The government has released a policy statement outlining, in broad strokes, what its new points-based immigration system, due to come into effect next year, is going to look like.
As anticipated, the biggest change is that freedom of movement for people from the European Economic Area (plus Switzerland) will definitely come to an end. This is, in my view, a huge mistake. It means getting rid of the most successful branch of our immigration system, a branch which is wonderfully unbureaucratic, cost-effective, and which offers a remarkably high degree of legal certainty. But then – this is not exactly news. We knew that free movement was going to end, so this was already priced in.
That aside, there is much to commend in the paper. For a start, the pointless cap on the number of skilled work visas is going to be dropped, as plenty of economists (myself included) have advocated. It was thanks to the visa cap that thousands of medical professionals, IT specialists, scientists and engineers had to be turned away. This is terrible economics, but it is not even good politics, because all the surveys show that highly skilled migrants are popular in Britain – even among people who claim to be hostile to “immigration” in the abstract.
The so-called “Resident Labour Market Test”, which stipulates that a job has to be advertised domestically first, and can only be given to an immigrant if no suitable UK applicant can be found, will also be scrapped. This was, in practice, a superfluous, time-consuming box-ticking exercise, and it could not have been anything else – because how are you going to prove that an employer was genuinely trying to find a British candidate?