An Australian-style points-based immigration system to attract the “brightest and the best” from the developing world to work and settle in Britain is to be introduced within two years, the home secretary, Charles Clarke, said yesterday.
The biggest shakeup of the immigration system for 40 years is based on the assumption that workers from the newly enlarged European Union will mostly fill low-skilled labour shortages. The door will in future be closed to unskilled migrants from the developing world outside the EU.
The five-tier immigration system will include points awarded to reflect aptitude, experience, age and shortages in the labour market. A new skills advisory body will decide on annual quotas for medium—and low-skilled shortage occupations.
The white paper, Making Migration Work for Britain, published yesterday also proposed that financial bonds guaranteeing their return home should be demanded from migrants whose personal circumstances or route of migration suggest they may breach the immigration rules. Employers will also be expected to ensure that migrant workers comply with the rules of their visas.
The system will reward those with money to invest and the most highly skilled migrants who come to work in Britain with the right to bring their families and a faster route to citizenship than at present. This contrasts sharply with provision for a very limited number of temporary low-skilled workers from the developing world who will be able to come for a maximum of 12 months, will have to leave their family at home, and may have their wages paid into their bank accounts back home to ensure they leave the country at the end of their contract.
The system will also include changes in the way overseas students come to Britain, and the working holidaymakers scheme, which has seen more than 70,000 Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans come to Britain, will be open to far more countries.
Home Office research published yesterday shows that employers regard migrant workers as harder working, more reliable and better motivated than domestic workers, and that they would welcome the points-based system.
Ministers tried to mitigate some of the worst effects of the apparent “brain drain” from the developing world by announcing that existing immigration routes to work in Britain for qualified doctors and dentists from outside the EU are to be closed. Overseas medical professionals will be required to have work permits from July, ensuring vacancies go to British or EU trained doctors first. Other healthcare staff from overseas will be required to speak English. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the brain drain costs the developing world 10% of its college-educated population each year.
Mr Clarke said the new system would be firm but fair, simpler, more transparent and more rigorous. “Crucially, it will allow us to ensure that only those people with the skills that the UK needs come to this country while preventing those without these skills applying,” he said.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants warned that the changes could damage efforts to end world poverty. “Denying all possibility of settling in the UK to lower skilled and unskilled migrant workers could create a workforce ripe for abuse by exploitative employers,” said the council’s chief executive, Habib Rahman.
But Danny Siskandarajah, of the IPPR, said it was a welcome attempt to harness the benefits of migration and reassure a sceptical public that the immigration system was under control.
The Labour MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, warned that the new restrictions could hit curry restaurants in Britain, saying the specialist skills involved could not be met by eastern European migrants.
Tier one (highly skilled)
Joseph, 40, a New Zealand software designer employed by a manufacturing company, decides he wants to move to Britain although he does not have a job offer. He has a master’s degree in engineering, high previous earnings and an excellent command of English so he is allowed in and is soon offered several jobs in the IT sector.
Kay, also from New Zealand, has a master’s degree and wants to work in Britain but she has been working as a shop assistant in her home town. Her low previous earnings means she does not reach the 75 points pass mark for this tier. If she got a job offer first it might change things.
Tier three (low skills)
Rajiv, an Indian construction worker, gets a job on a new high-speed rail link in Britain. The skills advisory body has declared there is a short-term need and the quota for overseas labour is not yet full. The company is Home Office-approved and Rajiv has a return ticket valid for nine months. He is allowed in to work for nine months.
Apsara is from India and wants to spend her summer working in Britain as a fruit picker. The skills advisory body has advised there is a short-term need for this work but Apsara is unable to find a job with an employer because the quota is full for this year. She is refused entry.