Patel’s points-based illusion

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Johnson’s conservatives have had a busy couple of weeks, which ended in an immigration related crescendo.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, introduced the government’s plans to enact a points-based immigration system following the end of the Brexit transition period. The system proposes that a potential immigrant must first obtain 70 points before being able to access visa status. Points are on offer for job proposal; a job at the appropriate skill level; salary above a certain threshold; Adequate fluency in English, and qualifications that signal a high skill ability (like a Master’s or PhD). Mrs Patel maintains that this points-based proposal would entice employers to “move away” from relying on “cheap [European] labour” and instead invest in staff retention rates as well as automative technologies. She says the government wants to “encourage people with the right talent” to seek employment within Britain and, ultimately, to “reduce the levels of people coming to the UK”.

The government’s new immigration proposal is inspired by Australia’s immigration system – which requires you reach a certain threshold of points before a visa can be allocated. However, if the government wants to gain “control” over immigration, then this system could just be a different force working against that goal.

The Australian type points system offers something that enjoys masquerading as control yet, in actuality, is just another example of the market as ultimate puppeteer.

To get such a system functioning, the Australian government has to interfere regularly and with a heavy hand. This is born out of the truism that says governments are good at a few things, but robustly reading the employment requirements of businesses and the overall economy is not one of them. This forces governments into overcorrection for labour needs, which inevitably leads to an attempted correction, which spawns the very same initial problem of overcorrection. Why? Because, a countries various operating markets have different needs at different times, which is information that reaches the central immigration planning unit, known as the government, very slowly; resulting in the implementation of very general and sweeping changes to whom can enter the country and with what points.

In 2002, for example, Australia registered hairdressing as a skilled occupation, whereas window fitting was itemised as lower skilled. 2018 provided a reversal in that trend, with window fitting now the skilled occupation – capable of garnering you more immigration points – and hairdressing not. This sequence of decisions is a case in point of government not reading the market’s need for labour and, when the information is finally received, reacting in a very general and broad manner.

Ultimately, the market is still the dominant arbiter of immigration in a points-based system; the government is simply the entity that reacts slowly to the arbitrations, giving it a sense of false control over the whole circus.

The UK government can, of course, purposely fail to react to such necessities, like how many social care workers the economy needs – giving it a certain “control” over immigration numbers. But that would have the consequence of whole sectors collapsing, or businesses fleeing to countries that will adjust to market requirements. If Mrs Patel doesn’t desire such an outcome, which she surely doesn’t, then this proposed point-based system will just provide the illusion of control, as it does for Australia.

The Conservative government, then, can have control, coupled with a huge amount of economic pain, or have illusionary control, with immigration numbers remaining largely as they are.

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