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The Big OE Grows Up

The Big OE Grows Up

Following recent changes to the UK Working Holiday Makers Scheme, New Zealander Mike Kaye, Managing Director of leading UK based recruitment and traveller services company 1st Contact, reflects on the coming of age of the Big OE.

The much publicised changes to the Working Holidaymaker Scheme (WHMS) herald the first relaxation of the laws in its history. In a move designed by the British Government to make the scheme more responsive and flexible to labour market needs important changes to the current scheme have been made. The key changes are:

the ability to work in your chosen profession the opportunity to take work for the full length of the WH visa the increase in the age limit for eligibility for the visa to 30 years of age

Given Kiwis have been doing their Big OE for at least three generations, it’s interesting to reflect on what effect the current changes might have, if any, on future generations wanting to travel to the UK.

Historically there is little doubt that Kiwis felt a sense of isolation from the rest of the world and youngsters travelled to learn about other countries, experience different cultures and interact with a variety of people, whom they would never normally meet. The Big OE of the past had a different emphasis than it currently does today.

The emphasis was on travelling and the world was a different place to what it is now – international terrorism wasn’t so visible, SARS was an unfamiliar acronym, the UK job market wasn’t so flexible or cosmopolitan and student loans hadn’t been invented. Plus, any time spent travelling outside the UK was added on to the end of the visa, meaning a two-year visa could be stretched to three or four years depending on the time spent travelling. Now the WHMS visa starts running before travellers even leave New Zealand and is only for two years, regardless of how much time is spent outside the UK.

The increase in the age restriction to 30 years will now give travellers more flexibility as to when they leave New Zealand, giving Kiwis the opportunity to gain more experience at home, pay off their student loan and enter the UK job market at a more senior level.

Kiwi youth are better educated than previous generations and still possess the requisite work ethic, but they are also far more heavily indebted and, given the competitive nature of the London job market, less likely to risk taking lengthy periods off work to travel. Many are taking shorter trips more often – this may also have something to do with the advent of discount airlines making Europe very cheap and accessible. It is now possible for visa holders to progress their career in the UK, obtain a work permit from their employer after a year and still experience travel, albeit within a shorter time frame than earlier generations.

1st Contact’s research shows that 94% of Kiwis return home at some stage and many will now pursue their careers and save to repay student loans or for a deposit on a house back home. 1st Contact Visa is 40% busier than last year, servicing people wanting to prolong their stay in the UK through a variety of means. A longer stay means New Zealanders are able to save more pounds, making life easier on their return home and gain more skills which they can bring home. Instead of a brain drain the result for New Zealand is a brain gain.

It would appear that the relaxation of the two-year WHMS is exactly what today’s and tomorrow’s working holiday makers want - to be able to work in their profession and gain relevant skills to bring home.

Times have changed and the legislation seems to be moving with the times. Our Big OE has finally grown up.

1st Contact Assisting more than 750, 000 clients over the past 12 years, 1st Contact is one of the biggest providers of recruitment and immigration services to New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans in the UK. 1st Contact focuses on providing recruitment (medical, teaching and general ‘unskilled’ employment) and banking facilities, as well as tax consultation, financial management, visa/immigration issues, money, shipping and telecommunications services. 1st Contact was established in 1990 by New Zealander Mike Kaye and South African Reg Bamford; has offices in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and employs more than 250 staff in its central London offices. http://

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