Q&A: How would an Australian-style immigration system work?

An Australian-style points-based system would allow Britain to control the number of people coming into the country after Brexit but still welcome much needed professionals like nurses, according to the Conservatives.

The PA news agency asked Dr Alan Gamlen – an associate professor leading the human geography programme at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society – how such a system could work.

– What is the Australian points-based system?

Australia has what is known as a general skilled migration programme, where immigrants applying for a visa are typically selected based on “economically relevant characteristics” like education, language skills and work experience.

Students wearing Mortar Boards and Gowns after graduating
An applicant’s education affects how many points they earn (Chris Radburn/PA)

This does not apply for refugees and asylum seekers and there are other visas available with different requirements, like travel or holiday visas.

– How does it work?

The exact way points are allocated changes depending on policy and the labour market but typically an applicant picks a “skilled occupation” from a list and needs to score a minimum number of points.

The visa application is submitted online after a series of checks and requires personal, financial and contact details, identity documents, as well as education, employment, health and travel history.

– For example?

Young people
People aged 25-32 would earn 30 points (Ben Birchall/PA)

At present, an Australian visa for a “skilled independent migrant” needs 65 points.

Characteristics attracting the highest points include:

– Aged 25-32 years (30 points)

– A “superior” level of English (up to 20 points)

– Eight or more years of “skilled work experience” (in Australia = 20 points, overseas = 15 points)

– Formal educational qualifications (Up to 20 points for a PhD with more to gain if they had studied in Australia)

Extra points could be granted for translators, interpreters or other things like applicants whose partners meet the age, English, and occupation requirements.

– How much does it cost?

Fees vary depending on the visa but a skilled independent visa costs the equivalent of about £2,169 (4,045 Australian dollars).

Most visas are processed within 18 months and allow applicants to permanently work and study anywhere in Australia, as well as sponsor eligible relatives for permanent residence and, if eligible, eventually obtain Australian citizenship.

– What are the pros and cons?

A ward at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital
The system aims to address particulat skill and staff shortages (Peter Byrne/PA)

– Pros

The points-based system used by Australia, Canada and New Zealand all “replaced colonial-era systems that explicitly discriminated between applicants based on race and ethnicity,” Dr Gamlen said.

This system is considered fairer, more objective and by capping the number of certain visas is thought to allow a country to choose what it considers to be “the best” immigrants.

It can address particular skill and staff shortages and “prevent competition with native workers for low-skilled jobs, which could raise unemployment and fuel ethnic tension”.

– Cons

Critics complain the approach presents a “narrow view of what constitutes a valuable contribution to a society”, Dr Gamlen said.

“It is sometimes argued that criteria such as language proficiency discriminate by default.

“Even though the Government’s lists of desirable skills are kept updated, they can never perfectly match what employers actually need.

“The result of this mismatch is that skilled migrants often end up doing unskilled work, leading to ‘brain waste’ (e.g. surgeons end up driving taxis).”

– How difficult could it be to bring to UK?

International arrivals at Gatwick Airport
The UK’s current system would need a major overhaul (Gareth Fuller/PA)

It would involve “some major changes to the UK’s current migration-management systems” which Dr Gamlen said have evolved in a “much more ad hoc fashion” than some other countries.

“It would be difficult if not impossible to identify and transfer an ‘Australian model’ to the UK context and achieve comparable outcomes.”

Australia’s system involves long-term data collection, research and consultation.

The culture and attitudes to immigration in both countries may differ and could play a part in shaping how such a system would work.

The system there has developed over decades and continues to change “so cannot be simply transplanted to the UK.”

– Would it make a difference? 

Introducing such a system “would likely involve trial and error over a significant period of time for the UK immigration system to develop into something more like the Australian system”, Dr Gamlen said.

“A points-based immigration system may help the UK to address many of the immigration issues it is experiencing, by learning from the experiences of countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

“But it will not solve all of the UK’s migration management issues, nor will it be a simple plug-and-play procedure.”

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