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5 September 2016

What actually is an Australian-style points-based system for immigration?

How does Australian immigration work? How many immigrants do they take? And would it work in the UK?

By New Statesman

Feel like you’ve heard a lot about Australian immigration lately? You’re not alone. The possibility of implementing an Australian-style points-based immigration system has long been discussed by politicians in Britain, from Ukip campaigners to Tony Blair (yes, really).

There’s no denying the fact that immigration has become one of the most prominent – and most controversial – subjects in British politics. From the wails of Brexiteers to Labour mugs, the question of who gets into the country is high on the agenda. Could the Australian system be a fair way to help us decide? More importantly, would it even be workable in the UK?

What is the Australian points system?

There are three ways to come into Australia. The first two are as a refugee, or with the sponsorship of an employer.

The third is through the points system. Individuals apply as a professional in one of the industries listed on the Skilled Occupation List. Points are then allocated for age, professional experience, English language ability and qualifications, with extra points available if you have a qualification earned in Australia, or are applying with a spouse.

Right. And how does that work in practice?

It actually means very high levels of immigration – both from refugees and economic migrants. Net overseas migration in 2014-15 was 168,200 people. That’s roughly 0.7 per cent of the population of Australia (0.7 per cent of the UK population is 448,700). Australia is tough on refugees who arrive illegally, but has a generous allocation for refugees who arrive, and subsequently enter the workforce, legally (the equivalent in the UK would be accepting 50,000 refugees a year; last year, the UK received 38,878 asylum applications, of which 45 per cent were granted asylum).

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I’m not sure Ukip would like those numbers…

No, probably not. Thing is, Australia is really big. Britain isn’t.

So it wouldn’t work here?

Different countries have different needs – as John McTernan, who has worked for the UK and Australian governments, points out. Or, as the Prime Minister puts it, “There is no silver bullet in terms of dealing with immigration.”

The UK needs skilled labour, but also agricultural labourers and other unskilled workers, too. That’s why the immigration system is relatively complex.