How could a UK points-based immigration system work?

Boris Johnson saying: It is right to go for an Australian-style points-based system so that the needs of the UK economy can be properly met.

Boris Johnson, one of the candidates to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister, has been talking about his plans for immigration.

“What I would like to do is get the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to look really properly at the Australian-style points-based system,” he said.

The MAC is an independent body that advises the government.

The Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum, of which Mr Johnson was a leading supporter, backed an Australian-style system. The Reality Check team wrote about this at the time. It was also proposed by Ukip at the 2017 election.

Taking control of immigration was one of the key themes of the Leave campaign, while governments since 2010 have been committed to reducing net migration (that is the difference between people coming to the UK and leaving the UK) to below 100,000 a year – a target which has been missed repeatedly.

Long term net migration to the UK

What is the Australian system?

People who want to move to Australia to work generally need to be pursuing an occupation that is in demand (there are different visas for students or working holidays, for example).

Applicants are assigned points based on a number of professional and personal characteristics, with higher points awarded for more desirable traits.

This can range from the amount of time they have worked in a skilled sector, education level, age, and proficiency in the English language.

Being a competent English speaker is the minimum requirement but someone with “superior English” will earn 20 points.

Being aged between 25 and 33 years old will get you 30 points. The threshold for eligibility is 65 points.

Net migration to Australia

How is it different to the UK system?

Currently, those from within the EU do not need a visa to work in the UK because they benefit from “freedom of movement” – although there are limits on claiming certain benefits.

For those from outside the EU, there are similarities to the Australian system.

Points are awarded for having English language skills, being sponsored by a company and meeting a salary threshold.

A maximum number of work visas are awarded – the cap is set at around 21,000 a year but isn’t often met.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at University of Oxford, told Reality Check: “There is only one way you can get in and that’s if you meet all of those criteria.”

“What the UK points system doesn’t do is assess the individuals for things like their age and qualifications. The UK system trusts the employer to decide whether the person is qualified to do the job, while the Australian system is more centrally planned.”

We also do not have the sort of decentralised system they have in Australia, in which different states may try to attract migrants with particular skills. Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government is keen to introduce this sort of devolution.

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PA Media

What details are missing?

It is not clear what aspects of the Australian system Mr Johnson is keen to adopt – he says he would ask the MAC to look into it.

He has also not specified what his policies would be for people wanting to come for other reasons such as studying or those wanting to join family members already living in the UK.

Current government policy is that, after Brexit, skilled workers with a minimum salary of £30,000 will need to be sponsored by an employer. They will be able to bring dependants with them and there will be no cap on their numbers.

There would also be a scheme for lower-skilled workers to come to the UK, but their visas would be limited to 12 months.

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