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Working Holidaymaker Scheme

Volume 407: debated on Friday 20 June 2003

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The Home Office White Paper, "Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain", contained a commitment to review the Working Holidaymaker Scheme. The main aims behind the review were to make the scheme more inclusive of the whole Commonwealth, to remove unnecessary employment restrictions and to reduce abuse of the scheme.Removing employment restrictions will enable less affluent applicants to prove more easily to entry clearance officers their ability to support themselves without recourse to public funds. This change would also help to alleviate acute recruitment difficulties in certain sectors of the UK economy. Many working holidaymakers are highly skilled and it is sensible to make maximum use of their skills to boost the productivity of the UK workforce. I therefore propose to remove all current employment restrictions on the scheme and allow working holidaymakers to take employment in any field.The Immigration Rules do not presently permit switching from the scheme into work permit employment. Permitting switching would benefit UK businesses, as they would be able to recruit skilled Commonwealth nationals quickly. It would also offer a legal route for working holidaymakers who want to stay in the UK at the end of their visa to extend their stay here, discouraging illegal working. It is not logical to force talented working holidaymakers to return home simply to apply for a work permit. I therefore propose to amend the Immigration Rules to allow working holidaymakers to switch into work permit employment. Working holidaymakers who want to switch will still have to meet the same work permit requirements as they would if they were applying for a work permit from abroad and, in addition, must have spent 12 months in the UK as a working holidaymaker.The current scheme is for Commonwealth citizens only and I propose that it continue as a Commonwealth-only scheme. Some responses during the consultation process called for a global scheme. By significantly increasing the numbers entering the UK, a global scheme would add to the economic benefits to the UK from the existing scheme. However, the increase in numbers on a global scheme might necessitate the imposition of a quota, which would adversely affect access to the scheme for Commonwealth citizens. In order to increase access to the scheme I propose that the maximum age criterion be increased from 27 to 30 years of age to permit those who have studied in tertiary education to apply.

The review also considered whether the existing duration of stay granted was appropriate for a youth exchange scheme. We have concluded that two years is a sufficient period of time for a working holiday in the UK and therefore do not propose to change the maximum length of stay of the current scheme, nor to allow individuals to obtain a second working holiday visa.

Additionally, the review considered issues relating specifically to gap year entrants, who enter the United Kingdom to take placements in schools during the year between the end of their secondary education and the start of tertiary education. Some of these entrants have been entering on a concessionary basis under the working holidaymaker provisions; others under the concession for voluntary workers. Concerns had been expressed that neither of these categories met the specific needs of that type of entrant. Under the amended provisions of the working holidaymaker scheme, Commonwealth nationals who wish to spend a gap year in the United Kingdom, and who meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules relating to working holidaymakers, will be able to spend a full year working in the United Kingdom in any form of employment and then return home. If they do so, however, they will not be able to spend a second year in the category, as the provisions permit only one entry in the category.

In the light of the cultural value of gap year placements in the United Kingdom, I have decided that it is desirable to create separate provision to enable gap year entrants of all nationalities to enter the United Kingdom for a period of one year and take paid employment in schools. Work will now begin on preparing the necessary changes to the Immigration Rules.

Those already in the UK as working holidaymakers will be allowed to benefit from the proposed changes to the scheme with immediate effect. The changes will become effective for all new applicants from 25 August 2003.