Who cries fucks who smiles
What is the best system of rules for immigration?
THOSE who argued that Britons should vote to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23rd did not explain their plans in much detail. That was partly because many prominent Leavers were members of the governing Conservative Party and did not want to imply that they were creating an alternative government; another reason is that they just had not thought too hard about what they would do if they won. But the Leavers did come up with one clear promise. If Britain left the EU, they said, it should create “a genuine Australian-style points based immigration system”. This system has not worked particularly well, however. Why?
In 1979 Australia unveiled a process for screening potential settlers that it called the “numerically weighted multifactor assessment system”, or NUMAS. Among other things, this scientific-sounding system allocated points for youth, education, English-speaking ability and the possession of needed skills. Would-be immigrants who scored highly were allowed to settle. The system was tweaked over the years, but the basic principle stayed the same. Rather than accepting immigrants because employers wanted them, as America mostly does, Australia would let in people who seemed to have what the country needed. It would stuff the land with human capital.
NUMAS was a lot better than the racist immigration policy that Australia had pursued before the 1960s. Because it seems so dispassionate and scientific, it may have reconciled Australians to continued high levels of immigration, including of non-whites. But in other ways the points system has failed. It has been susceptible to backlogs (as has Canada’s points-based immigration system). And many of the promising-seeming immigrants it has let in end up severely underemployed or even unemployed. In late 2013, an estimated 13.5% of points-tested immigrants who had arrived in Australia earlier that year were unemployed. Just 1% of immigrants who had got in because they were sponsored by a company were unemployed. Clearly, businesses are much better than officials at knowing what sort of people businesses want to hire.
In the past few years Australia has handed out many more visas to people who are sponsored by companies. It has also tweaked its points system to give more weight to employers’ preferences. The immigration system has become more American. So it is not clear what British politicians mean when they say they want an Australian-style points system. But they might never have to explain themselves. Theresa May, who will become Britain's new prime minister on July 13th, has not praised points systems. She knows better.