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UK clamps down on Australian architects

Australian architects will find it “very difficult” to work in the UK under prohibitive new immigration laws. indesignlive.com’s Business Editor Gemma Battenbough reports.

UK clamps down on Australian architects


April 22nd, 2010

Many Australian architects will be excluded from working in the UK under harsh new immigrations laws, indesignlive.com can reveal.
Concern about rising unemployment in the architectural profession as a result of the UK recession has led the British Home Office to tighten entry requirements.
The British immigration system works on a similar points system to Australia. Under this structure, architects were given 45 vital points towards a work visa, providing they earned more than $66,000.

However, this threshold has been dramatically hiked up to $124,000, realistically excluding all but associate- and director-level professionals.
“Architects are already excluded from the tier two shortage occupation list, and sponsored skilled posts can only be filled by UK architectural practices provided they can demonstrate that suitable local applicants are not available,” Adrian Dobson, Director of Practice at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), told indesignlive.com.
Architects can still “theoretically” apply for a UK work visa under the tier one highly skilled worker category but the recent hikes in previous earnings now make it “very difficult”, he said.
The RIBA has never had a “protectionist policy”, Dobson said. But the current economic climate is “very challenging” for UK architects.
“[There] is evidence of significant over-capacity at the present time in the UK architects’ profession, but the future vitality of the profession will require us to be open to new ideas and labour markets,” Dobson said. “We hope that the UK government will be flexible in the future application of the points-based system.”  
It is important to keep the “lively exchange” between UK and Australian architectural cultures active, Dobson said.
The Home Office confirmed that the new system would include architects, as well as categories such as entrepreneurs and doctors.
This comes as the British Council is announcing its Realise Your Dream Awards, which encourages Australian designers to move to the UK for work. The awards offer five prizes of tailored professional development and networking visits to the UK, along with financial assistance.
A work experience stint in London has become almost a rite of passage for many Australian architects. But, if difficulties in obtaining a work visa persist, attention could shift to Asia, said Reg Smith, CEO of Sydney-based architectural firm Allen Jack + Cottier. And this could be incredibly good for business.
The profession needs to “stop being Eurocentric” and put “new emphasis” on skill swapping with Asia, Smith told indesignlive.com.
“I believe we should be changing our focus. We are not playing on a European stage; we’re playing on a global stage. We’re part of Asia and we need a better understanding of its many cultures.”
There are plenty of business opportunities for practices in Asia and having direct insights from staff who have worked there can be incredibly valuable, he said.
“Australian architects are well respected in Asia. The Chinese, in particular, appreciate what we can do,” he said.
Allen Jack + Cottier has overseas offices in Beijing, Hangzhou, Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai.
Skill swapping with other countries brings “wonderful advantages” to practice in Australia, Michael Mandl, GroupGSA’s Director of Architecture, told indesignlive.com.
Forty-nine per cent of GroupGSA’s staff is aged between 20 and 35 years old – prime time for working overseas – but Mandl is not into clipping wings.
“We love it when people go overseas and get new experience. And of course we love it more when they come back. Skill swapping and immersion in other cultures is very important for practices. It’s refreshing, brings vigour and helps us to build global networks.”

Read last week’s business story “Worrying Gaps” in Design Triennial: DIA.

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