16 April 2007

Go back to a land down under...

...where the women blow and the men chunder... as the song might have said.

Australia - land of my fathers, or grandfathers at least, Baillieu HQ so to speak. Last week her government announced a doubling of its troop commitment to Afghanistan and in a recent Spectator article, Australian volunteers were praised by the Territorial army's City of London branch for their enthusiastic contribution to our forces.

How does the UK repay this friendship? By reverting to a policy from 200 years ago - shipping young folk (back) to Australia for the crime of wanting to stay, work and pay taxes in the UK for more than one year. A few years ago the tight two year visa offered to young Australians was altered so that out of the two years, only one year could be spent working. I don't know about you, but I would be hard pressed to find a year's worth of travelling to be done inside England, Scotland and Wales - so what is the other year for, other than working illegally?

This is the plight of the very nice boyfriend of our German au pair. He has been working for my sister's payroll business (www.paycheck.co.uk) for the last six or so months, and by all accounts has been an exemplary and valued employee, to such an extent that my sister's company went to the trouble of making a visa application so that he could extend his stay. However, his lack of formal higher qualifications meant that the Home Office turned him down, so he has to leave.

No doubt, there will be those who say this is fair as the Australians apply similar restrictions to our (lightly qualified) young people. Two points: first, two wrongs don't make a right and if we relaxed, may be they would as well. Second, we have a booming economy crying out for hard working young people with a variety of skills and qualifications - we don't just want Polish builders, Slovakian waiters and Latvian (whatever Latvians do)... Young Aussies come with no (serious) language barrier, are all properly educated to GCSE or more likely, A Level or degree standard.

Not the most sexy campaign at the moment, I know: more immigration! But it is a serious issue: my wife successfully sponsored her architectural assistant to stay in the UK recently (at some financial cost), whereas in my office, we lost two excellent Australian secretaries when their visas ran out meaning that time and money had to be spent recruiting and training new people (who are also excellent) and I hate to think of the number of brilliant nurses who must leave the NHS to go home when their visas run out - hopefully they're exempt, but I doubt it.

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