Parliament is back to work and on Monday (5 September), from the G20 in China, we learned that the PM considers an Australian style points based system (or ‘PBS’) is no longer an option to manage EU migration. Having kept options very open to date this is one of the first clear messages, albeit it only tells us what won’t be happening.
Later on in the day, David Davis spoke to Parliament in his new capacity as Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. On the issue of applying a PBS to EU migrants, he said that the PM is concerned that it would not provide sufficient control on the number of people coming into the UK and that they are looking at something more rigorous, not less rigorous, than a PBS. He called it a ‘results based immigration system’.
In the UK there is already a PBS in place for non EU migrants. Under the current system, non EU migrants are required to demonstrate they meet the requirements to score enough points to qualify for a visa. The requirements favour highly skilled and highly paid or self-sufficient migrants and workers need to be sponsored by an employer. The recent comments seem to indicate that this system will not be extended to accommodate migration from the EU.
So, if the current PBS is not extended does that mean that there will continue to be two systems going forward – one for Europe and one for the rest of the world? There is some talk about imposing work permit requirements on migration from the EU; effectively requiring those coming to work in the UK to have a job offer first. It’s not clear how different, or more rigorous, that would be to applying for a Tier 2 visa – which requires an employer to sponsor a migrant.
One possible difference could be that a work permit system could be designed to take a broader approach than the UK’s PBS – i.e. to take account of the existing range of skill levels in EU migration as long as they have a job offer. Many EU workers fill jobs, for example in the construction and service industries, for which migrants cannot currently be sponsored to do under the PBS. If this was the case, it could be a solution welcomed in many sectors but it would be completely out of touch with the referendum campaign talk about making immigration opportunity the same for everyone.
Whatever the outcome the result that the Government are looking for is a reduction in net migration. A reduction from the hundreds to the tens of thousands is the Conservative Government’s unmet target. According to the Office for National Statistics, EU and non-EU migration is actually almost equal so whatever controls are imposed on EU migration the Government have a long way to go before they produce the results they are looking for.