“Our immigration system must change”, says new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson

This article was published prior to the publication of the post-Brexit agreement between the UK and EU which covers the relationship between the UK and EU following the end of the implementation period (commonly referred to as the “transition period”) created by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and should be read in that context. For up-to-date commentary and information on our services, please see our Beyond Brexit page.

In what Mr Johnson has described as the “first step of a radical rewriting of our immigration system”, the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to review the Australian-style points based system with a view to considering whether the UK should adopt a similar approach to migration.

The Australian points based system generally requires a migrant to be pursuing an occupation for which there is a shortage of skilled workers. Points are awarded to potential migrants based on their professional and personal attributes, such as professional experience, age, and the ability to speak English. Whilst the UK does currently operate a points based system for all non-EU migrants, and points are awarded for an individual’s English language skills, the focus is largely on whether the migrant is sponsored by a UK company and will be paid a salary of at least £30,000 per year, or the salary threshold set by the Government for their particular occupation – whichever is higher.

Unlike the Australian system, the UK system is currently centralised and there is no mechanism for different regions to have control over decision making in order to address particular skill shortages in their region. This could be something that the Migration Advisory Committee will consider as part of the review.

The new Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 25 July that our immigration system needs to demonstrate that the UK remains open for business and can “continue to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world”.

In his speech, Mr Johnson also appeared to distance himself from an immigration system which placed a limit on the number of individuals permitted to relocate to the UK under the points based system each year, whilst also showing support for granting amnesty to long-standing illegal immigrants to allow them to legitimately work in the UK and therefore contribute to the UK tax system.

The position adopted by Mr Johnson is a stark contrast to that of his predecessors who voiced a long standing commitment to reduce net migration to the UK. This in turn has sparked doubt over the Government’s commitment to the existing Immigration Bill.

With Brexit anticipated to take place in just over 3 months’ time on 31 October 2019, the Immigration Bill was intended to prepare the UK for life after Brexit. Mr Johnson’s plans for reforming the UK immigration system has reignited uncertainty for individuals and employers who will be affected by the UK’s exit from the EU. 

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