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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

UK-Australia trade deal removes work visa restrictions for UK lawyers

UK-Australia trade deal removes work visa restrictions for UK lawyers


Lawyers will be able to work in Australia without being subject to to Australia's changing skilled occupation list

A historic free trade agreement (FTA) reached yesterday (16 December) between the UK and Australian governments is expected to unlock £10.4bn of additional trade and create work and travel opportunities for residents of each country. For the first time, lawyers and other professionals will have access to Australian work visas without being subject to Australia’s changing skilled occupation list.

Agreed in principle by Boris Johnson and the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, in London in June, the trade deal is the UK’s first “from scratch” since leaving the EU. The final deal was signed in a virtual ceremony by International Trade Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and will be laid in parliament for a period of scrutiny. Trevelyan described the deal as “a landmark moment in the historic and vital relationship between our two Commonwealth nations”.

The government has lauded the deal as a “gateway” into the Indo-Pacific region and said it will “boost our bid” to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), one of largest free trade areas, covering £8.4trn of GDP and 11 Pacific nations.

Key aspects of the trade deal include:

  • Guaranteed access for UK firms to bid for an additional £10bn worth of Australian public sector contracts each year
  • The ability for young people to work and travel in Australia for up to three years at a time, in a change to previous visa conditions
  • Access to Australian work visas for UK professionals including lawyers, architects, scientists, researchers and accountants, without being subject to Australia’s changing skilled occupation list
  • Removal of tariffs on all UK exports.

Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce commented: “The UK-Australia FTA provides certainty and creates opportunities for our legal professions to work together towards smoother trade in legal services, which will make doing business easier for clients.

“We believe that legal and other professional services should be at the forefront of the UK’s forthcoming trade discussions. Services, and in particular legal services, play an important role in facilitating the globalised market directly and indirectly.

“We are delighted to see this reflected in the articles on legal services and welcome the opportunities this agreement creates for both countries’ legal professionals”.

The FTA has confirmed the existing right for lawyers from the UK and Australia to advise and provide arbitration, mediation and conciliation services in each other’s countries, under their home qualifications and title.

Boyce said: “Enshrining the right to advise on home-country laws and public and private international law where they’re entitled to practise in their home jurisdiction in the FTA is an important achievement as it recognises the specificities of home title practice in international legal practice, without the need for mutual recognition procedures and/or requalification in the host country”.

She added: “Many barriers facing legal services providers are ‘behind the border’ and not suitable for an FTA, such as permitted business structures for law firms.

“However, provisions of the agreement establish and drive collaboration between relevant bodies, including the Law Society of England and Wales and the Law Council of Australia, through a bespoke legal services regulatory dialogue will help address some of the barriers that can’t be dealt with in the FTA.

“The FTA also creates new opportunities by providing UK law firms with legally guaranteed access to Australian government contracts for legal services that are covered by the agreement.”

The Law Society also welcomed the relaxation of rules around training and visas. Boyce commented: “Mobility is one of the biggest issues facing our firms. We are pleased to see the agreement comes with several eased mobility options for legal service providers.

“Companies will be able to sponsor visas committed in the FTA without an economic needs test and there will be no limitations on the number of visas granted to business persons”.

Boyce added: “Junior lawyers will also be given greater mobility through unprecedented changes to the UK and Australia’s Youth Mobility Schemes – now available to nationals up to 35 years of age for a stay of up to three years, without having to undertake specified regional work in Australia.

“We will also discuss with the UK government what opportunities may be available for the legal sector in the pilot new visa scheme for UK citizens that allows early career workplace exchanges for graduates.”