SIMON WALTERS: I fear Johnson’s plan to copy Aussie migrant policy

SIMON WALTERS: There’s a lot we can learn from the Aussies about cricket, but I fear Boris Johnson’s plan to copy their points-based migrant policy will see us out for a duck

Since winning power, Boris Johnson has made a series of noisy vows to introduce an ‘Australian-style’ points-based system for immigrants to this country.

He has pledged to carry out a ‘radical rewriting of our immigration system’ and ‘restore control of our borders’, adding: ‘For years, politicians have promised an Australian-style points-based system, and I will actually deliver on those promises. Countries like Australia have great systems and we should learn from them.’

The new firebrand Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has echoed him, saying she believes the system Down Under is the way to attract ‘the brightest and best’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel (far right). Mr Johnson has pledged to carry out a ‘radical rewriting of our immigration system’ and ‘restore control of our borders’

This week, Johnson had a chance to discuss the issue during his first phone call as PM with Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

Mr Morrison became PM after making a firm pledge to cap immigration at 160,000 a year — 30,000 fewer than previously — and promising to ‘freeze’ the number of refugees allowed in.

It is the kind of tough stance Australia is renowned for, and presumably explains why Johnson and Patel keep citing Australia’s approach to immigration: they want to give the impression they will adopt the same firm methods.

After the phone call, Downing Street refused to say yesterday whether Johnson raised the topic of immigration. But close scrutiny shows he and Patel are careful to refer only to one aspect of Australia’s policy — the ‘points-based system’. Curiously, that is designed not to cut immigration but to increase it.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison became PM in August 2018 after making a firm pledge to cap immigration at 160,000 a year

So do we need an Australian-style system here? Or is it merely gesture politics? Johnson has always been deeply conflicted on immigration. As London Mayor he lauded the virtues of the multicultural capital and said recently: ‘No one believes more strongly than me in the benefits of migration to our country.’

By contrast, he stood on a provocative anti-immigration platform in the 2016 referendum. An attempt to square this circle could explain Johnson’s interest in ‘Aussie rules’.

But Australia’s High Commissioner in London says he has got it wrong. So does the respected independent body MigrationWatch UK.

True, Australia does have a points-based system — but it is not the obvious model for anyone wanting to curb immigration here to advocate.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said the ‘Australian-style’ points-based system is the way to attract ‘the brightest and best’ 

Australia is a vast, thinly populated country that has twice our level of net immigration per head of population. The aim of its system is to attract migrants with skills that are in short supply to boost the economy.

It is easy to see how Britain might benefit from such a system, offering preferential places to doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers, aircraft maintenance specialists, designers, maths and IT teachers and many others.

But what Johnson and Patel have failed to point out is that we already have an arrangement. It is called the Shortage Occupation List and it includes all the jobs referred to above, identifying professions in which we have too few workers.

Under our system, UK Visas and Immigration has a category called ‘Tier 2 migrants’. These are ‘skilled workers’ from outside the EU who have a job offer in the UK.

They include those transferred here by international companies and workers whose skills are in short supply in our economy. Those hoping to work here need 70 points to gain a Tier 2 visa. Points are based on factors including skills and sponsorship by a UK employer.

Yesterday, Johnson announced extra visas for non-EU scientists to show ‘the UK is open to top talent’. The Government has intimated that after Brexit this system could be extended to EU migrants (who can currently come here under EU Freedom of Movement rules).

But officials acknowledge privately that it could end up as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations with Brussels.

The same thing could happen in trade talks with other nations. India has already made it clear that if we want a post-Brexit trade deal, it will demand that thousands more Indian medics, IT experts and others can come to Britain.

If Johnson and Patel did their homework, they would learn that our ‘points-based’ system is tougher than Australia’s.

Skilled migrant workers are free to travel to Australia and stay until they find a job. Here, they must prove they have a job before they’re let in.

MigrationWatch UK chairman Alp Mehmet told the Mail: ‘People often advocate the Australian points-based system without knowing what it is.

‘I can’t imagine what Boris Johnson sees in it, beyond the fact that it goes down well with voters and focus groups. It sounds good and gives the impression of control — but it would allow present levels of immigration to continue.’

His sceptical tone is echoed by the Australian High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, who says: ‘It would be wrong for anyone to say that Australia’s points system is about keeping our migration numbers small. They are deliberately large.’

So why is Johnson so keen to copy that system? Perhaps, despite having an Australian (Sir Lynton Crosby) as a key adviser, he has failed to understand it. A less generous explanation would be that he is wilfully misrepresenting it.

Promoting such a policy could give the electorate the impression he is being tough on immigration when, in truth, he is doing nothing of the sort.

This view was advanced by Channel 4 News political editor Gary Gibbon in his book Breaking Point, about the 2016 EU referendum.

Gibbon said Johnson’s Vote Leave team knew the Aussie system wouldn’t work here but deployed it regardless, after pollsters noted how it appealed to working-class voters who see Oz as a largely white country.

Political Editor at Channel 4 News Gary Gibbon (pictured) wrote Breaking Point detailing the 2016 EU referendum and the aftermath

Gibbon said the policy had ‘no relevance’ to Britain’s needs but that ‘as a campaign tool, it was mercilessly effective’. Others suggest it derives from a further misconception: Australia’s reputation for being hard on immigrants.

In fact, they have been brutally unwelcoming towards refugees, not immigrants.

Refugees turned down for asylum have been shipped to remote islands. The Human Rights Watch charity says there are ‘serious human rights issues’ with what it calls a ‘draconian offshore processing and settlement policy’.

No mainstream politician has ever suggested Britain would treat refugees in such a way, least of all Johnson.

Furthermore, while Australian PM Morrison has reduced the cap on immigration, Johnson and Patel have quietly dumped Theresa May’s failed target of below 100,000 a year.

When pressed on how he will curb immigration, Johnson says repeatedly: ‘I’m not going to get into a numbers game.’

He has also indicated that up to 500,000 illegal migrants who have been in Britain for ‘many years’ could be allowed to stay.

This week, Alp Mehmet published an analysis of seven major surveys which he said show 30 million Britons wish to see a reduction in immigration. More than 18 million would like numbers to come down significantly, with only a small minority in favour of an increase.

Mr Mehmet said: ‘Mr Johnson cannot go on ducking the issue. We are deeply concerned by the absence of a firm commitment to bring down the numbers. That may be why he goes on about the Australian system.’

This country may have a lot to learn from the Australians about how to win at cricket, but Boris Johnson has some explaining to do if he is serious about taking lessons from them on controlling immigration.

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