The British right doesn't really want Australia's immigration system. In fact, it's the Australian right that wants Britain'sby Philippa Hetherington / February 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
Along with “Get Brexit Done” and “oven-ready,” few soundbites have been as ubiquitous in Boris Johnson’s recent rhetoric than “Australian points-based system.” In practical terms, it refers to a migration system organised around assigning ‘points’ to desirable professional skills. In political terms, the phrase stands in for taking back control of Britain’s borders. Today’s announcement of new visas for ‘highly-skilled’ migrants is billed as the first step in this Australian system’s implementation in Britain.
Recently, Priti Patel made the (spurious) claim that when the British public voted to leave the EU in 2016, it voted for the introduction of an Australian system. Despite criticism from the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, it remains committed to the term, perhaps because focus groups before the election showed that an ‘Australian’ system polled well. With its refugee detention camps and historical ‘White Australia’ migration policy (only abolished in 1973), the antipodes evoke the exclusion of non-Anglo migrants.
Despite this positioning as a panacea to free movement, a number of commentators have pointed out that far from cutting migration, in Australia a points-based system has been a tool of immigration growth.
Maintained by both right and left-wing governments since the 1990s, the system aims to attract large numbers of skilled migrants from all over the world. The majority of these migrants are young and highly-trained, counter-balancing the costs of an ageing Australian population and contributing to a rapid increase in GDP per capita. This has resulted in higher net migration, proportional to population, than in the UK.
At the same time, it has fostered greater cultural diversity as migrants’ skills supersede their country of origin. Indeed, while Boris Johnson has been happy to trumpet the ‘control’ an Australian system will give Britain over its borders, sotto voce he has acknowledged that the Australian system could mean Australian-style migratory growth, something sure to please a nervous business sector. The proposals announced today, whereby would-be migrants would need to prove a number of skills as well as produce a job offer to migrate to Britain, have worried businesses; however, the government is yet to confirm details of a planned ‘non-sponsored’ branch of the points-based system that it argues would facilitate flexible migration based on perceived need.
There are further ironies embedded in the Tory embrace of an Australian system. Just as Britain’s conservative government takes it up, Australia’s right-wing Liberal-National Coalition government is questioning its commitment to…