He said he would introduce a post-Brexit regime similar to Australia’s system of awarding points to potential immigrants depending on their age, skills and qualifications.
The shape of the future immigration system will be a crucial decision for the eventual winner of the Conservative leadership contest.
After Brexit EU nationals will lose their automatic right to work in Britain and will be treated equally to migrants from the rest of the world.
The former foreign secretary praised Australia for devising a simple system based on contribution, fairness and control.
He said: “We will restore democratic control of immigration policy after we leave the EU.
“We must be much more open to high-skilled immigration such as scientists, but we must also assure the public that, as we leave the EU, we have control over the number of unskilled immigrants coming into the country.
“We must be tougher on those who abuse our hospitality. Other countries such as Australia have great systems and we should learn from them.”
Mr Johnson repeated his commitment to protecting the rights of more than three million EU nationals in Britain regardless of the outcome of the Brexit process.
He chided Theresa May for failing to take that step immediately after the referendum, adding: “I will sort it out immediately and make sure that this issue is properly dealt with and millions of people can stop worrying.”
‘Fairness and control’
Mr Johnson said he would ask the government’s migration advisory committee for recommendations on incorporating elements of the Australian system into new British law.
He said he believed people should have a job waiting for them, speak English and not be able to claim benefits upon arrival.
Vetting would be carried out on all applicants for visas to identify criminals and people considered a threat to the country.
How it works
For around 30 years the majority of visas to live in Australia have been issued according to a points system. Applicants are ranked according to their age, educational standard and work experience.
The Australian government sets a “pass mark” for each category of work visa. Currently applicants must score a minimum of 60 points for their visa to be granted a place on the country’s General Skilled Migration programme.
A 25- to 32-year-old gains 30 points, but someone in their early 40s only 15. Potential migrants who speak “superior English” collect 20 points, falling to 10 for “proficient English”. No points are awarded for “competent English”.
Fifteen points are given for at least eight years’ work experience. Graduates receive 15 points, rising to 20 for those with a doctorate, while 10 are awarded for a trade qualification.
The system has been widely admired around the world.