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For many years, the British government, first under Teresa May, and now Boris Johnson, have advocated adopting an Australian style points-based system (PBS) for immigration.  But how would such a system differ from the UK’s existing PBS, and what are the chances of it being introduced?

Australia is known as having some of the toughest immigration controls in the world.  It is regularly lambasted by human rights groups for its brutal treatment of “boat people” (asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia on boats from Indonesia, often paying large sums of money to people smugglers).   It should be noted, however, that the country takes in an average of 12,500 refugees per year. In 2015-2016, Australia accepted 17,555 refugees in total.

A background note by the Australian Parliamentary Library describes the evolution of the nation’s immigration policy.  

“Today, the goal of immigration, settlement and citizenship policy is no longer seen in the simple terms of opening a gate to help populate the nation.  It is about building Australia’s future through the well-managed entry and settlement of people. Policies and programs aim to both manage complex migration flows to and from Australia while optimising their economic and social impact in the national interest.” 

Key features of the Australian immigration points-based-system

To be eligible for a skilled work visa in Australia, applicants must first make an ‘expression of interest’.  To have any chance of furthering their desire to work in the lucky country, applicants must then earn a minimum of 65 points, gleaned from criteria including age, language skills, education, and work experience.  However, in practice, only the highest-ranked candidates are invited to apply. Furthermore, expressions of interest can only be made by those who are experienced in or are in pursuit of work in a sector that has a high demand for additional workers. 

Unlike the UK PBS system, all applicants must be under 50 years of age.  Any applicants aged between 25 and 32 automatically start with half of the required 60 points; those aged between 45 and 49 start with zero.

Another difference is that, whilst all applicants must have basic English, points are only awarded for ‘proficient’ or ‘superior’ language skills.  For example, superior English language skills earn 20 points, while “competent” English scores zero. The requirement for a sound knowledge of English is something the Vote Leave campaign advocated strongly for back in 2016, and hence such an immigration system will be seen as a vehicle to progress towards this objective.  

The skilled work experience and educational attainment of the applicant are also assessed at the expression of interest stage.  This is significantly different from the current UK PBS system, where it is left to the employer to decide if a person is qualified for the position on offer.  Iƒn addition, Boris Johnson, has previously been quoted as saying that applicants would need a “firm job offer before they come”.

If an applicant is successful in obtaining entry into Australia as a skilled worker, then unlike the British system, they are not tied to an employer who ‘sponsors’ them.  Furthermore, if they lose their job and cannot find skilled work in their field, they can switch to an unskilled role.

How likely is it Britain will adopt an Australian-style PBS?

Boris Johnson made a firm commitment to leave the European Union on 31st October, “no ifs or buts”.  Therefore, in theory, freedom of movement will end on this date.  The new Home Office secretary, Priti Patel, a committed Thatcherite and believer in the free market, will be responsible for reforming the immigration system.

If Ms Patel’s previous statements are anything to go by, we can expect a fairly radical reform of the immigration system, which is likely to incorporate many Australian-style measures.  

Ms Patel fully endorsed ex-prime Minister, Theresa May’s hostile environment policies, presented in the immigration bills of 2014 and 2016, such as rent, work and bank account checks.  It was these policies that in part led to certain members of the Windrush generation being informed they had no right to stay in the UK.  

There is also concern regarding Ms Patel’s attitude to asylum seekers.

Clare Collier, advocacy director at the human rights group Liberty, told the Guardian

“Priti Patel is a politician with a consistent record of voting against basic human rights protections.  For her to be put in charge of the Home Office is extremely concerning.”

Given that it is the Home Secretary’s job to push through the Prime Minister’s objectives, a stricter, more government-controlled (as opposed to employers making decisions on skills and education) can be expected.

According to the Financial Times, just days after her appointment, Ms Patel wrote a piece for the Mail on Sunday warning employers against “automatically relying on low-skilled labour from abroad” and stating that in future, British businesses “will have to back our people” by investing in training and technology to increase domestic skill levels.

In other words, both businesses and prospective migrants are likely to find immigration laws a great deal tougher and more complex in the near future.

If you require detailed legal advice on any immigration law matter, please call us on 020 3893 2547 

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