Ipswich: Why is the Australian points based system so popular?

We held two citizens’ panels in Ipswich and divided them by gender as we interested if there were differences in the way that men and women talk about immigration. We have already blogged on what we found, but both groups had a lot to say about migration for work. Like every previous citizens panel, many of our Ipswich participants – male and female – suggested an Australian Points Based system as something that they would like to see adopted in this country:

It should be a point-based system after Brexit, like they have in Australia. We need to audit where the gaps are, and give people points if they want to fill them…we need stricter checks on those who come here.”

In our Ipswich panel conversations ‘Australian Points Based System’ was very much a shorthand for a controlled and selective immigration system that participants felt that they did not have with EU free movement.

In all the panels we have held, many more people have heard about the Australian Points Based System than the UK’s net migration target. The popularity of an Australian-style immigration system as public demand raises important and difficult issues for politicians and policy makers. It is worth considering why the ‘Australian Points Based System’ has become such a powerful slogan that resonates with the public.

Our visits have shown that many citizens’ panel members have relatives or friends who have emigrated to Australia – many Brits have spent time in the country on working holiday visas, and nearly 1.3 million people born in the UK now live down under. Others have made family visits to Australia. This means that many people in the UK have had an experience of applying for a visa, or entering Australia as a visitor. It is much harder to get an Australian work visa for low-skilled jobs and applicants also have to declare any criminal record. The visibly high levels of bio-security at ports of entry into Australia – searches, x-rays and detector dogs – also gives an impression of tighter border control than in the UK.

UKIP made manifesto commitment to introduce an Australian-style Points Based system in the 2015 general election and later in the 2016 EU referendum. This pledge received a great deal of media coverage.

So politicians have now have to square the public’s desire for control and selectivity over future EU migration, with employers’ need for skilled and unskilled workers. Whatever system the Government wants to put in place after the UK leaves the EU also has to represent a positive offer to put in the table in the Brexit negotiations. It is highly unlikely that we will keep free movement for EU nationals in its current form more likely there will be restrictions on low-skilled EU migration into the UK, perhaps in the form of quotas.

But these policy changes will not address public concerns as our National Conversation visits show that very few people know the details of immigration policy. Although our panel members frequently refer to the Australian Points Based System at points in the discussions, in Ipswich no-one knew the details of how it operates, or that migration levels into Australia are far higher than into the UK. Nor do most of our participants know that the UK had a similar point-based system governing migration for work. For most UK work visas (Tier 2 visas) applicants have to have English language qualifications, be sponsored by an employer and to job they come to fill most be advertised to UK workers first, unless it is on the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list

Politicians need to consider the features of future EU migration system that people feel is under control. Our National Conversation visits show that the public partly experience control and selectivity – or a lack of these conditions –  in their everyday lives, in their workplaces and what they see in their neighbourhoods. Feelings about uncontrolled immigration from the EU are magnified when people encounter problems such as street drinking or badly-maintained rental accommodation used to house migrant workers.  It is these local impacts that also need to be addressed if we are to have a post-Brexit immigration system that has genuine public support.

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