Will an Australian-style Immigration System Work in the UK?
For many years, the Australian points-based system (PBS) has been touted by some as the ultimate template for immigration success. Such individuals often make the argument that creaming off the most qualified candidates where there is specific need is highly beneficial to the country.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is known for his preference for an Australian PBS. The manifesto on which he stood, has as item three, a promise to deliver an "Australian-style points-based system to control immigration". Johnson has gone even further, making it a personal guaranntee. So, it seems it is almost inevitable, but will it work, and will it even happen?
How does the Australian Points Based system work?
The current population of Australia is 25.5m, and is expected to rise to 32m by 2050. It is easy to forget that in 1970, the Aussie population was less than half what it is now, at 12m. It is the PBS which has enabled the country to manage the inflow of migrants from overseas to expand its population over that time.
The Australian PBS allows the government to select potential skilled migrants based on a range of criteria, including age, job offer, English language, time in skilled employment, qualifications, and the skills of the applicant's partner/spouse. Points are awarded based on these criteria; e.g. people aged 25 to 32 are awarded maximum points for age. Other points are awarded for the completion of a 'professional year' in Australia and sponsorship by a state or local governmental entity.
The application process has a number of stages. Firstly, interested applicants are required to submit an 'Expression of Interest' (EOI). From these EOI's, those with the highest scores will be taken to the next stage, and placed into a 'pool'. Even then, applicants have to wait to be invited to apply. The system enables the government to throttle the number of workers entering the country by raising or lowering the cut-off scores for individual occupational sectors. Hence, if IT workers (for example) are needed, the threshold for the relevant occupational category is reduced, and hence more people are invited to apply.
What is being proposed by the Conservative Government?
Before discussing the UK's proposed approach, it is important to clarify that while the UK does already have a points-based system (PBS), in practice, it is quite different in design and function to the present Australian immigration system.
The government are promising to 'fix our immigration system', which, understandably, some consider an interesting use of words given a Conservative government has been in power since 2010. Regardless, the government are promising a system which achieves the following:
- A fairer and more compassionate system - based on skills and potential for contribution rather than the country they are from (i.e. treating EU and non-EU citizens equally)
- Attract the best talent from around the world
- Fewer low-skilled migrants
- Fast-tracked entry for NHS workers
- EU citizens who came to live in the UK before Brexit will be allowed to stay
The manifesto also states that the government will prioritise those with a "good grasp of English", "have been law-abiding citizens in their own countries", and "have good education and qualifications". They have also stated that most people will require a job offer to enter the country to work under the new scheme.
As such, there is currently little clarity as to what the new system will look like and how it will work, although some inferences can be made. According to Freemovement.org, it is likely that the Conservative immigration policy is effectively a "reboot" of the old, and (in some cases flawed) visa routes, including the post-study work visa, NHS visa, science and technology visa, and the start-up visa.
By removing the right of free movement from EU citizens, the UK is effectively rolling out its existing non-EU immigration system to everyone.
Is the UK really looking to implement an Australian PBS?
While it might make for a great soundbite during an election campaign, it appears the UK is not really aiming to radically redesign its whole immigration system in line with that of Australia. There are some key differences between how their system works, and what can be gleaned from what the UK wants. Firstly, Australia does not require migrants to have a job offer before arriving in the country. Doing so does increase the number of points on offer, but it is not a requirement for "most" people, as it will be in the UK.
Secondly, the Australian PBS system can be prolonged from the perspective of migrants and potential employers. According to official Australian government statistics, the application process for 90 i;s completed within 20 months and temporary employees can wait up to 41 months. When the country reduced its overall limit for migration to 160,000 from 190,000 in March 2019, there were almost 200,000 people waiting for family visas, including 80,000 partners of migrants; a vast number by any measure. For many UK businesses who are already struggling to fill vacancies in their organisations, such timescales would be intolerable and unacceptable. For the Australian system to be adopted here, it would need to be sped up considerably, or even completely redesigned.
As the Migration Observatory state, it is not clear which bits of the Australian system the government is even referring to in its manifesto. For this reason, it isn't remotely clear if the system we eventually have will in any way resemble their model for immigration.
It remains to be seen how far the government move towards a truly Australian PBS, and whether it will replace or redesign much of its existing non-EU immigration system. Based on the evidence so far, this is unlikely. Will we see a similar immigration process, including the points scoring system, EOI, and invitation to apply? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we can only hope that replication of the Australian system is eventually seen as less important than creating a system that works for the UK's unique geographical, societal, and economic needs. Surely that is all that really matters?