More than one hundred years ago, at the time of “The Great War,” it was said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Nearly a quarter of the world, in one way or another, fell under British rule or otherwise was part of the British trading network or Commonwealth. From the Great White North of Canada to the steppes of India, from Australia to South Africa and back again, the reach and influence of the Empire was, in 1914, unparalleled in the annals of history.
Today, Britannia has remained a world power, and has survived the ravages of two World Wars and acquiesced to the morality of the era of decolonization, reinventing what it means to be British or part of the Commonwealth while still holding on to those greatest of traditions which make that a title still to be admired here in 2017.
But what does this mean for you if you’re looking to immigrate to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or if you’re a British national and looking to leave the Sceptered Isle for a nation among the Commonwealth, or vice versa?
Here’s a quick look at the state of immigration in the UK, the British Commonwealth, and how these nations stack up against one another.
Common Rules for Commonwealth Immigration
New Zealand [Public Domain]
First, some general notes on the Commonwealth nations and their nationals.
It’s important to recognize the distinction here between British national/Commonwealth citizen and British citizen.
- There are some general immigration benefits for Commonwealth citizens looking to immigrate to fellow Commonwealth nations:
- As a Commonwealth citizen, you may be entitled to visa-free entry into a fellow Commonwealth nation if the country you’re traveling from is deemed to be in good standing.
- In addition, some Commonwealth nations make the path to immigration, naturalization, and citizenship easier by allowing you to apply sooner after you’ve arrived than would be the case were you emigrating from a non-Commonwealth nation.
- Being a Commonwealth citizen has its advantages when it comes to visiting non-Commonwealth nations as well:
- If your nation does not have an embassy in a nation you’re traveling to, the British embassy or consulate in that nation will fill that void for you.
- Commonwealth nations can also provide this sort of embassy-related assistance for one another—the Canada-Australia Consular Services Agreement ensures that if Canada is not represented in a nation, the Australian embassy or consulate will service Canadian nationals entering said nation, and vice versa, with the British embassy or consulate then providing assistance if neither Canada nor Australia have a presence in said nation.
- If you’re a student, you’ll be eligible for the Commonwealth Scholarship.
- Finally, as a Commonwealth citizen, you are allowed to serve in the British Armed Forces in most capacities if you so choose.
Immigrating to Britain
Parliament [Public Domain]
Interested in immigrating back to the Sceptered Isle?
Join the club.
The United Kingdom is enjoying a huge spike in popularity as an immigration destination, and is rapidly becoming more diverse than ever before. The pound is stronger than the dollar, and the UK is enjoying a period of economic stability and growth. In a post-2000s world, where we’re so conscious of market bubbles and crashes, this makes Britain an attractive immigration destination. The 2012 Olympics went off spectacularly and proved that Britain still has what it takes to put on a show as a world power.
This is good news for citizens of Commonwealth Nations or British dependencies looking to immigrate to Britain. As stated, Commonwealth nationals hold an international status within the vestiges of the former British Empire, if not within the UK itself, meaning that, again, the immigration process may be easier for British nationals—a plus at a time when there are so many hundreds of thousands trying to immigrate into the UK. What’s more, you’re likely to have less of a problem with culture shock than other arriving immigrants, as you already somewhat share a common history, language, and culture to a certain extent.
It may not sound like much, but when dealing with as much bureaucracy as there is to sift through when it comes to the immigration process, any little advantage helps.
Toronto [Public Domain]
The immigration process for Canada is dealt with in more detail in many other articles on this site; for now, let’s focus on the relationship between the UK and Canada in terms of the latter being a Commonwealth nation: Once upon a time, a British citizen could have a fast and easy route to citizenship in the Great White North by simply moving there. Now, however, that’s no longer the case, and British nationals will have to go through the immigration process in the same way as everyone else. The same holds true for all Commonwealth nations. That being said, informally, it’s far easier to immigrate into Canada from the Commonwealth or Britain for reasons of shared political, historical, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds.
Immigrating to Australia
Sydney [Public Domain]
A few major things unite the Commonwealth realms, the most notable and important ones being a shared voluntary allegiance—albeit largely symbolic—to the British Crown, a shared language in English (for the most part), and, to a certain extent, the sharing of that lovely design for the British flag. (And after all, flags are important—just ask Eddie Izzard.)
Again, there are benefits to being a Commonwealth citizen, and one of them is most certainly the way in which you can move about nations in the former British Empire with greater ease than if you belonged to a nation outside that oh-so-special sphere. Aside from matters such as those, however, Australia is, in every important respect, its own entity and, like Canada, while being a Commonwealth citizen can help you immigrate in an informal sense, and visa-free living or things such as that can be a possibility for a period of time, on the whole, you’ll still have to go to through the standard immigration process.
Immigrating to New Zealand
Auckland [Public Domain]
To get this out of the way—don’t call New Zealanders “Australian.”
Beyond that, it’s much the same story as above. If you’re a British citizen, you may have an easier time acclimating than others, and if you’re a Commonwealth citizen, you may get to enjoy certain benefits. That being said, on the whole, the story here for New Zealand is much the same as it is for the Australians (just don’t tell the Kiwis that.)
That being said, there is an important distinction to be made, as New Zealand doesn’t allow for visa-free living any longer at this point.