A pointless points-based immigration system?

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The proposal to move to an Australian-style system would result in an overhaul of the current employer-driven system. Currently, the UK requires individuals coming to the UK from outside the EEA to have a job offer before they can come to the UK. However, the Australian system selects applicants based on characteristics such as age, language, education and experience and, crucially, they do not necessarily need an offer of employment.

Before making its recommendations, the MAC looked at several other existing points-based systems, including systems in New Zealand, Canada and Austria.

In a points-based system, tradeable points are used based on personal characteristics. Points in one category can make up for a lack of points in another. Interestingly, the MAC points out that our current “points-based system” is points-based in name alone. Since it was first introduced in 2008, our system has been refined so that the current system requires applicants to meet all the relevant criteria, which mainly relate to skill and salary.

The main outcome of the MAC report is that it does not recommend any substantial changes to the UK’s current immigration system. Instead, the MAC believes (as it has reported before) that tweaking our current system and extending it to all individuals wishing to come and work in the UK is the best way forward.

However, the MAC has made some additional recommendations to those made in its previous 2018 report.

These are that:

  • the salary threshold for Tier 2 (General) visas should be reduced from £30,000 to £25,600 to encompass more medium-skilled jobs
  • there should be national pay scales for certain roles which may not reach the minimum salary level such as roles in healthcare and education
  • the proposed increase in the salary threshold for settlement should be paused so further investigation on the effect of this can take place
  • the number of years in which the new entrant rate applies should be increased from 3 years to 5 years

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the removal of salary thresholds from any new immigration system. The MAC’s conclusion is that they remain important as a control mechanism to ensure that the UK’s “migration policy is supportive of the ambition to make the UK a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.” They also point out that minimum salaries are essential to ensure that migrants aren’t used as cheap labour to undercut the local market.

The MAC continues to believe that its recommendations made under Theresa May’s government are relevant. Specifically, that:

  • the skill level for Tier 2 (General) visas to be reduced from degree level (or equivalent) to A-Level (or equivalent)
  • the cap on Tier 2 (General) visas is abolished
  • the Resident Labour Market Test for Tier 2 (General) visas is removed

These recommendations should make it easier for both workers to meet the immigration criteria, and for businesses to attract the talent they need post-Brexit.

The MAC recognises that extending our current system to EU citizens is likely to have a negative impact on industries which rely on low-skilled workers, as these individuals would not meet the eligibility criteria. However, it hasn’t made any specific recommendations in this area, other than saying that shortages could be addressed by the government by using the temporary worker route or other sector-based schemes. This is rather vague and is unlikely to offer much reassurance to the impacted industries.

The new report  doesn’t really move us forward from the recommendation made in the MAC’s previous report in 2018, and certainly does not go as far as Boris Johnson intended with the suggestion of an Australian-style system.

The UK Government is expected to respond to the report in March 2020, with any changes to be introduced in January 2021, following the end of the transition period.