Boris Johnson‘s maiden speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons last week was a typically ad-libbed and off-the-cuff affair, but one that still reaffirmed some of the key policies his newly-elected cabinet intends to deliver on.
Among the stand-out announcements was his pledge to push for a post-Brexit immigration overhaul based on the Australian points system, which scores potential migrants across a number of factors.
His proposal isn’t new. Johnson raised the idea many times during the campaign to leave the EU, and several times in his bid to win the Conservative leadership contest.
While the details of exactly what the new immigration system will involve remain hazy – and the Government awaits a thorough review by the independent Migration Advisory Committee – we already have a points system at work in the UK. It was introduced in 2008.
It’s the same points-based system, currently mixed with free movement for EEA migrants, that has led to public concern about migration, as well as repeatedly missing targets to bring net migration in the UK down. It’s worth noting Johnson has made these missed targets a thing of the past by pledging to abolish the net migration target altogether.
So, what is the Australian points-based system he wants, and how is it so different to what we have? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Australian points system and how does it work?
If you want to move to Australia to work, you need to be either experienced in, or in the pursuit of, an occupation that is in demand in the country.
Visa applicants are assigned a number of points based on professional and personal characteristics. Higher points are given to those the government deems to have “desirable traits”, like a “superior” grasp of the English language (20 points, while “competent” English scores zero) , academic qualifications (a doctorate is worth 20 points, whereas no higher education is zero) and the amount of time they have worked in a skilled sector.
Other facts, like age (being aged between 25 and 33 years old will get you 30 points – whereas being over 50 will get you zero), will also be assessed.
The points threshold for acceptance into Australia is 65 points.
Applicants must have one of the jobs on the skilled occupation list, too, which details jobs where there are shortages across the country.
There are various different visas, including ones for students of one-year working visas, that allows people who do one of those jobs to apply.
How does the current UK system differ from the Australian points system?
At the moment, those from the EU benefit from “freedom of movement” and therefore do not need a visa to work and live in the UK.
However, there are some limitations on claiming certain benefits. For example, an EEA citizen who arrives in the UK without work cannot apply for means-tested jobseekers allowance, child tax credit or child benefit within the first three months. After those three months, they may only claim a jobseeker’s allowance for six months.
For those applying for leave to remain in the UK from non-EU countries, the Australian system is very similar. Under the current five-tier visa system, an individual must apply for one or a number of visas.
A cap of around 21,000 work visas are awarded to migrants from non-EU countries every year, although this number is not frequently met.
What the UK system doesn’t currently do is assess individuals for personal criteria such as age and qualifications. Instead, it allows employers to decide on whether someone is qualified to do the job.
The system in Australia is also decentralised, which means different states can try to attract migrants with certain skill sets depending on where labour shortfalls are in certain areas of the country – something the Scottish government is keen to have devolved power to do.
These range from Tier 1, for investors and “exceptional talent”, to Tier 5 visas for short-term voluntary and educational initiatives. The most common visas applied for are the Tier 2 skilled worker visas and Tier 4 student visas. Tier 3 is an unskilled labour visa, which is not awarded currently.
Some of these visas allow a successful applicant to bring children, partners and other dependents with them. Some do not.
It has got tougher for people to apply for the Tier 2 visa recently, as workers now need to be paid upwards of £30,000 to apply. The number of these visas given out is currently capped at 20,700 per year.
In the British points system, more points are given for higher salary earners, or if an occupation is on a list of job shortages.
Most visas awarded come with other agreed conditions, such as the requirement of a sponsor or agreeing not to claim any benefits for a period of time.
What do the experts say about Johnson’s proposal?
“Whilst it is certainly a positive signal that Boris Johnson took the opportunity of his first full day as prime minister to steer the UK’s immigration system away from the corrosive policies shaped by Theresa May’s hostile environment, we need to see the details,” Sophie Barrett-Brown, senior Partner and Head of UK practice and immigration specialists Laura Devine Solicitors, tells i.
“We whole-heartedly welcome the commitment to protect EU citizens’ rights in the UK through primary legislation, as well as the long-overdue scrapping of the arbitrary, damaging and unachievable net migration target.
“In contrast, Boris’ pledge to introduce an Australian-style Points Based System (PBS) has shades of deja vu for immigration lawyers (the UK’s current PBS having been introduced in 2008 with precisely the same rhetoric) and it is as yet unclear what is actually proposed.
“As in 2008, we question whether the Australian system is sufficiently understood by those espousing it in the UK; the Australian system is multifaceted and the PBS is a part of a bigger system, tailored to that country’s particular socio-economic needs, that are often quite different to our own.
“One size never fit all. However we are cautiously optimistic for positive policy change.”
Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, told the Financial Times: “Scrapping the net migration target is hugely welcome and sends a decisive signal to the world that the UK is open for business.
“A focus on need, not numbers, will ensure the UK can access vital skills and labour to grow the economy. Business looks forward to working with the government to design a new immigration system that commands public confidence.”
“It could be very restrictive, it could be liberal. It appeals to people who are concerned about migration, but it has a liberal ring to it, which is probably the message Boris Johnson wants to communicate.”
Other critics argue that a strict points-based criteria can disregard other skills and qualities in individuals that can violate individual rights. In Australia, there have been issues with a significant backlog in processing people for visas.
In March, when the Australian government reduced the overall migration cap to 160,000, there were nearly 200,000 people awaiting family visas. Among the waiting were 80,000 partners, many of them already in the country, while other dependent individuals were left stranded overseas.