More Britons are emigrating, and they don’t have to be young and carefree to join the exodus. Consider the choices of Britons joining the 2.26 million jobless queue, with rain outside and peeling paint within. If they are of a generation that enjoyed the sun-kissed, carefree bliss of the backpacker trail, this increasingly is the moment to swap recession-hit Britain for balmy and relatively buoyant Australia. British unemployment has reached 7.2 per cent, a 12-year high, and thousands of people are preparing to follow the masses of Australians going home to an economy which has largely avoided recession.

There is nothing new about British immigration, of course. Tens of thousands arrived under the postwar £10 Poms scheme, encouraged by a labour-hungry Australia willing to subsidise their passage and determined to preserve Australian whiteness. But money frequently is no longer the guiding principle for today’s crop of often comfortable departees from the old dart. Quality of life is the new holy grail; many can fall back on sizeable cash reserves accumulated during boom times.

Not everyone is invited to the party though. In a world where sophisticated immigration policies have been tailored to the needs of individual labour markets, the door is open only to a “migrant elite” with specified skills. Unlike earlier generations, large numbers have no intention of returning to Britain.

Typical are members of the Mercer family from the Wirral, north-western England, who are set to move to Australia this year. “My expectation is that Australia is a land of opportunities where hard work will be recognised in a way that I think is taken for granted here,” says Tony Mercer, 31, whose property business went bust in the economic storm last year.

An aircraft engineer by trade, his skills did not meet the qualifying criteria because he had not used them for years. Instead, the Mercers secured the points needed to move to Australia because his hairdresser wife Jane’s skills are in demand. With Samuel, 7, and Jessica, 4, the Mercers have chosen Adelaide. Aside from air fares, a family of four is likely to pay about $10,000 in the visa application process, a system the Mercers describe as “a minefield”.

Unsurprisingly, inquiries have shot up at the Emigration Group, a British company employing former Australian immigration staff who help with visa applications. “More people are having serious concerns about the future of this country,” says an Emigration Group director, Paul Arthur. Increasingly his customers are young, middle-class professionals citing high taxes, poor weather and poor services as reasons for emigrating. The vast majority are homeowners, although the stagnant property market has meant some are biding their time before they raise the capital needed.

Another option for those wanting to emigrate is to study overseas. One British company, Study Options, has taken on extra staff to place Britons in Australian and New Zealand universities. Co-founder Stefan Watts reports a surge in business from professionals wanting to ride out the recession by taking time to study. Mr Watts sees more clients who are older, in their late 20s or 30s, and time poor. Many look forward to returning to a country they once backpacked around and are unfazed at getting little or no support to pay fees such as the typical $17,000 for undergraduate degree courses.

Will Morrin, a 38-year-old from Glasgow who was made redundant last year from his job as a broker, is about to embark on a three-year radiography degree at Newcastle in NSW, even though he was accepted for a similar degree in Britain with no fees to pay. “I have savings and had been doing a bit of thinking so I sold the car and the house. Weighing it up, what’s important is the quality of life,” he says. “Weather is the No.1 draw and getting away from the rat race. Things in the UK will only get worse once interest rates kick in.” Once qualified in a sought-after profession, he may stay for four years to qualify for Australian citizenship or move to Canada, another economic lifeboat of choice for many…

Traditionally Britons emigrated in good years and stayed put in uncertain economic times. The sign from this recession, however, is a bucking of those traditions. Immigration peaked in 2007 and began to decline early last year, but picked up again in the second half of 2008, according to the Office for National Statistics. More than 165,000 British nationals had emigrated in the first seven months of last year.

This year’s yet-to-be published Brits Abroad report by the Institute for Public Policy Research will show most British migrants are highly skilled, although the net loss of such workers seems to be decreasing. Work, lifestyle and adventure are listed as the three main reasons for leaving. The big surprise, however, is in the flexibility afforded by technologies that promote and facilitate remote working. More people are having their cake and eating it, emigrating while retaining jobs back in Britain.

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