What is a Points-Based Immigration System and What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

What is a Points-Based Immigration System and What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

Anyone who has listened to politicians, especially those discussing Brexit, in recent years, will not have failed to hear the argument that the Australian points-based system represents the very best approach to immigration.  But is this true?  In this article, we will discuss what is meant by a points-based system and the relative pros and cons of this approach. 

What is a Points-based Immigration system?

At the core of points-based systems (PBS) is the awarding of points for certain characteristics that are seen as desirable from the standpoint of immigration and economic growth.  PBS is synonymous with restrictive immigration control, designed to prevent those with lower skills from entering and remaining, and encourage only those individuals with the best skills, education, and work experience, among other factors.  As such, PBSs are supposed to be about selecting the best from a pool of potential candidates. 

One of the characteristics of PBSs is that they can be throttled to allow entry to more or fewer people with specific skills and attributes.  For example, if there is a need for skilled tradespeople, or, as in the case of the NHS, nurses, and doctors, the points threshold can be altered accordingly, or specific skills added to a list of shortage occupations.

PBS is used in other countries around the world, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  The UK already has a PBS and has for many years.  This may come as a surprise to many not acquainted with our immigration rules and have heard time and time again that the UK needs an ‘Australian-style’ PBS.  What the politicians really mean is that they want a PBS to apply to everyone who wishes to come to the UK, including those in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA).

The New Post-Brexit Points-based Immigration System

On 13th July 2020, the Home Office, under the auspices of Home Secretary, Priti Patel, set out details of the UK’s new PBS which is to be introduced from 1st January 2021, when the UK formally ends the transitional trade arrangement with the EU, and the free movement ends.  The announcement by the Home Office stated:

“From 1 January 2021, free movement will end and the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system. The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work.  Under a points-based immigration system, points are assigned for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points.  The points-based system will provide simple, effective, and flexible arrangements for skilled workers from around the world to come to the UK through an employer-led system”.

According to the latest details available, anyone coming to the UK to work will need to demonstrate that:

  • they have a job offer from an employer with a sponsor license
  • the job being offered meets the required skills level – this is set at RQF level 3 or higher (this is equivalent to A-Level)
  • they meet the English language standard
  • they meet the minimum income requirement for the role on offer - the general minimum salary is £25,600 - if they earn less than the required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be eligible if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation or a Ph.D. relevant to the job

At present, the Home Office has stated that a minimum of 70 points must be reached in order to apply to work in the UK.  Points will be awarded as follows:

  • A job offer from an approved sponsor           20
  • Job at appropriate skill level                           20
  • Speaks English at required level                     10
  • Salary of £20,480 to £23,039                          0
  • Salary of £23,040 to £25,599                          10
  • Salary of £25,600 or above                             20
  • Job in a shortage occupation                          20
  • PhD in a subject relevant to the job               10
  • PhD in a relevant STEM subject                      20

Under this new system, some characteristics can be ‘traded’, e.g. higher qualifications can be traded against a lower salary.

What are the Benefits of a PBS?

As previously stated, PBSs are seen as a way to gain control of the number and skill level of inbound migrant workers based on demand.  From a governmental perspective, it is considered that this has a corresponding benefit to the economy as profitable and innovative businesses can scale up and resource themselves with the skills they need.  Following the Brexit vote, the UK government also sees the proposed PBS system as a way to stem the number of low skilled immigrants.  This may also reduce the social welfare bill by encouraging UK nationals and settled people to replace the supply of labour from other countries once free movement ends.

What are the Disadvantages of a PBS?

The implementation of the new PBS and the prevention of lower-skilled migrants is likely to cause a lack of available personnel in industries such as hospitality, agriculture, and care.  PBS systems may deter potential migrants who see the application process as complex, too uncertain, and arbitrary (when it comes to awarding points and thresholds).  It may, therefore, result in a lack of immigrants making applications, and hence a labour supply shortage.  While thresholds can be reduced in this scenario, if the UK is seen as putting up too many barriers to entry for migrant workers, it may take a long time to alter this perception and attract prospective migrants.

Final Words

The new UK points-based system will very likely need to be refined and tweaked next year as it is tested in the real world.  Either way, the country is going to need to make itself a desirable and attractive place for those with the best skills.  If that can be achieved, and if the PBS application system is made relatively quick and easy, it may prove effective.  We will keep you updated as further details of the new PBS emerge and it is implemented in 2021. For legal assistance with your immigration matter, contact our experienced immigration solicitors.

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