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Boris Johnson gives more details on post-Brexit immigration system and the categories of visas to be issued


Prime Minister claims numbers will come down and says unskilled workers will have no pathway to residency

Date of Publication:
08 December 2019

Boris Johnson gives more details on post-Brexit immigration system and the categories of visas to be issued

08 December 2019

With the latest polls suggesting a Conservative majority is the likely outcome of Thursday's general election, Boris Johnson has given The Times and Sky News more details of the Conservatives' plans for immigration after Brexit.

The Prime Minister told The Times that "numbers will come down," but "it's not raising the drawbridge or slamming the door, far from it. It's keeping Britain open to the world but open to the whole world and in a fair way."

Johnson explained that the new "Australian-style points-based system" will see the government issue three different categories of visas: exceptional talent; skilled workers; sector-specific unskilled workers.

He told Sky News: "People who, you know, are first violinists, nuclear physicists, prima ballerinas, whatever - they're going to come in, startup kings and queens, they're going to come in, simply by virtue of what they can contribute.

"Then there will be skilled workers and we'll have a system so people can come in to work in the NHS or whatever.

"And then there'll be another sector, which is for a sector-specific group who won't have an automatic right to stay but come to do particular jobs and stay for a while."

Johnson told The Times: "We'll have exceptional talent — that will be scholars, start-up geniuses, people who are going to boost the UK economy, whose case will be pretty obvious, prima ballerinas, first violins, you name it, they will be coming in."

"Then there is the category of skilled workers who will have to have a job offer and the classic example of this will be what we're doing for NHS staff. That will offer a pathway to residency in the UK. The third category will be people who are coming in on a sector-specific basis to do certain jobs and they need not have any skills — seasonal agricultural workers. That's short term, there is no pathway to residency."

The Prime Minister added that the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will get new powers over immigration akin to those of the Bank of England over interest rates and it will advise the government about the specific sectors that need migrant workers.

While the new "Australian-style points-based system" has been a key pledge of the Conservatives' election campaign, Professor Thom Brooks noted in The Independent last week: "But the UK already has a points-based immigration system. It's even modelled on Australia's. How would Brexit be required in order to have a system that's already in place?"

Free Movement said on Twitter today: "This is the big plan for an 'Australian-style points based system'? We already have Exceptional Talent visas and sponsorship for skilled workers!"

Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said on Twitter that the Conservatives' pivot back to immigration today was aimed at stoking fear and division and encouraging working people to fight each other.

Singh told BBC News that Johnson was using the old trick of blaming migrants and was making unworkable, politically-charged soundbites that were scant on detail. Singh added that the plans for unskilled workers risked increasing exploitation and could potentially increase trafficking.

In its useful briefing on the Australian points-based system, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford says: "The UK's immigration rules include something that is known as 'the points-based system' but it is a points-based system in name only … This system does assign points to different criteria … However, there is no flexibility on how to meet the criteria … This is fundamentally different from the points system in Australia. In the UK, the points awarded are simply a way of organising information."

According to the Daily Telegraph, a new "digital immigration status" is also part of the Conservatives' immigration plans and is set to be introduced in 2022 for the purposes of enhanced enforcement and to make it easier for migrants to prove their status.

Sky News reported on the digital immigration status plans in July, having seen a leaked Home Office document. The scheme is said to be similar to a digital ID card.

Sky News says the Home Office is expecting to deal with millions of additional visa applications once free movement ends. The department believes the new digital scheme will help reduce the time it takes to process "the majority of skilled work applications" from months to weeks.

Labour MP Chi Onwurah warned: "Digital ID cards have been rejected by the people of this country. You have opportunities for monitoring, for tracking, for people hacking it - but then you also have issues with the data that's being used to create that and whether it's biased."

She added that the automated system could bias visa decisions against some applicants based on nationality or race: "The algorithms will be automating all the biases that are packed into the data that's being used. People can make judgements about the validity of data, algorithms can't and that is the key difference."