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Why Immigration Down Under Appeals to U.K.’s Boris Johnson - BLOOMBERG

FEBRUARY 20, 2020

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Boris Johnson’s “deep and abiding love for Australia,” born in the gap year he spent there in 1983, is inspiring the U.K. prime minister anew. As Britain prepares to sever ties with the European Union at the end of the year, Johnson is looking Down Under for a steer on how to tackle immigration -- a key gripe for many people who voted for Brexit. Australia’s method of assessing applications from would-be immigrants has even been hailed by Donald Trump’s administration for its stringency.

1. What is Australia’s system?

The “skilled workers’ program” awards candidates points based on various criteria and only lets people through who reach a certain threshold. Particular professions are targeted to address skills shortages. The system hands permanent visas to educated, young and adaptable migrants -- even if they don’t have a job lined up. The emphasis of the program is on that first word: skilled. That’s the attraction for Johnson and Trump.

In Demand Down Under

Australia’s migration program by occupation

Source: Australian Government's Department of Home Affairs

Note: Includes primary applicants only

2. How does it work?

Applicants need 60 points to qualify. There are different criteria for different professions, but age is common to all. One profession allocates 30 points for being 25 to 32 and disqualifies anyone 45 or older. Points are awarded for a history of skilled employment, for educational qualifications and for having a partner who also is skilled. While competent English is mandatory, there are extra marks for proficient or superior language skills. (Have a try here.)

3. How has that worked for Australia?

The vast continent was sparsely populated and lacking workers in many professions following decades pursuing a whites-only immigration policy that was finally dismantled in the 1970s. Since the skilled workers’ program was introduced in 1989, the population has expanded by about 52%, underpinning 28 years (and counting) of uninterrupted economic expansion. It’s also turned Australia into one of the most multicultural nations -- about half of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was. India is the biggest source of skilled migrants, comprising 26% of the total for the year ended June 30 2019, followed by China (14%) and the U.K. (9.6%.)

Licensed To Skill

The nations whose citizens receive the most skilled visas in Australia

Source: Australian Government's Department of Home Affairs

Note: Fiscal 2019

4. What are the pros and cons?

Besides propping up economic growth, the system does a good job at directing people to the areas where they’re most needed. In a bid to bolster regional economies, the government last year made extra points available to migrants willing to work outside major cities. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also cut the number of visas available from 190,000 to 160,000 in response to concerns among conservative politicians that immigration was exacerbating the strain on infrastructure and contributing to low wage growth. One negative aspect for some successful migrants arriving without work: A recent study found that “underemployment and over-qualification” were experienced widely.

5. How will Johnson’s system differ?

Unlike in Australia, applicants will need a job offer in order to qualify. Under Johnson’s program for skilled workers announced Feb. 19, the salary must be at least 20,480 pounds ($26,600), with extra points available in professions experiencing labor shortages. The plans provide no specific route to the U.K. for unskilled workers. As Britain prepares to exit the EU’s rules allowing free movement of labor within the bloc, the government says companies must “move away from a reliance on the immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity and wider investment in technology and automation.”

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