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Boris Johnson’s “deep and abiding love for Australia,” born in the gap year he spent there in 1983, is inspiring the U.K. prime minister anew. As Britain prepares to sever ties with the European Union at the end of the year, Johnson is looking Down Under for a steer on how to tackle immigration -- a key gripe for many people who voted for Brexit. Australia’s method of assessing applications from would-be immigrants has even been hailed by Donald Trump’s administration for its stringency.

1. What is Australia’s system?

The “skilled workers’ program” awards candidates points based on various criteria and only lets people through who reach a certain threshold. Particular professions are targeted to address skills shortages. The system hands permanent visas to educated, young and adaptable migrants -- even if they don’t have a job lined up. The emphasis of the program is on that first word: skilled. That’s the attraction for Johnson and Trump.

2. How does it work?

Applicants need 60 points to qualify. There are different criteria for different professions, but age is common to all. One profession allocates 30 points for being 25 to 32 and disqualifies anyone 45 or older. Points are awarded for a history of skilled employment, for educational qualifications and for having a partner who also is skilled. While competent English is mandatory, there are extra marks for proficient or superior language skills. (Have a try here.)

3. How has that worked for Australia?

The vast continent was sparsely populated and lacking workers in many professions following decades pursuing a whites-only immigration policy that was finally dismantled in the 1970s. Since the skilled workers’ program was introduced in 1989, the population has expanded by about 52%, underpinning 28 years (and counting) of uninterrupted economic expansion. It’s also turned Australia into one of the most multicultural nations -- about half of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was. India is the biggest source of skilled migrants, comprising 26% of the total for the year ended June 30 2019, followed by China (14%) and the U.K. (9.6%.)

4. What are the pros and cons?

Besides propping up economic growth, the system does a good job at directing people to the areas where they’re most needed. In a bid to bolster regional economies, the government last year made extra points available to migrants willing to work outside major cities. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also cut the number of visas available from 190,000 to 160,000 in response to concerns among conservative politicians that immigration was exacerbating the strain on infrastructure and contributing to low wage growth. One negative aspect for some successful migrants arriving without work: A recent study found that “underemployment and over-qualification” were experienced widely.

5. Could a points system help the U.K.?

Potentially, if it was adjusted to address the likely post-Brexit shortfall in lower-skilled jobs such as health-care and agriculture. (Australia has a seasonal workers program to tackle farm-labor shortages, with applicants from South Pacific nations allowed to stay for as long as nine months.) At this stage, Johnson’s plan doesn’t address these. On the subject of low-skilled work, he has said an Australia-like program would lower “the number of unskilled immigrants who have been able to come here with no job lined up.”

6. How might Johnson’s system differ?

He has said that only those with a job already secured will be able to apply. Sally Wheeler, Dean of the Australian National University’s College of Law, questions why a points system is required in that case. “You’ve already been through a screening system, which has got you the job in the first place,” she says. Whether or not Britain goes the Australian route, Brexit will end the free movement of labor with EU nations (bar Ireland). “Taking back control” of borders -- a key election pledge by Johnson’s Conservatives -- is assured, as the U.K. will determine who enters and under what terms once it exits the EU.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at, Grant Clark, Stuart Biggs

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