Author- Jeff J Mitchell
As he closes in on No. 10, Boris Johnson has pledged to introduce a points-based immigration system modelled on a scheme used in Australia.
Unveiling a policy that “could pave the way to abandoning the Conservatives’ net migration target”, The Guardian reports, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister said that the UK needs to be stricter on migrants who “abused” Britain’s “hospitality”.
“What I would like to do is get the Migration Advisory Committee [MAC] to look really properly at the Australian-style points-based system,” he said.
The pledge sees Johnson revisit a key policy platform of the official Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum in 2016, which the former foreign secretary ran alongside Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
The Australian system was touted by the campaign as a means of reducing net migration – something successive governments have failed to deliver since at least 2010.
Those looking to work in Australia, according to the BBC, “generally need to be pursuing an occupation that is in demand”. Applicants are “assigned points based on a number of professional and personal characteristics, with higher points awarded for more desirable traits.
“This can range from the amount of time they have worked in a skilled sector, education level, age, and proficiency in the English language,” the broadcaster adds.
Currently, the Australian immigration system perceives being a competent English speaker as the “minimum requirement”, while a migrant with “superior English” will earn 20 points. Being aged between 25 and 33 years old will get you 30 points, and the threshold for eligibility is 65 points.
The country, which has faced significant criticism in the past over its strict immigration system, treats humanitarian cases in a different manner, and asylum seekers are not processed using the points system.
So what are the pros and cons of adopting a similar approach in the UK?
According to Voice of America, a points-based system would “help lower immigration rates and ensure that the immigrants who do come are highly skilled and less likely to need public assistance”.
Perhaps the most high-profile proponent of this theory is US President Donald Trump, who has criticised what he sees as the “very low-skill immigration system” in place prior to his election, claiming that it was “issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants” and driving wages down.
In 2016, Michael Gove claimed that a points-based system “is fair to everyone”, noting that Britain already operates such a scheme for non-EU migrants, despite – as The Guardian says – anti-EU campaigners seeming “strangely unaware of its existence”.
Gove added: “At the moment we discriminate against people from outside the European Union, which is plain unfair.”
The official Leave campaign agreed, publishing a statement which insisted that the Government should implement a points-based immigration system “to admit people to the UK based on their skills, without any discrimination based on their nationality”.
According to an analysis of Canada’s points-based immigration system by the US Library of Congress, one of the major advantages of the system is that it is “largely transparent”, as “potential applicants can review the selection criteria to determine whether they may be able to attain sufficient points to reach the pass mark of sixty-seven points”.
As a result, the system gives persons a better chance of succeeding by offering information on exactly what skills they need before they arrive.
It might allow the Conservatives to ‘keep their promises’
After years of Tory governments failing to hit net migration reduction targets, proponents of a points-based system say such a scheme would likely allow politicians to keep their promises on immigration.
Large-scale data collection
German research institute IZA World of Labor suggests that developing a points-based system “requires large and detailed data collection on the immigration process and on immigrants’ performance over time” – a process which it describes as “expensive” but “essential”.
“Data need to be regularly reviewed to test whether the point system is achieving its objectives or needs to be revised,” the research group says. “For example, after an evaluation in 2006 Australia in 2008 substantially reduced the ability of international students already in the country to gain permanent status.”
It might not reduce migration
It is unclear what effect Australia’s skills-seeking system, which moved away from a less-selective approach almost two decades ago, has had on migrant numbers as the country has different policies and quotas to the UK.
Australia admits about twice the number of migrants per head of existing population than the UK currently does. In Europe, Norway and Switzerland are both outside the EU – and both have higher immigration than the UK.
We will have to leave the single market
If the UK wants to start assessing EU migrants in this way it will need to cut its ties with the single market, says fact-checking charity Full Fact.
While both Leave and Remain figures in government have said they believe a post-Brexit UK can remain within a single European market, EU chiefs have insisted this can only happen if the UK accepts the principle of free movement of people and goods across its borders. Leaving the single market – for example in the case of a no-deal Brexit – will likely have serious implications for the UK economy.