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Analysis

Free movement is better than Boris’ Aussie-style migration

by Luke Lythgoe | 27.06.2019

Boris Johnson wants to replace our migration system with a points-based approach similar to Australia’s. That would damage the economy and restrict opportunities, especially for young people. It will be easier to fix many of the genuine concerns people have about migration if we stay in the EU.

Johnson yesterday announced that the UK must be “more open to high-skilled immigration such as scientists” while having tighter “control over the number of unskilled immigrants”. The Tory leadership frontrunner said we should “learn from” Australia, which has a points-based system based on age, English skills, qualifications, experience and occupation. 

He added that new arrivals should have a firm job offer and be vetted for criminal convictions, and said he would pass the idea to the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to fill in the details. But his campaign team insists he does not intend to “copy the Australian system wholesale” – meaning that three years after the referendum and perhaps one month before Johnson becomes prime minister, we still don’t know what he wants to do. Perhaps he doesn’t know himself.

What seems clear is that a points system would be a “bureaucratic nightmare”, as Jasmine Whitbread, head of the business lobby London First, has pointed out. Employers often can’t get the skills they need in economies which use points-based systems, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute

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Johnson’s specific pledge to clamp down on “unskilled migrants” suggests this could become a problem here too. Hard-working, enterprising Europeans are the backbone of our construction, farming, hospitality and social care sectors. It’s much more flexible to fill these jobs with people from nearby countries who can come when they are needed and who often return home if they are not.

By contrast, if we stay in the EU, we will continue to enjoy the economic and cultural benefits of free movement. High among these is that Brits – whether “skilled” or “unskilled” – can travel, live and work in 27 other EU countries (and four other EEA ones too).

Anybody who has tried to move to Australia or another non-EU country will know the hassle of paying for visas, providing endless identity documents, buying health insurance and entering an application lottery. There’s none of that hassle moving to Germany or Spain. That hugely expands the horizons of UK citizens – especially young people looking for work or new experiences.

Some Brits, of course, have genuine concerns about migration – although it is much less of an issue than it was three years ago.

One of the main worries is about whether migrants integrate in our society. Although this is mainly an issue that relates to migration from outside the EU, if we stay in the EU we will have more money to fund initiatives such as English-language training to integrate people better. We’ll also have more money to invest in communities that are feeling the strain from sudden changes in population – for example, creating more housing, school places or transport infrastructure.

Migrants from EEA countries made a positive contribution of £4.7 billion to the public coffers in 2016/2017, according to research for the MAC. This could be channelled into a “migration and communities fund” to finance cohesion, according to the campaign group CommonGround.

We can also improve the way free movement works. There are several things the UK government can do under the current rules – for example, registering new arrivals from the EU. We can also persuade our allies to change the rules. They are not set in stone. For example, since the referendum, the EU has made changes so it’s harder for unscrupulous employers to exploit foreign workers and undercut the wages of native-born ones.

Pro-Europeans need to make the positive case for free movement inside the EU and the opportunities for future generations – and show how we can change things for the better without quitting it.

We should fix UK’s real problems, not fixate on Brexit. Join us on the March for Change in London on July 20.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “Free movement is better than Boris’ Aussie-style migration”

  • Didn’t the Home Office try a points-based system when Mrs May was Home Secretary, and abandon the effort ?

  • Neither the present nor previous governments have applied the rules laid down in the Directive on Freedom of Movement issued by the EU which contain practical safeguards against their abuse. For example, after three months in the UK an EU national who has no job, no private health insurance and no private means cannot remain in the UK. Why was this never applied ? Possibly because it would have obliged the UK to register all incoming EU nationals and have a system of follow up which such a system implied. The absence of a national system of identity cards might also have been required. In reality, I believe until recently the government had NO idea of how many foreign nationals there were in the UK. From my personal experience it was only in or around 2014 that there were any identity controls of outgoing passengers on the Eurostar to Paris or Brussels by the UK Border Force.

    How can we take the remarks and concern expressed by politicians such as Johnson seriously when we know the truth about the so called immigration problem of EU nationals as outlined above.

  • Boris (real name Alexander) is just clowning about, making it up as he goes along, anything to keep in the headlines, Trump style. He is wasting time, as the EU thought would be the case, and we are wasting time listening to him. Better to focus on what is happening in the real world.

  • The problem with a points system is that the EU would feel compelled to apply a similarly stringent barrier to British people wanting to move around, work and settle in Europe. Exploring Europe , learning languages and about our neighbours’ cultures, is often best done on a casual basis, especially for young people at the start of their working lives. These are not usually formal long term jobs requiring specific work experience. A points system would tend to discriminate and probably rule out that happening again. Thousands, especially young people, would be denied the opportunities of learning about Europe, as the last generation has done. Everybody would be the losers.

  • @Alex. The EU cannot make decisions related to immigration for all EU27 (+EEC4). So Brits will be faced with 31 different rules if they try to move – and also try to move in between said countries. Som will be harsh and some not, but nevertheless a jungle.