Posted on August 3, 2017

Trump’s Immigration Plan: Could an Australian Points Model Work in the US?

Guardian Staff, The Guardian, August 3, 2017

Donald Trump has thrown his weight behind a reform of the immigration system which its supporters say is inspired partly on the Australian points-based model.

What is the Australian system?

Australia’s points-based system has been decades in development.

It began in the postwar years as a “populate or perish” policy, but from the mid-1990s the focus shifted away from family reunion towards skilled migration, based on points.

The skilled migration stream controls the number and type of workers accepted into the country, and, according to the department of immigration and border protection, is “specifically designed to target migrants who have skills or outstanding abilities that will contribute to the Australian economy”.

Skilled migration now makes up about two-thirds of the 190,000 non-humanitarian places in Australia’s annual migration program. Most of the remainder is family reunion.

How do you get points?

Only about half of Australia’s skilled visas are subject to a points-based assessment to meet a ‘pass mark’. Points are awarded across a number of factors, including:

  • age;
  • proficiency in English;
  • educational qualifications;
  • employment experience; and
  • skills of an accompanying partner

Applicants who are young, highly skilled, have work experience and strong English score highest.

For example?

An applicant for the skilled independent visa (subclass 189) requires 60 points. Being aged 25 to 32 would attract 30 points (older applicants earn fewer points). Competent English would attract 0 points, but “proficient” skill gives you 10 and with “superior” English you win 20. Skilled work experience outside Australia would be worth up to 15 points for eight to 10 years. A doctorate from an institution recognised by Australia would attract 20 points, a bachelor’s degree 15. A skilled partner would attract five points.

What visas and migrants don’t need points?

The points system does not apply to all migration – skilled or otherwise.

Visas such as those issued under the employer-nominated scheme do not require a points test. These are offered to professions which are deemed to be in demand in Australia, including doctors and nurses, tradespeople such as plumbers and mechanics, and engineers.

Australia’s humanitarian migration program for refugees and other humanitarian entrants – currently set at 16,250 places a year – does not apply a points system, either.

What are the strengths of the system?

Supporters argue the assessment is a fair, clear, and transparent test for entry into Australia, and gives the government the ability to control economic migration and to steer it towards areas needed for long-term growth.

And the disadvantages?

Critics say that it over-emphasises “hard” skills – formal qualifications, years of experience, tested language aptitude – and undervalues “soft” ones, such as communication skills, innovative capabilities, propensity to learn on the job, resilience, and determination.

As well, Australia’s skilled occupation list has been criticised as arbitrary and too cumbersome a tool to respond to changing needs in the labour market.

Is Australia going to keep its system?

A proposed alternative has been a move towards employer-led migration models, where an immigrant’s visa is tied to a specific employer. There are concerns with this, however, over exploitation and abuse, problems that have been uncovered in Australia’s temporary 457, working-holiday and seasonal-worker visa programs.

Much of Australia’s migration in the past two decades has been what is known as ‘two-step’ migration, where a migrant comes to Australia on a temporary working visa, or, even more commonly, a student visa, before converting to a permanent visa, residence, and ultimately citizenship.

Australia is currently re-evaluating its migration program. The country has 99 different visas – a bureaucratic minefield not only to apply to, but to administer. It aims to reduce the number of visas available to 10, and to simplify the application and approvals process.