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New Home Secretary outlines Johnson government's plans for a skills-based, Australian-style immigration system


Priti Patel promises "radical rewrite" and says UK will welcome "brightest and best" as free movement ends

Date of Publication:
29 July 2019

In an article published by the Mail on Sunday yesterday, the new Home Secretary Priti Patel laid out plans for the immigration system under the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

With Brexit scheduled for 31st October and with the new Prime Minister insisting that the UK must leave on that date, Patel promised a "radical rewrite" of the immigration system, informed by a skills-based approach as free movement ends.

Patel welcomed "the positive impact of immigration to our country" and said the Government would "continue to push for a dynamic, global Britain … one where we welcome the brightest and best, where we are more outward facing, and where we decide who comes here based on what they have to offer."

The Home Secretary continued: "We'll give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents – to attract those who add the most value to our economy. These skilled workers will only be able to come here if they have a job offer from an employer registered with the Home Office, and if they can speak English.

"The end of free movement means that we will be able to consider the impact on the existing labour market when determining whether we want unskilled workers from the EU to be able to come to the UK."

Patel said she would be urgently commissioning the Migration Advisory Committee to look at the Australian-style points-based system to see which elements can be implemented to benefit the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week confirmed his desire for an Australian-style system.

Addressing the House of Commons last Thursday, Johnson said: "we will also ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world. No one believes more strongly than I do in the benefits of migration to our country, but I am clear that our immigration system must change. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system, and today I will actually deliver on those promises: I will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system, and I am convinced that we can produce a system that the British people can have confidence in."

Solicitor Darren Stevenson said in article on Free Movement last week, however, that "it is … not entirely clear that Johnson has the first clue how any such system would be designed." Indeed, Stevenson found little in Johnson's position on immigration that was clear. He concluded: "At the end of an extensive review of Johnson's recent public statements on immigration I am left none the wiser."

Marley Morris of the Institute for Public Policy Research told the Financial Times: "A points-based system doesn't mean much in itself. It could be very restrictive, it could be liberal. It appeals to people who are concerned about migration, but it has a liberal ring to it, which is probably the message Boris Johnson wants to communicate."

According to the Financial Times, Boris Johnson last week also distanced himself from Theresa May's "tens of thousands" net migration target. A Downing Street spokesperson said the new Prime Minister "wasn't interested in a numbers game".

Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director of the Confederation of British Industry, welcomed the change in direction, saying: "Scrapping the net migration target is hugely welcome and sends a decisive signal to the world that the UK is open for business.

"A focus on need, not numbers, will ensure the UK can access vital skills and labour to grow the economy. Business looks forward to working with the Government to design a new immigration system that commands public confidence."

The Guardian, meanwhile, last week looked at some of the concerns over Patel's appointment as Home Secretary, noting that she had voted for a stricter asylum system, stronger enforcement of immigration rules, and against banning the detention of pregnant women for immigration purposes.

Clare Collier of Liberty told the Guardian: "Priti Patel is a politician with a consistent record of voting against basic human rights protections. For her to be put in charge of the Home Office is extremely concerning."

Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: "Priti Patel's record doesn't inspire confidence, but we urge her to prove us wrong by committing to end the universally unpopular hostile environment, to reject the politics of scapegoating and demonising migrants and to rebuild trust by creating a Home Office that welcomes and supports those who move here."

Singh said Theresa May's departure had created a real opportunity to fix the "chaotic and inhumane" immigration system and replace it with a fair one that works for everyone.

In a statement, Amnesty International UK also called on the Home Secretary to grasp the opportunity to fix the current "broken and deeply harmful" immigration system.

Amnesty UK's director Kate Allen said: "Priti Patel should now ensure the Home Office protects and supports some of the UK's most vulnerable and marginalised people.

"Amongst other things, there needs to be an immediate change to the UK's refugee family reunion rules which currently condemn children to life without their families; a review of the extortionate fees which deny tens of thousands of children their rights to British citizenship; reform to the UK's harmful indefinite detention policies; and a commitment to ensuring that vital protections for migrant women are included in the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill.

"After the incredibly harmful policies of the past, people must now be put at the heart of the Home Office's policies and practices."

The Refugee Council last week wrote to the new Prime Minister urging him to work towards making Britain a global leader in asylum.

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, called on Johnson to develop a holistic government strategy that brings all relevant departments together to improve the ways in which the government supports newly-recognised refugees. Wren urged an end to destitution and called for reform of the 28-day move-on period given to newly-recognised refugees.