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British Government immigration crackdown could mean and end to the big Kiwi OE

The days of Kiwis heading to the UK could be numbered as the British Government announces a crackdown on visas for students and skilled workers.

At the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week, the Guardian reported Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave her strongest indication that regaining control over immigration was a bigger priority than access to a single market.

She said while the government would be looking to access the EU's single market: "Let me be clear. We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again."

At the conference British Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced some of the measures it intended to use to curb the flow of people to its shores.

"There can be no question that recent levels of immigration motivated a larger part of the vote [Brexit]," she said.

These include major new restrictions on overseas students, including two-tier visa rules affecting poorer quality universities and courses, a crackdown on work visas and the introduction of a $247m fund to control migration.

These changes could impact on what many Kiwis have long considered to be a rite of passage - their big OE, working or studying in the UK.

However, Kiwis in London director Clint Heine, who had just read the story when contacted by the Herald today, didn't seem too bothered by the announcement.

"It's early days plus I recall an article or even two with the exact same headlines in the last two or so years.

"We won't know the extent to what will change, if anything, until the review is done. Considering Tier 5 visas are the ones that the majority come over on, nothing will change as they're big targeting Tier 5s ... Which is the OE Visa," he said.

Rudd said the plans would target students, and skilled workers from countries, including New Zealand and Australia, foreign cab-drivers and Europeans convicted of minor crimes.

Anyone wanting to drive a taxi would be subject to a mandatory immigration check from December under the new measures which Rudd said were aimed at ensuring only the "brightest and best" came to the country.

Those Europeans convicted of repeatedly committing minor crimes would be deported under the new legislation, which would forbid them from re-entering the country for up to 10 years.

Rudd said the crackdown would also extend to landlords and banks, with homeowners jailed if convicted of knowingly renting out properties to illegal immigrants.

Banks would be forced to conduct more checks to ensure their customers are not living in the country illegally.

Rudd has also raised the prospect of a student visa system, under which rights to bring in families and their right to work, to go on to post-study jobs, or to come without passing an English language test would be tied to the quality of the course and the university involved.

Currently all students, irrespective of talents, the university's quality or the students' employment prospects were allowed and their family members could do any form of work, she said

"And foreign students, even those studying English language degrees, don't even have to be proficient in speaking English. We need to look at whether this one-size-fits-all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities providing thousands of different courses across the country. And we need to look at whether this generous offer for all universities is really adding value to our economy," she said.

"I'm passionately committed to making sure our world-leading institutions can attract the brightest and the best. But a student immigration system that treats every student and university as equal only punishes those we should want to help. So our consultation will ask what more can we do to support our best universities - and those that stick to the rules - to attract the best talent."

According to the Guardian, Nick Timothy, Theresa May's chief of staff, has in the past floated the idea of restricting the right to work in Britain after graduation to those who attend Oxbridge and the Russell Group of universities.

Rudd has vowed to reduce net migration, which was 300,000 in 2016, and well over the government's target of 100,000 to the "tens of thousands".

According to the Guardian, net migration currently stands at 327,000 - a figure she wanted to bring down to more "sustainable levels".

"The test should ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do."

Rudd said it would not be possible to reach this target by curbing EU migration alone, once Britain had formally exited the union.

"We have to look at all sources of immigration if we mean business."

The British High Commission in New Zealand downplayed the effect of the proposed immigration changes on New Zealanders.

Spokesman Joel Watson said the changes were still in the consultation phase, and it was not yet clear what the impact would be.

But he emphasised that the Home Secretary's speech made no reference to the UK's Youth Mobility Scheme, which is the route most Kiwis use for their OE.

"What it clearly doesn't mean is that this is the end of the OE experience," he said.

The Youth Mobility Scheme was currently under-subscribed. About 4500 out of 12,000 places for New Zealanders were being taken.

"The UK has actually made it more straightforward for New Zealanders to visit the UK rather than harder," Watson said.

"And that also includes increasing the number of spaces available under the OE."

The restrictions on student migrants outlined by Rudd this week were targeted at lower-level courses, in particular English-language courses.

While no specific figures were available, New Zealanders were more likely to study higher degrees in the UK.

Watson also underlined the scale of the migration challenge that the UK was facing.

"The UK is growing at a rate equivalent to the city of Christchurch every five years. There's a huge political imperative for the UK government to take action."

Act Party leader David Seymour said Britain's revision of immigration settings was an opportunity to propose a free movement zone between New Zealand and the UK.

"We can't stand by and let the traditional Kiwi OE be put at risk," he said.

"Successful nations like Britain and New Zealand shouldn't be putting up walls and shutting off from each other when it's the exchange of ideas that has made our nations so prosperous."

Seymour said that as Britain moved away from European immigration, New Zealand should approach Britain with a proposal for a free movement agreement, similar to the arrangement between New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said New Zealand should follow the UK's lead and crack down on immigration here.

Peters said Britain was aiming to reduce its 300,000 net intake to tens of thousands, while New Zealand had "done nothing to reduce record intakes of 70,000 net a year".

"High immigration to New Zealand is affecting housing demand and prices, forcing Kiwis to queue longer at hospitals and putting pressure on all public services," he said.

- NZ Herald

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