The UK already has a Points Based System (PBS) but it has failed to reduce, or even control, immigration. It needs reinforcement, not disruptive change. The Australian system operates entirely differently – its main purpose is to increase, not to reduce, immigration.
The UK Experience
A PBS was introduced in 2008 for work and in 2009 for study visas. The scheme largely eliminated the scope for British immigration officers to use their discretion. Instead they had to rely on a box ticking process. The presumption, therefore, was that a visa would be issued unless fraud could be demonstrated.
Tier 1 of the PBS is for highly-skilled workers who, initially, did not need to have a job before arrival. This led to significant abuse. Home Office research in 2011 found that 29% of ‘highly skilled’ workers were in unskilled work and a further 46% were either unemployed or had provided insufficient details. This part of the route was closed in December 2010.
Tier 4 of the PBS is for study. The PBS effectively empowered education institutes to issue certificates of sponsorship without much concern for the capability of applicants and with no responsibility for ensuring that they departed on time. Furthermore, interviews to assess language ability, genuine subject interest and the likelihood of return upon completion of studies were almost wholly disposed of. Documentary evidence (which was easily forgeable) became the primary means by which an applicant’s points were calculated. The result was a massive increase in applications which overwhelmed the system. In the Indian sub-continent a number of consulates had to be closed for months.
The Australian Experience
The Australian context could hardly be more different. Many Australians believe that they have a strategic need to grow their population and they certainly have the space to do so. Their PBS is a means to that end, while public debate is mainly about how to handle asylum seekers arriving by boat. Their system is, in fact, extremely complex despite covering less than 60% of skilled work migration and only about 15% of all migrants entering Australia.
The PBS failed to limit migration. It became clear that a purely mechanical test that reduced or even eliminated human discretion could not cope with the complexities and pressures of immigration to the UK. The end of free movement will pose massive challenges for the administration of Britain’s visa system. It would therefore be prudent to stay with the system we have, making it less complex and more efficient, while tightening it as necessary to achieve a level of net migration which is consistent with government policy and strong public opinion while permitting the skills and expertise the economy needs.