PMs approach following exploratory talks with Australia raises prospect of a kith and kin immigration policy after Brexit
Theresa May wants to explore how to boost US-UK migration when she meets the US president, Donald Trump, this week as part of their talks over an early trade deal, according to British government sources.
The disclosure follows hard on the heels of the confirmation from the Australian high commissioner in London that exploratory talks have already begun on a UK-Australian free trade deal, and that greater access for Australian businesspeople to Britain will have to form part of it.
This approach linking any future expansion of highly skilled migration to successful trade deals with America and Australia contrasts sharply with Mays blunt refusal during her visit to India last November to increase the number of UK visas for highly skilled Indians, despite its potential to boost the prospects of a future trade deal.
May has yet to make clear how she sees non-European immigration policy developing after Brexit. When she became prime minister in July she rejected the leave campaigns demands for an Australian-style points-based system, saying it would leave Britain without full control over who enters the UK.
She also rejected leave campaigners promises that Brexit could mean a boost in immigration from India and Pakistan to meet the skill needs of the UK curry industry.
But now it is emerging that Mays policy to keep Britain open to the brightest and best will be shaped by any early post-Brexit trade deals that the UK is able to negotiate. And it is quickly becoming apparent that those deals are more likely to be done with countries such as America, Australia, Canada or New Zealand, rather than India or China.
However, the danger is that immigration policy for businesspeople and the most highly skilled becomes based on the old kith and kin white Commonwealth of Australia, Canada and New Zealand by default, if not by design.
In the case of the US, British government sources told the Telegraph May wants to explore ways to make it easier for US citizens to work in the UK and for Britons to work in the US. The latest figures show there are 181,000 US-born citizens in Britain and 758,000 resident Britons in the US. We can grow those numbers, a senior government source was quoted as saying.
It may well be that as Trump implements his America First immigration policy, a UK trade deal could guarantee current British access to the US labour market, rather than extend it but it could come at the price of increased migration of Americans to Britain.
A similar ambition was echoed on Saturday by Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner in London, when he told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: We would want to see greater access for Australian businesspeople working in the UK and thats often been a part of free trade negotiations it hasnt always been by the way, but its often been part of our free trade negotiations.
It might just make it a bit simpler actually: for example, an Australian company that invests in the UK might want to bring some of its executives to the UK. That can be done with what are called tier 2 visas, but maybe that could be made a little bit easier.
Downer confirmed that easier visa arrangements were negotiated alongside the last Australian-US trade deal.
Non-EU migration makes up more than half of Britains annual net migration figure, which stands at 335,000. May has pledged to bring that down below 100,000, and the warning signs are that future immigration policy could lead to greater numbers of Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians coming to the UK while ever tighter restrictions are placed on Indians, Pakistanis, Africans and east Europeans.