The Australian points system would boost UK migration
Jonathan Lindsell, 3 February 2015
Immigration will be a hot topic in the upcoming election. Ukip, some Conservative MPs and the mayor of London advocate the ‘Australian points based system’ (PBS) for managing Britain’s borders, with that system applying to EU and non-EU arrivals alike.
The Australian system is more restrictive than the free movement of persons policy maintained as part of our EU membership. It requires economic migrants to meet a certain number of points, awarded according to English language proficiency, youthfulness, education, skills, and work experience.
If Britain left the EU and applied the system in a similar way to Australia –allowing for Welsh and Scots Gaelic speakers – then a PBS would have a number of strengths. It would be fairer to medium skilled non-European applicants, whose places are currently restricted by the Conservatives’ target of reducing net immigration below 100,000. By creating higher entry barriers in paperwork and planning terms, it might encourage applicants more committed to settling long term and integrating. Overall, it should mean a highly skilled, language proficient, professional workforce.
What it would not do is reduce the kinds of migration that many voters seem concerned with. The PBS ‘skilled occupations list’ includes not only surgeons and engineers (whom we already let in) but plumbers, electricians, builders. Many EU/EEA applicants would, then, still qualify.
Australia does operate a cap on the PBS route, but it’s only one of many settlement routes. You can also get in via employer sponsorship, family unification, or study. The Immigration Minister sets caps annually on the basis of economic, social and demographic factors – i.e. demand for skilled labour and ability to absorb that labour. In 2013-14 this cap was 190,000 (excluding humanitarian entry). If this was scaled according to UK population, a British PBS cap would be about 513,900 gross entries. This is just shy of the UK’s real 2013 total entry, 526,000. Assuming our asylum policy, which accepts about 20,000 applicants annually, doesn’t change, then the PBS would have boosted gross immigration by roughly 8,000 before students or family unification is counted.
That is only using the PBS part of the Australian system. If we copied the whole system, the effect is magnified. Australia’s net immigration in 2013-14 was 246,000. Again, if the UK let in a number proportionate to population, that would be over 665,000 migrants, net.* That’s 450,000 more than real UK net immigration in 2013. Many voters would have no issue with this – that’s half a million extra committed, hard-working newcomers paying taxes and contributing to society.
But Ukip also ‘commits to bringing UK net migration down to 50,000 people a year for employment’, and would operate work permits. There’s an obvious disconnect here – either Ukip follow the Australian (or Canadian) system and set caps based on economic and demographic factors, or they imposing arbitrary caps and ignore the Australian PBS. They can’t have both.
*Scaled instead by nominal GDP, net UK immigration would be 364,900.