London Mayor and parliamentary hopeful Boris Johnson is backing a report by a British think-tank which calls for New Zealanders and Australians to freely live and work in Britain.
Mr Johnson has written a foreword to a Commonwealth Exchange report which calls for Kiwis and Australians to be given the same rights to travel and work in the United Kingdom as people from the European Union.
The report - How to Solve a Problem Like a Visa - was released last night [NZ time] by the British think-tank, which focuses on Commonwealth relations.
It recommended establishing a "bilateral mobility zone" which would allow Kiwis and Aussies to travel and work in Britain and Britons to travel and work reciprocally in those two countries. A similar argument was made for Canada.
Prime Minister John Key said he would welcome the development but was "sceptical" about the likelihood of it coming to fruition.
Immigration was a major political issue in Britain, he said. "They've got a general election in May next year and I think it's going to be very challenging to see much progress in that area."
The report said migration from Commonwealth countries had collapsed over the past decade while immigration from the EU had more than doubled, and Britain was worse off for it. But the report noted nothing was likely to happen until the elections and even then it would rely on the right political climate.
It said Britain under-used the labour network Commonwealth countries offered and "the Commonwealth is undermined by an outmoded UK visa regime".
All three countries shared a common language and legal system and were "highly economically developed democracies" with a common culture and familial bond.
Businessman Stefan Preston, a board member of Kea Global, the Kiwi expats association, last night welcomed the ideas in the report.
"Everyone knows that they need to go and get that overseas experience if they are professionally minded and the more personal and human connections that are created because of that the better it is for New Zealand."
Mr Preston said Britons coming here would also be a benefit. "Heaps of them would come here with their education and their contacts."
TNT Magazine, a publication for NZ expats, said it had to be made easier for hard-working Kiwis to visit and live in Britain.
Group editor Carol Driver wrote in August: "It is ludicrous that while Europeans can easily enter and stay in the UK, our Aussie and Commonwealth counterparts are being penalised."
Mayor Johnson has confirmed he plans to run for Parliament next year. In his foreword, he said Australia and NZ had strong economies.
"It seems that almost all parts of the Commonwealth are brimming with a new energy and optimism at precisely the time the European Union is struggling. As we reconsider Britain's place in the world I want us to reconsider how we engage with Commonwealth peoples."
He first made the call in August last year after the British Government ramped up restrictions on immigration from non-EU countries. On his visit to Britain soon after that, Mr Key pushed for NZ to be exempted from tougher visa rules introduced in 2010.
But his pleas fell on deaf ears. He has since focused on trying to protect remaining rights, such as the Youth Mobility scheme for people on their OE and ancestry visas.
The Commonwealth Exchange report said 18,000 Kiwis travelled to the UK on a long-term basis in 2000.
Statistics NZ figures showed that last year this figure had fallen to 8000. In the same year, more than 14,000 Britons came to NZ on a permanent basis.
Working in the UK
Youth Mobility Visa:
Live and work in the UK for up to 2 years, aged 18 to 30. Must have about $4000 in savings.
Ancestry Visa: Can live and work in the UK for up to five years if grandparent was born in the United Kingdom, for Commonwealth countries. After that can apply to renew it or for residency.
Skilled migrants: Changes in 2010 included requiring NZers to have a job and sponsoring employer in the UK before they can get a visa.
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- additional reporting: Isaac Davison and Morgan Tait