Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: Missing the point

Editorial: Missing the point


 Migrant Voice - Editorial: Missing the point

The famed “Australian-style points-based system” is being hailed by some at the top of the Government as the answer to everything (well everything related to work-based immigration anyway).

Without any details – which are scarce to non-existent – it’s difficult to judge this potential future immigration policy. However, we are concerned that such a system could wrest power away from employers and employees (surely those best placed to decide who should fill a job vacancy), handing it to a Government that has so far been hostile to all migrants who aren’t considered the “best and brightest”, and could lead to racial, gender and age discrimination.

Instead we need a system that does not gatekeep based on any particular number – whether that’s a salary or an accumulation of points – but one guided by the jobs and workers available, one where migrant workers have all the same rights as British workers and where those rights are enforced.

The UK does currently have a “points-based system” for migrant workers, but this is in name only. Points are awarded in different categories – English language ability, sufficient finances etc. – but every criterion must be met and the points are only symbolic.

In Australia – and Canada, New Zealand, Austria and elsewhere – aspiring migrant workers are awarded different amounts of points in different categories and must reach a designated total in order to (potentially) qualify for a work visa. In Australia, the categories relate to age (with young migrants winning the most points), English language ability, level of education and number of years of work experience.

The system – which can allow for someone with few qualifications but a lot of work experience and someone young but highly-qualified to enter – is more flexible than the UK, where every applicant must meet a rigid set of criteria.

And in its Australian form, it’s a system that allows much more freedom to the migrant too – unlike in the UK, where workers can only come if they have a secure job offer, people who meet the points requirement can move to Australia and look for work when they arrive, switching between jobs and employers as they wish.

But remarks made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel suggest there would be no such flexibility in a UK points-based system – migrants would have to meet the points requirements and have a secure job offer. One suggestion is that those who pass the points test would enter a “pool” of workers that could be searched by UK employers unable to fill vacancies from within the UK.

In the current system, the power lies mostly with employers – in a future points-based system, the Government would become the gatekeeper. And that’s a real concern, especially when we have a Government convinced that attracting the “best and brightest” is “in the best interests of Britain” (in the words of Priti Patel), seeming to ignore the needs of multiple industries crying out for construction workers, agricultural workers and nurses.

Surely it is employers and employees who know best who can do a particular job? And that person doesn’t always have a degree and top-notch English. The manager of an Indian restaurant desperate for a chef is unlikely to prioritise fluent English, youth or university-level qualifications – all of which earn a migrant big points in the Australian system. In such a system, the ideal chef for that restaurant wouldn’t even make it into the “pool”.

And that’s just the practical problem with reducing people to a number. It’s simply a crude, subjective and unhelpfully narrow way of assessing a person’s value. Migrant Voice has spoken out many times against any kind of salary threshold, which reduces a person’s value to their income – and a points-based system is little better, disguising the continued with income with a different set of categories, but a set that nevertheless means that those most likely to reach the magic number are those with the biggest earning potential.

Those people are likely to be disproportionately male, young and hailing from a developed, Western country – a further significant problem. Studies (see here and here) show that points-based systems are inherently racially, gender and age biased – a dangerous route for any country to take, posing a threat to values of inclusion and diversity, and diminishing the creativity and richness that come with diverse communities.  

The details of any UK points-based system remain to be seen – and we hope the Migration Advisory Committee will seriously consider all material submitted in response to their call for evidence as they develop recommendations.

But we fear for a future where migrant workers to this country are rejected solely because they fail to hit a points target in a system designed by a Government that is hostile to most migrants. This feels like a new and underhand attempt to put a cap on migration and an attempt to appease right-wing voters – not a progressive vision of a fair migration system. A points-based system also has worrying implications in the long term, making the UK a less viable and less attractive place to work.

A system where migrant workers can come to the UK to do jobs that are wanted and needed, where they are paid fairly for their work and treated fairly by their employers, where they have the power to leave their job and find another, where they are valued beyond their earning potential and welcomed as human beings into our communities – that’s the system that’s “in the best interests of Britain”.


TOP IMAGE: Test of Strength, Steve Snodgrass, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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