EU Referendum

Reality Check: Would an Australian points-based system work for the UK?

Vote Leave saying: "We think this system will be fairer, more humane and better for the economy."

The Claim: Vote Leave campaigners say if the UK left the European Union a points-based immigration system could be introduced.

Reality Check verdict: The UK already has a points-based system for non-EU migrants and it is not clear why inventing a different system - with less flexibility - would be a good idea.

Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, and Gisela Stuart have been saying that if the UK votes to leave the European Union, EU citizens wanting to move to the UK would be subject to an Australian-style, points-based immigration system.

The UK already has a points-based system for most migrants coming from countries outside the EU. But instead of just starting to treat EU citizens - who currently enjoy freedom of movement - in the same way, campaigners say all migrants should be subject to a new, simpler system.

While details are sparse, the proposal is that by 2020 migrants would only be let into the UK "on the basis of their skills", and that those moving for work reasons would "have to be suitable for the job in question". For some, that will mean being able to speak good English.

In Australia, applicants for skilled visas must score enough points for youth, qualifications, and superior English-speaking ability, among other things. Unless they're being sponsored by an employer, they must also have a job from a list set out by the Australian government. There are caps for each job - this year there are plenty of spaces left for nurses, plumbers and secondary teachers, but auditors are out of luck.

In theory, if the UK left the EU and stayed out of the European Economic Area (which, like the EU, requires freedom of movement between member states), it could introduce a similar system, but would it?

Vote Leave hasn't said that it aims to cut migration through this proposal. Instead it talks about "control" and allowing "politicians to keep their promises on migration", which is a reference to David Cameron's 2010 and 2015 manifesto pledges to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, which have not been met.

It's not clear what the effect has been in Australia itself. Migration figures have fluctuated since the points system was introduced, and the permanent skills visa - with its complicated points system - accounts for only a small proportion of arrivals.

Migration Watch - a think tank calling for reduced levels of migration to the UK - has dismissed the idea of introducing a points system in the UK, saying it's designed for a country like Australia that wants to boost immigration, and criticising it for its inflexibility.

Oxford University's Migration Observatory, on the other hand, says campaigners refer to an Australian-style points system more as a byword for toughness on immigration than because they want to copy their rules exactly.

So the UK could design its own points-based system, which could look very different to the one they have in Australia.

While Vote Leave says an overhauled system would "end discrimination" against immigrants from outside the EU, it's unclear whether it would be worth the cost and effort of essentially replacing one points-based system with another.


Read more: The facts behind claims in the EU debate


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