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This week has been dominated by speculation about whether the UK will opt for a ‘points based’ or ‘work permit’ system when redesigning its immigration policies post-Brexit. Open Europe’s Stephen Booth argues that these labels ignore the reality that almost all countries combine elements of both.
7 September 2016
Leaving aside the negotiations with the rest of the EU for a moment, in theory, there are two competing models of immigration policy that countries employ to manage economic immigration.
However, in practice and as we noted in our Brexit report, countries employ hybrid systems that combine aspects of both points-based and employer-led systems. Systems that are employer-led can require that workers fulfil a points test, which allows governments to prioritise applications within any limit placed on overall numbers.
On the other hand, Australia, which along with Canada pioneered the points-based system, has shifted the balance of its programme away from ‘independent skilled migrants’, who do not have employment arranged in Australia prior to migrating there, towards ‘sponsored skilled migrants’, who have arranged employment prior to their arrival. Australia also offers temporary routes, which are often used to fill low-skilled jobs – think of British working holidaymakers for example.
In the UK, under the ‘points system’ for non-EU migrants, almost all migrants are required to be sponsored by an employer. It is therefore also a hybrid system, since immigrants are only able to arrive if their skills are required by an employer, albeit under strict criteria and a cap defined by the Government. The free movement of workers from the EU is one of the reasons the criteria are so strict.
There are of course other types of immigration to consider: high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs, students, family reunification and asylum policy all require different regimes.
When it comes to the Government’s policymaking on immigration in the real world, the question is not so much whether it will opt for a points or work permit system. There will be features of both and so far Downing Street has refused to be pinned down, albeit Theresa May made it known she was unconvinced by ‘points-based’ systems. Elements of the existing non-EU migration system could be applied across the board to EU migrants and some areas that have been dormant – such as the Tier 3 visa for low-skilled non-EU migration – may be resurrected.
But, the real questions that Government faces are how much emphasis is placed on the market-based, employer-led approach which would respond more readily to skills needs of business? And how much this is regulated top-down by government regulation – the ‘control’ element – which will determine both the mix and scale of immigration to the UK? How will these new immigration policies interact with the national minimum wage, legislation on employment conditions, and initiatives to equip Brits for jobs they want to do? How does Government ensure that public service provision keeps pace with population change? What will be the route, if any, to permanent residence and British citizenship for new immigrants? It is all these factors that will determine how immigration and integration ‘feel’ to voters in practice over the long-term.
There is of course also the issue of whether the EU will demand some form of preference for EU nationals under the post-Brexit terms and whether the UK would be willing to accept such an arrangement? But that is a subject for another post.