What is an "Australian-style" points based system and how does it differ from the UK’s current immigration system?

17 Oct 2019

The government, when briefing about the Queen’s Speech, has indicated that the fair, modern and global immigration system referred to will be based around an "Australian-style" points based system. 

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been asked to look at the introduction of an Australian-style points based system to the UK. They are currently carrying out a call for evidence exercise to assist with answering this question.

Points systems are a way of ranking applicants for visas based on their attributes, such as language skills, education and work experience. The Australian system invites candidates that score the highest number of points based on these attributes to submit a visa application. Australia allows people to migrate without a job offer, although other countries with points systems either require or prioritise job offers.

The UK currently has what is described as a points-based system, but this is best considered as a points-based system in name only. The system does assign points to different criteria, however, there is no flexibility on how to meet the criteria. Candidates for Tier 2 (General) visas must earn 70 points to qualify, and there is only one way to do that: by meeting all of the criteria.

There are significant differences between the current UK immigration system and other points based systems. The UK system is best described as demand driven. Employers determine the best candidate for the job and look to sponsor them if possible. The Australian system is government driven with decisions about the numbers of migrants and the attributes they need determined centrally. The Australian system can be seen as one which was developed to maximise the number of migrants who might be attracted to apply. The UK system on the other hand has historically sought to reduce the number of migrants who might apply.

Comments by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel appear to indicate that they prefer a system that requires a firm job offer prior to a visa being granted. This would be more of an Austrian than an Australian-style points based system. It may therefore be that we are heading for some form of blend of those two systems if the current government continues. Priti Patel has gone as far as to suggest that the system will favour those who accept jobs outside London, though details of that particular proposal are sketchy. 

What this all means for the previous government’s White Paper on Immigration is unclear at present. It may be that some elements are incorporated into any new system. It is to be hoped that the consultation that has so far taken place is not entirely wasted. This is especially so given the anticipated labour and skills-gaps that will be created by the reduction of EU migrants moving freely to the UK to fill both temporary and long-term vacancies.

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