If Brexit and Trump were 2016’s headline events, 2017 has provided the cheerless post-event hangover, setting up 2018 for a rush to the exits.
The past year, the game of watching global immigration trends has been raised to a new level, and increasingly, it feels as though we’ve got front-row seats to the ultimate game of musical chairs.
Fresh headlines hit the news feed, our phones go mad, and with the crash-bang of political upheaval, more chairs disappear from the game.
Here’s a round-up of 2017’s big events, and hints at what to watch for in 2018.
Spoiler alert: if you are looking to leave, don't wait for the final act.
UK Immigration: Brexit stuns world, chairs disappear
Hard to believe, but Brexit was already way back in 2016. But our transitional Pre-Brexit Britain is here at least until March 2019 – when we have the increasingly grim-sounding Post-Brexit Britain to look forward to.
We still doubt anyone knows what Brexit “means”, but it seems the free movement of people between Britain and Europe is over. For a small island nation where hundreds of thousands took advantage of the option to migrate to and from the UK, this is no small matter.
Whatever Brexit produces, as the atmosphere of the Brexit negotiations gets stale and perhaps downright poisonous, the UK seems dead set on taking more chairs away from the international migration game.
US Immigration: Trump elected, music system disappears
Then came the US election, when for a moment we forgot about the chairs altogether: US voters heard the music -- and handed Donald Trump a baseball bat.
Sure enough, this past spring Trump announced immigration plans which, if implemented, would slash legal US immigration in half over 10 years. The US currently accepts around 1 million new migrants a year. Trump’s plans would halve that, to around 500,000.
The pundits say that there’s no likelihood of this proposal ever being passed through Congress (okay, not just pundits: we said it too). But those same pundits also told us we’d be saluting President Hillary, and as we post, Congress is being encouraged to include Trump’s immigration proposals as a ‘rider’ in its omnibus spending bill.
Even if Trump does not secure a legislative victory, he’s already reset the immigration reform debate goalposts. Through executive action, Trump has ramped-up pressure on illegal migrants, so much so that Canada is finding it difficult to cope with the record influx of asylum seekers hoping to escape U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Parenthetically, Trump’s reforms are modelled on the existing Canadian system: see our post on Trump’s proposals here.
Australian Immigration: 457 abolished, more chairs disappear
Not to be outdone, and almost as if on cue, a few months later, Australia’s PM Malcolm Turnbull stepped up to the podium, did his best Trump impression, and the music stopped again.
Taking a tactic straight out of Trump’s playbook, Turnbull announced his intention to “abolish” the 457 visa, which had been a route that about 95,000 people annually used to secure a foot hold in Australia. Many 457 holders have found ways to jump to the safety of permanent residency in due course. In a flash, not only did an avenue for migrants disappear, but many workers already in Australia on 457s were left wondering what the future holds.
The 457’s replacement – the TSS visa – suggests a permanent limbo for temporary workers, where no permanent residency is ever possible, and deportation looms with every job termination.
Meanwhile, plans are taking shape to reduce the number of visas from 99 to around about 10. That downsizing will inevitably squeeze more applicants into fewer categories, increasing competition and providing the levers to scale back immigration numbers more quickly and easily going forward.
Having recently lost his one-seat ruling majority, Turnbull’s premiership is in jeopardy, so the new year is likely to bring more voter-first policy announcements, along the lines of the “Australian jobs for Australian workers” meme that has worked a treat so far. Watch this space.
New Zealand Immigration: Me Too!
You may be forgiven for not noticing, but New Zealand recently had its own remarkable election result, which produced the world’s youngest female head-of-state in 37 year-old NZ Labour party leader Jacinda Ardern.
And apparently, cracking down on foreign arrivals isn’t just a game for the ‘right’ side of the political spectrum. To suggest that Ardern and her happy band are hostile to immigration sounds politely quaint. As one of its first acts, the party seriously considered banning inward migration entirely.
Failing that – in part to avoid being associated with politics that too-much resemble President Trump’s – they’ve set out to ban all property purchases by foreign nationals. (That ought to do it!)
Never mind the economics of such a ban, or the fact that a crippling property price crash would become baked-in should the policy become law. Slashing immigration has been taken up like a holy talisman for a country that was hard to get into even before the election.
There are even rumblings that even the Trans-Tasman agreement with Australia, which allows free movement between the two countries for respective citizens, may be up for re-jiggering if not a complete breakdown.
So, unless you already hold a permanent residency visa, now might be a good time to scratch New Zealand off your bucket list.
Canadian Immigration: Open Doors, But for How Long?
Ah, Canada: last hold-out for the free movement of the global citizens of the world. Or, at least, that’s the hype.
The numbers tell a different story, however: last year, out of 350,000 applicants to the Express Entry system, just over 33,000 got invitations for permanent residency visas. This year’s numbers are shaping up to be marginally better, but nonetheless, getting to Canada is highly competitive.
And, the competition is set to continue heating up.
Visas may be an artificially controlled ‘resource’, but controlled they are, and as with anything in limited supply but with worldwide and virtually unlimited demand, competition can increase even if the supply is increased. See, e.g., Bitcoin.
The Canadian government recently announced increases in the numbers it plans to admit to the country over the coming years. But instead of the big uplift, on the order of 150,000 additional places annually per a parliamentary sub-committee recommendation, the increase has been whittled down to the tepid addition of just a few thousand per category year-on-year.
Although that’s a nominal increase in numbers, for individual applicants it is cold comfort, as this marginal increase is unlikely to make getting to Canada easier.
On the contrary, we’re likely to see increased demand, as migrants who find they are not welcome elsewhere place their bets on Canada. That gives Canadian authorities an even more enviable pick of the litter from the global pool of skills and talent.
Meanwhile, Canadian border control and immigration agencies are already groaning under the increased stress caused by the fresh influx of illegal migrants crossing in record numbers from the US. Whereas the US has traditionally provided a wide boundary between Canada and migrants from Central and Southern America, Trump’s policies have seen an exodus of undocumented migrants northward.
How many can Canada easily absorb? For a country second only in size to Russia, with a booming economy, and a population half that of the UK, the answer is probably ‘Many, many more than is politically palatable’. Or in other words: not very many.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains popular, but his minority Liberal government bagged just 38% of the vote, so it may not take much political pressure for him to cave. Perhaps that's why the 150,000 number got taken to the wood shed. As for the ‘open door’ rhetoric he tweeted in response to Trump’s anti-immigration views, well, what's 140 characters or so between friends. Again, watch this space.
New Year’s Advice: Ready or Not, GO!
The politics of immigration policy is typically reactive. Something goes sour on the home front, and foreigners become an easy political target. In 2017 we've seen that from both sides of the political spectrum.
Of course, the wisdom of such policy moves is dubious, but wisdom and politics rarely host political fundraisers together. On the contrary, anti-immigration policies are a sure-fire way to bring out the votes. See, e.g., New Zealand, Australia, USA, Britain. Not to mention the running battles in Europe.
So, if you are looking to move from the UK to an English-speaking destination with a higher quality of living, three words of advice: Do. Not. Wait.
The trend could not be more clear.
Brexit Britain will welcome fewer migrants. Australia and New Zealand are making it harder than ever before. Post-Trump US policies are already being enforced more rigorously than ever, all of which increases pressure on an already competitive Canadian system.
Don’t be complacent: the warning signs have been posted. And the trend is not your friend.
If you have your eye on a particular empty chair – whether in Australia, or Canada, or even the US -- grab it now, before it gets taken out the game.
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