Citizens of Australia and other Commonwealth countries should share the same migration rights in the UK as EU nationals after Brexit, the government has been told. The demand comes at the early stages of the two-year-long divorce talks between the UK and the EU, with Britain's split from Brussels scheduled for 2019.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has indicated that the UK is keen to broker a free trade arrangement with New Zealand and Australia, among other non-EU nations, following the UK's eventual split from the customs union.
But that means the Conservative government may have to relax its immigration rules for some non-EU nationals to secure potential trade deals.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has reportedly told The Times that "her colleagues would be disappointed and concerned" if the UK imposed more restrictive conditions on Australian workers coming to the UK than EU nationals.
"An Australian government source said the country's concerns were shared by New Zealand and Canada and suggested that the issue would be brought up in any trade talks," the paper added.
Australians coming for work in the UK must currently obtain a tier-two visa, which must be sponsored by a licensed employer and allows the employee to stay in the country for up to five years. EU nationals currently have no such restrictions under Brussels' free movement of people rules.
Immigration dominated the EU referendum campaign last year, with the Vote Leave group endorsing an Australian-style points system. The Conservatives have also continually promised to slash net migration to the UK to "tens of thousands".
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report put the figure at 248,000 in 2016, down 84,000 from 2015. Non-EU nationals (175,000) outranked EU nationals (133,000), with -60,000 British citizens, according to the official research body.
Ipsos MORI's latest issues index, of more than 1,000 people between 30 June and 10 July, ranked immigration as a top concern (28%) for UK voters, behind Brexit (41%) and the NHS (50%).