for returning more Commonwealth nations to the approved youth mobility list, and expanding it”
CX will now start to identify Commonwealth nations that may fit this criteria and will urge them to approach the Government as soon as possible. We were also encouraged by the Labour Party’s potential policy change on greater Commonwealth country join the Youth Visa scheme.
The Home Office Minister also agreed to a meeting with Commonwealth Exchange:
Andrew Rosindell MP: “Will she meet me and a delegation from Commonwealth Exchange to discuss Commonwealth immigration and visas in greater detail?”
Karen Bradley MP: “In answer to his first question, which was a request for a meeting, I am happy to agree and I hope that it can be organised shortly.”
We very much look forward to having this conversation and to help advance Commonwealth policy in this area particularly in the Youth Visa and our Commonwealth Concession suggestion.
CX was also delighted to be referenced:
Karen Bradly MP: “The Government are aware of the Commonwealth Exchange report “How to Solve a Problem like a Visa”—I commend the Commonwealth Exchange for its engaging title—and we are working with other Commonwealth countries to consider options to improve migration opportunities within the Commonwealth.”
David Hanson MP: “In preparation for the debate I looked at the Commonwealth Exchange report, which is valuable for this Government and future Governments as a way of generating discussion and positive suggestions about how to attain the hon. Gentleman’s objectives.”
Andrew Rosindell MP: “Commonwealth Exchange is a think-tank that promotes the trading, educational and strategic potential of the Commonwealth in the UK, and I am proud to serve on its advisory board.”
The Commonwealth’s economic potential was also made clear:
Jeremy Lefroy MP: “Economic development in Commonwealth countries—not only the fantastic growth in India, but the substantial growth in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia—has shown that the Commonwealth is, as my hon. Friend said, the place of the future…It is therefore vital that we maintain, and indeed enhance, the links with Commonwealth countries. That is not only about history; it is about business opportunities.”
David Hanson MP: “The Commonwealth is also a crucial economic driver, which we need to look outwards to…The Commonwealth Exchange report makes it clear that visitors from Nigeria, South Africa and India are more significant contributors to the UK economy than Chinese tourists, because of relatives, business and historical ties. We make efforts to attract visitors from China to the UK, and we should make significant efforts to make the visa application process simple for people from the historic Commonwealth countries.”
Karen Bradley MP: “Let me reiterate our commitment to the Commonwealth. We want to welcome citizens from across the Commonwealth to the UK. Britain is open for business. We welcome legitimate students, tourists, business people and others who want to come to this country to contribute.”
Unfortunately there was not time to debate all of our recommendations. Discussions on our Commonwealth Concession for the Tourist and Business Tourist visas was mentioned by Mr. Rosindell, but only the Shadow Minister provided comment:
“I challenge the assertion that we could drop the visa price. I do not say it cannot be done, but I should be interested in a proper review of the costings by the hon. Member for Romford or the Home Office. We need to know whether that uncosted proposal would generate a sufficient increase in visitors to offset the loss of income.”
We, of course, welcome the Government to do so and can provide assistance should it so wish.
While the Government did not answer Mr. Rosidnell’s request to draft a feasibility study on the London Mayor’s bilateral labour mobility zones between Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The same went for Commonwealth student and graduate visas and our call to reopen a reformed version of the Tier 1 Post-Study work visa. We hope to raise these points and others during our forthcoming Home Office meeting.
Finally, we wanted to thank all those MPs who attended the debate and we are grateful to the Minister providing the Government position. We will continue to promote our Commonwealth immigration and visas work as we believe it is vital that the UK has Commonwealth policy fit for the 21st century.