Boris Johnson’s plan for immigration after Brexit

Johnson scraps immigration target and calls for points-based system

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Jeremy Hunt (L) and Boris Johnson went head-to-head on immigration and other issues at debate this week
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Boris Johnson is already drawing the ire of many right-leaning members of his party by opening up the possibility of an amnesty for 500,000 illegal immigrants in the UK.

The UK’s new prime minister has also confirmed that he intends to scrap Theresa May’s net migration target of 100,000 a year. The prime minister’s official spokesperson said that Johnson “wasn’t interested in a numbers game”.

Some welcomed the move. Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, told the Financial Times: “Scrapping the net migration target is hugely welcome and sends a decisive signal to the world that the UK is open for business.”

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Others were more sceptical. Alp Mehmet, chairman of anti-immigration think-tank Migration Watch, told The Sun: “The idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants is a non-starter.

“Such a scheme will reward people with no right to be here, encourage future illegality and will be costly.”

What has Johnson said about a points-based immigration system?

Johnson is a proponent of a so-called points-based immigration system similar to the one used in Australia. Under such a system, applicants for some visas would need to score a certain number of points to be allowed to live and work in the UK.

The points would be awarded “based on a number of professional and personal characteristics, with higher points awarded for more desirable traits”, the BBC reports. “This can range from the amount of time they have worked in a skilled sector, education level, age, and proficiency in the English language.”

The new scheme would likely contain “strict new requirements, including English proficiency and a time limit on access to benefits”, says PoliticsHome.

Johnson publicly endorsed a points-based approach in June, and restated his commitment in July in his maiden speech as prime minister to the House of Commons.

“No one believes more strongly than me in the benefits of migration to our country,” he told MPs.

“But I am clear that our immigration system must change. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system.”

But anti-migration campaigners think Johnson’s plans are thin on detail and dubbed his plans a “soundbite”, says The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn.

Marley Morris, director for immigration at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank says that the result of a points-based system depends on the detail.

“It could be very restrictive, it could be liberal,” he told i News. “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.”

Sophie Barrett-Brown, senior partner at immigration specialists Laura Devine Solicitors, agrees that the devil is in the detail. “Boris’ pledge to introduce an Australian-style points-system has shades of deja vu,” she told the i newspaper. “And it is as yet unclear what is actually proposed.”

A July survey for the British Future think-tank suggested that the UK public does not trust Johnson to handle immigration effectively in the wake of Brexit, reports HuffPost.

The poll found that Johnson was distrusted by 49% of the public on immigration and trusted by 22%, leaving him with a net score of -27%.

British Future director Sunder Katwala says Boris has started his term in office with a “major trust deficit on immigration.”

“People are fed up with the unkept promises and lack of accountability epitomised by the net migration target,” he added.

However, no politician of any party secured a positive rating, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s trust rating on immigration at -37.

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