Priti Patel has vowed to “take back control” of Britain’s borders by ending the free movement of people “once and for all” after Brexit.
“Instead, we will introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system,” the home secretary told delegates at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
She said this would attract the best and brightest, while remaining under the control of the British government, The Times reports.
Such a system was proposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this year.
“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 while on the Tory leadership campaign trail in June.
So will the UK adopt a points based system – or another immigration system entirely?
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A points-based system
The Australian system is cited by UK anti-immigration campaigners as an effective way to reduce net migration – a goal promised but not delivered by successive Conservative governments since at least 2010.
As the BBC notes, people who want to work in Australia “generally need to be pursuing an occupation that is in demand”. Applicants are “assigned points based on a number of professional and personal characteristics, with higher points awarded for more desirable traits”, the broadcaster says.
According to Patel, the points-based system proposed by the UK government would be “one that works in the best interests of Britain. One that attracts and welcomes the brightest and the best. And one that is under the control of the British government.”
But introducing a new system immediately after the UK exited the EU would be extremely difficult. “Supposing a policy could somehow be devised and implemented, the UK labour market would still need time to adjust to the new system,” says The Guardian’s Marley Morris.
Unless the EU and UK reach a deal, EU citizens would be subject to the same rules as those that now apply to third-country (non-UK and non-EU) nationals. The European Commission is currently advising EU nationals that “after Brexit, you will be subject to UK immigration law”.
The May government’s position
In December last year, then-prime minister Theresa May announced that a new immigration system was to come into effect on 1 January 2021 that would favour “experience and talent over nationality”, according to the Home Office.
The scheme was due to run until 2025 and was “understood to have been designed as a safety valve after businesses and some government ministers warned cutting off low-skilled labour from Europe would damage the UK economy”, Sky News reports.
Workers from the EU and beyond would have been able to enter Britain so long as they met a minimum salary threshold.
But with May now long gone, that plan “appears to have been superseded by Johnson’s commitment to introduce an “Australian-style” points-based system”, says The Guardian.