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Would a Post-Brexit Australian-style Immigration System Work for the UK?

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Polls conducted on Tuesday, 31st May 2016, showed the vote to leave the UK in front, following the release of official figures showing net migration had risen to 330,000 (the second highest annual net migration on record).

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have stated this week that should Britain leave the European Union, they would introduce a, "genuine Australian-style points-based Immigration system" before the next general election.

To enter Britain all migrants, including those from the EU would have to speak English and have relevant work skills.

In the clearest statement yet about what would happen post-Brexit, the MP’s stated that if Britain left the EU, "the automatic right of all EU citizens to come and live and work in the UK will end".

"Those seeking entry for work or study should be admitted on the basis of their skills without discrimination on the ground of nationality. To gain the right to work, economic migrants will have to be suitable for the job in question. For relevant jobs, we will be able to ensure that all those who come have the ability to speak good English," the statement adds.

So what does the Australian points-based system look like? Could it work in the UK? And is Australia, with its frankly brutal treatment of some Asylum seekers in past years, a good country on which to model an Immigration policy on?

Australia’s, … ahem…. interesting Immigration history….

To say that the Australian government is tough on Asylum seekers is an understatement. In 2001, Conservative Prime Minister John Howard was even re-elected following his refusal to allow the Norwegian ship, the Tamper, that had rescued 438 refugees’ who had capsized when entering Australian waters, instead, leaving them for days on a hot boat deck, suffering from dehydration and dysentery. When the captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan, fed up with the Australian authority’s refusal to allow him to enter Australian waters to take the refugees’, (which included four pregnant women) to land on Christmas Island, the Government threatened to have him arrested as a people smuggler and sent troops to board the ship and return it to international waters.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Australia is still obsessed with ‘stopping the boats’. The Government processes almost all migrants who arrive by boat in offshore detention facilities such as Nauru, where claims of child abuse and criminal activity are frequently reported.

Unable to leave the island, refugees wait as their claims for official refugee status are assessed by the UN refugee agency the UNHCR – and this can take years.

Although the vast majority of claims are successful, the Australian government is adamant that those detained on Nauru will never set foot in Australia.

The only way off the island is to agree to resettlement in Cambodia - or return to the countries from which the refugees have fled.

The Australian points-based system

The Australian point-based system is the other arm of its Immigration policy – entirely separate from its humanitarian policy (which boat people fall under).

The migration programme controls the variety and number of workers moving to the country, and according to the Department of Immigration is, “specifically designed to target migrants who have skills or outstanding abilities that will contribute to the Australian economy” and to fill labour shortages.

Currently applicants must accrue 60 points, that are gained by meeting a number of eligibility criteria:

  • Age
  • You cannot apply if you are aged over 50. Applicants between 25 and 32 years automatically get awarded 30 points.
  • Knowledge of English
  • Knowledge of English is a pre-requisite. No points are awarded for this.
  • Qualifications and experience

Remaining points are made up through relevant qualifications and experience. For example, a doctorate from an institution recognised by Australia is worth 20 points.

If the applicant’s occupation is not contained on an approved list, then they will need to obtain sponsorship from an employer.

How will this help Britain reduce migration?

You are probably thinking, “how is Australia’s points-based system any different from the one the already exists in the UK”?

Well, it’s not.

The major difference will be that it will apply to EU nationals, who may fail to meet the language and/or age requirements.

Many employers needing low-skilled workers in industries such as agriculture and construction are likely to find it harder to recruit the help they need as those migrants from the EU who are willing to work for lower pay may not necessarily meet the language and education requirements.

More migrants under an Australian model?

Australia lets in more migrants than the UK does. Australia’s net migration rate between 2000 and 2015 was just over eight per thousand – that is, on average each year, eight new people arrived in the country per thousand people already there, according to UN data collated by the think tank Open Europe. The UK’s net migration rate over the same period was just under four per thousand.

Therefore, the promise that Immigration would be lower if we left the EU and adopted such a system, reducing the strain on hospitals, schools and workers who face intense competition for jobs from migrants comes with no guarantees. Yes, the UK could target skilled workers rather than be forced to accept unskilled hordes from the EU, but these are the people UK employers rely on to do the jobs British people don’t want to do.

Not every unemployed person is employable.

UK labour market cooling

Figured show that in the first quarter of this year, the job market showed signs of cooling down as employers prepare for what could be a bitter fight on 23rd June. The number of people in work rose by 44,000, less than a quarter of the gain seen at the end of 2015.

This suggests investment and Employment decisions are being put on hold until after the referendum.

Will an Australian model work for the UK? Not without major tweaking. It appears that yet again, ‘Vote Leave’ supporters are quick to tell the public the benefits of leaving the EU, but fail to inform them of the consequences, both foreseeable and unforeseen.

Of which, make no mistake, there will be many.

Based in London, OTS Solicitors specialises in Employment and Immigration law. Our expert team are committed to delivering the best results for our Employment and Immigration clients. If you wish to make an appointment, please phone our office on 0203 959 9123 to make an appointment.

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