Cutting net migration to the UK seems to be a perpetually popular topic, yet one that has proven consistently difficult to attain. The call for a move towards an ‘Australian-style’ points based system has received a substantial amount of airtime recently, but what exactly is it, how does it differ from the UK’s own current Points Based System, and would a switch to, or a merger of, the systems actually bring any real benefit?
The government has made a concerted effort to amend UK immigration policy in order reduce net migration. Despite substantial and frequent changes to said policy, this has proven to be exceptionally challenging. As of May of this year, the government failed to meet its goal of reducing net migration to “tens of thousands” for the 37th time since that net migration target was set way back in 2010. The EU vs. non-EU migration breakdown shows that since 2016, EU long-term migration is currently at its lowest since 2013, yet non-EU net migration has increased continuously over the past five years. Many have argued that immigration policy must be reconsidered, as the current migration goals appear to be unreachable. Enter the political punch-line of adopting an Australian-style points based system.
The Australian system:
The basic principle of a point-based system is that applicants will be scored according to a list of criteria such as language ability, age, competency, professional qualifications and sector-based experience. If the applicant’s final score is above the minimum point requirement, they will be granted a visa. Essentially, applicants must simply reach a particular point threshold in order to be eligible for a visa - they do not require the sponsorship of an employer. This system allows for visas to be granted to a varied range of applicants. For example, those who have limited English may have extensive sector experience, which would balance out their score. The system allows for visas to be awarded on merit and on the basis of personal characteristics as opposed to specific employment contracts or placements. The theory is that such a system will entice ‘high value’ skilled workers who will seek out and assimilate into local culture.
But don’t we already have a points based system?
The UK’s current immigration system is points based virtually in name only. From 2007, the UK introduced a system to regulate how non-EU migrants could obtain work visas. Called the ‘Points Based System’ (or “PBS”) it established the visa tier system currently in use today (Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 4, and Tier 5). Contrary to the Australian system, however, applicants for a UK points based visa must meet preset, mandatory criteria, which are assigned a point value. There is no room for gaining points in one category to compensate for a lower score in another. The system simply sets a requirement that must be met, and assigns a value to this criterion. The ‘points’ scoring is therefore largely symbolic, reflecting in reality the black and white expectations of the Home Office. This system has been somewhat effective in controlling in-bound non-EU migration and the current government’s immigration white paper has made it clear that this Points Based System will be maintained. Despite loosening a number of restrictions with respect to the Tier 2 work visa category, it has been stated that the essence of this system will remain unchanged, and will expand to encompass both EU and non-EU citizens. Does this give cause for concern? Potentially so, but the greater concern is a systematic shift to the Australian system.
Why Points Based Systems are a danger
Traditionally, points based systems are not used as a tool to reduce net migration, but rather to attract people who would not normally enter a country through an employer-sponsored route. They can be effective when creating a more dynamic immigration route for highly skilled individuals who can meet domestic skills shortages. However these systems should not be a pervasive immigration policy, but rather a part of a much broader migration policy. When considering skilled worker migration, for example, a points based system allows for transparent standards for entry, and lends an element of control, allowing governments to funnel skilled migration into sectors that aid long-term economic growth. But it can be argued that the cons outweigh the pros. Such a system will not necessarily decrease net migration numbers. The number of non-EU migrants who fail to gain visas under the current UK Points Based System have been increasing steadily in the past few years, and therefore relaxing the current system in favor of the looser Australian model could, arguably, see this trend reversed. Moreover, a true points based system can ultimately be subjective and discriminatory, valuing certain ages, nationalities, and qualifications over others, as opposed to a set criteria that must simply be met.
Finally, the value of a points based system should be considered in a broader political context. Whether or not EU migrants will be assessed under a points based system, regardless of its structure, the reality is that the UK will most likely be required to leave the European single market. EU chiefs have consistently stated that the UK will only be able to remain in the single market if it upholds the EU principles of free movement of people and goods across borders. Any form of points based system directly opposes any such principle of free movement. Therefore, whether Australian or not, it is worth understanding that adopting a slightly looser model of the UK’s current system may not be the best way forward.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.