How does an Australian-style points-based immigration system work?

An Australian-style points-based system would allow Britain to control the number of people coming into the country after Brexit but still welcome much needed professionals such as nurses, according to the Government.

The PA news agency asked Dr Alan Gamlen – an associate professor leading the human geography programme at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society – how such a system could work.

  • What is the Australian points-based system?

Australia has what is known as a general skilled migration programme, where immigrants applying for a visa are typically selected based on “economically relevant characteristics” such as education, language skills and work experience.

This does not apply for refugees and asylum seekers and there are other visas available with different requirements, like travel or holiday visas.

  • How does it work?

The exact way points are allocated changes depending on policy and the labour market but typically an applicant picks a “skilled occupation” from a list and needs to score a minimum number of points.

The visa application is submitted online after a series of checks and requires personal, financial and contact details, identity documents, as well as education, employment, health and travel history.

  • For example?

At present, an Australian visa for a “skilled independent migrant” needs 65 points.

Characteristics attracting the highest points include:

- Aged 25-32 years (30 points)

- A “superior” level of English (up to 20 points)

- Eight or more years of “skilled work experience” (in Australia = 20 points, overseas = 15 points)

- Formal educational qualifications (up to 20 points for a PhD with more to gain if they had studied in Australia).

- Extra points could be granted for translators, interpreters or other things such as applicants whose partners meet the age, English, and occupation requirements.

  • How much does it cost?

Fees vary depending on the visa but a skilled independent visa costs the equivalent of about £2,169 (4,045 Australian dollars).

Most visas are processed within 18 months and allow applicants to permanently work and study anywhere in Australia, as well as sponsor eligible relatives for permanent residence and, if eligible, eventually obtain Australian citizenship.

  • What are the pros and cons?

The points-based system used by Australia, Canada and New Zealand all “replaced colonial-era systems that explicitly discriminated between applicants based on race and ethnicity,” Dr Gamlen said.

This system is considered fairer, more objective, and by capping the number of certain visas is thought to allow a country to choose what it considers to be “the best” immigrants and address staff shortages.

But critics complain the approach presents a “narrow view of what constitutes a valuable contribution to a society”, Dr Gamlen added, warning it could lead to “brain waste”, with surgeons ending up driving taxis, for example, if there are not enough positions to fill.

  • How difficult could it be to bring to the UK?

It would involve “some major changes to the UK’s current migration-management systems” which Dr Gamlen said have evolved in a “much more ad hoc fashion” than some other countries.

“It would be difficult if not impossible to identify and transfer an ‘Australian model’ to the UK context and achieve comparable outcomes,” he said.

Australia’s system involves long-term data collection, research and consultation.

The system there has developed over decades and continues to change “so cannot be simply transplanted to the UK,” he added.

  • Would it make a difference?

Introducing such a system “would likely involve trial and error over a significant period of time for the UK immigration system to develop into something more like the Australian system”, Dr Gamlen said.

He warned that it may not solve “migration management issues, nor will it be a simple plug-and-play procedure”.