The Conservatives’ plans for immigration are anything but concrete

When it comes to immigration and the upcoming election, the Conservatives have been campaigning for an ‘Australian-style points-based system’, claiming that the implementation of such a policy will get immigration ‘under control.’ Not only that, but Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have made it clear that voting for Labour is a vote for an ‘uncontrolled and unlimited immigration’ system.

Such claims are not only terribly vague in describing what such a system will actually look like but are also highly inaccurate. The recent Labour party manifesto actually takes a more moderate stance on migration, stating that if the UK remains in the EU, freedom of movement will continue. However, if the UK leaves, this will be subject to negotiation.

On top of this, EU net migration has also continued to decline, reaching its lowest level before EU enlargement. Therefore, freedom of movement continuing under a Labour government doesn’t even seem to signal an ‘uncontrolled and unlimited’ system.

It seems that labelling a Conservative migration policy as ‘Australian-style’ and a Labour policy as ‘uncontrolled’ is just a PR strategy. Within focus groups it has been shown that people often view and cite an Australian points-system as a controlled, firm, and uncompressing approach to immigration. Alongside this, imagining borders as open to unlimited migration has been a consistent trope for fearmongering. While such rhetoric can be powerful in painting the picture that the Conservative Party is taking a hard stance on immigration compared to their opponents, when looking at what an ‘Australian points-based system’ actually looks like, it becomes more and more evident that Johnson and Patel do not have a clear plan of what this immigration policy will actually look like.

In reality, Australia has relatively liberal policies and high levels of migration compared to the UK. Under their system migrants do not need to have a job offer before being allowed permanent residence. Instead, if they have relative flexibility in scoring points based on their skill level, past experience, and language proficiency they can find a job after entering the country. This has led Australia to become quite diverse, with almost 30% of its population being born abroad.

Australia’s history with refugees and asylum seekers, however, is slightly more complicated, with a strong refugee settlement scheme that exists alongside an offshore detention policy that has been condemned for inflicting deliberate harm on asylum seekers and breaching basic human rights. Both of those policies fall outside the economic migrant ‘points-based system.’
Therefore, it seems that if the UK were to adopt an ‘Australian-style points-based system’ for highly skilled migrants they would actually be liberalizing their economic migration policies in a lot of ways, which stands in high contrast to what is being claimed by the Conservative Party. Johnson has been explicit in the fact that migrants will need a job offer before being allowed into the UK, and this affirms the current ‘employer-based’ system that is currently in place for non-EU citizens, where Tier 2 Visas require a job offer before being allowed to live within the UK.

So the question becomes, what aspects of an Australian-based system will actually be taken on by the Conservative government? It can be used to further restrict immigration by placing a points-based system on EU citizens and creating a new, stricter points-based system for those who are looking to secure a Tier 2 Visa. On the other hand, the Conservatives could actually liberalize policies and encourage more highly skilled workers within the country. The party has yet to give any detail on which way they will sway. Ultimately, by advocating for this ‘Australian-style points-based system’, the Conservative party is offering a vague promise, attracting people with interests in both restricting immigration and liberalizing it. When advocating for this policy, Johnson and his party are not engaging with what immigration policy the UK needs and instead seem to really just be advocating for nothing concrete at all.

Image: BackBoris2012Campaign via Flickr

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