Government’s points-based immigration system plans criticised

Plans to replace free movement with an Australian-style points-based immigration system have been unveiled today (19 February), closing the door on lower-skilled workers and non-English speakers – a policy described as “short sighted and damaging” by Green peer Natalie Bennett.

Immigration enforcement van.
Immigration enforcement van.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Imogen Benson

The UK Government has today (19 February) unveiled plans to end free movement and introduce a points-based immigration system.

Set to come into force from 1 January 2021 – at the end of the 11-month Brexit transition period – the new immigration system will place EU and non-EU citizens on equal footing, with the government aiming to reduce overall levels of migration by prioritising those with the ‘highest skills and greatest talents’.

The new system will deny visas to lower-skilled workers and non-English speakers, with the government’s policy statement calling for a shift away from the ‘reliance on cheap labour from Europe’.

Under the Australian-style points system, foreign nationals will need 70 points to apply to work in the UK, gaining points for proving that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor (20 points) at the appropriate skill level (20 points). 

In line with the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations, published on 28 January, the government will be lowering the minimum salary required for migrants coming to work in the UK from £30,000 to £25,600, lowered to £20,480 for jobs in shortage occupations. Overseas citizens will receive 20 points for earning above the salary threshold, gaining an additional 10 points for speaking English, whilst further points will be awarded for education qualifications.

Holly Barrow, Political Correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, raised concerns with the minimum salary requirement, highlighting that this could cause shortages in key industries, for example care, as workers with a lower salary would be deemed ‘low-skilled’ and denied access to the UK. 

Barrow explained: “While it is certainly a step in the right direction that the minimum salary requirement to obtain a work visa has been lowered to £25,600 as opposed to the current requirement of £30,000, this continues to exclude a significant number of workers and industries. It seems to entirely overlook the fact that many in the UK would fail to meet this annual salary income requirement – care workers, for example, earn on average just £17,000-£20,000 per year.”

“Short sighted and damaging proposal”

The post-Brexit immigration plans, which were first proposed by the 2016 Vote Leave campaign and featured prominently in the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto, have faced backlash from industry and campaigners, with critics arguing that sectors such as social care and hospitality, which rely on lower-skilled workers, could be hit the hardest by the new system. 

Speaking to the Guardian, Tom Hadley, Director of Policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said that “the announcement threatens to shut out the people we need to provide the services the public rely on”, while Confederation of British Industry Director General Carolyn Fairbairn added that “some sectors, firms would be left wondering how they would recruit the people needed to run their businesses”.

Commenting on the proposals, Green Party peer Natalie Bennett said: “The UK has always been a country of immigrants and emigrants. This short-sighted and damaging proposal closes the door on both groups, for many countries will surely respond with similar restrictions on Britons. Immigrants contribute so much to our country’s prosperity and cultural and community life, we will all be poorer under these plans.

“Whether it’s caring for us in hospital or providing day to day services we all rely on, migrants have played a huge role in making the UK a richer and more interesting country for all.

“Many traditional large and small business backers of the Tory Party are opposed to this move, and it is clear that is dog-whistle politics, playing to populist, discriminatory agendas.”

The Greens have been vocal in their opposition to the Tory government’s strict immigration policy, condemning the hostile environment which led to the deportation of the Windrush generation and, more recently, 17 convicted offenders to Jamaica

Bennett continued: “Instead of demonising migrants we should be recognising the immense contribution they make to this country and continue the free movement for EU citizens – with the corresponding rights for UK citizens across Europe. Young people should not have fewer freedoms and opportunities than their parents had.”