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The Points-Based Immigration System: Making Migrants Work for Britain

Javier | 30.04.2007 08:41 | Analysis | Migration | Workers' Movements

The new Points-Based System (PBS), will gradually come into force in 2008. According to the Home Office, the "starting point is that employers should look first to recruit from the UK and the expanded EU before recruiting migrants from outside the EU".

The latter are allocated points depending on their "benefit to the UK" and will all have to fit into one of 5 tiers, which in turn determines what rights they are entitled to during their stay. Most non-EU migrants will need a sponsor - business or educational institution- to come into the country.

The Five Tier Hierarchy

Tier 1 - Highly Skilled Migrants. Similar to existing schemes to attract "the best and brightest" of migrants that will "increase the productivity and growth of the UK economy". They will be able to bring their families and allowed to settle after further 2 year testing. They are the only group that do not need a sponsor.
Tier 2 - Skilled workers with job offer. It is expected that this will be the route for most arrivals. This tier is basically employers recruiting overseas, either for jobs identified as suffering a shortage of labour, or after proving that the new arrival is not displacing a UK or EU potential worker. For example, the employer may have to show it will pay a competitive salary that will not undercut average wages for the job. Tier 2 migrants will be allowed to bring dependants and settle after 5 years. They can change employer and even move to Tier 1, but will have to go through a re-assessment by the HO.
Tier 3 - Low skilled migration. These are the migrants that will suffer the worst restrictions as the HO's five year plan is to "phase out" schemes for non-EU poor migrants. Again it will be based on overseas recruitment of workers only for job shortages, after being unable to find cheap EU labour, and only from countries that sign a "returns arrangement" with the UK. These workers will only be allowed in the UK for a maximum of a year, without families and they will not be allowed to switch to other Tier. Options considered to ensure workers return at the end of their leave include bonds, compulsory remittances, open return tickets and biometric capture.
Tier 4 - Students. The main change here is the greater responsibility for educational institutions to police immigration compliance. Students will be allowed to change courses but not institutions without a fresh claim, and will be allowed to bring in their family. Current UK working regulations remain unchanged for this category.
Tier 5 - Youth mobility and temporary workers. This is a rag-bag of schemes for people coming to UK mainly "to satisfy non-economic objectives". Au pairs, artists, volunteers for charity, etc will fall in the Temporary Workers category. They will be allowed a maximum of 24 months without possibility to change Tiers, and will be allowed to bring dependants. Youth mobility schemes will be set up with specific countries that act as sponsors vouching for their youngsters' return. Countries will be rated and quotas and even bans will be imposed "according to immigration risk". This scheme will cover people aged 18-30, who are allowed a maximum of 24 months, no family and no change of Tier.

How points work

Points are meant to provide a structured and objective decision making process so infalible that the right of appeal will be replaced by administrative review.

Points are awarded for:
attributes: qualifications (bonus to have a UK education), previous earnings (relative to local economy), work history, age (to compensate for lower youth earnings), English language (compulsory for tiers 1 and 2).
control factors: Certificate of Sponsorship, funds, history of compliance with migration controls.

There are great variations on how points work for each Tier and we do not have the space here to fully explain it. The system is designed for a trade off in points, but a central part is the Certificate of Sponsorship.

The Sponsorship

The main radical departure from the existing migration model is the out- sourcing of migration controls, and associated costs and responsibilities, from the HO towards those perceived as "benefiting from migration". The PBS converts employers and educational institutions into sponsors, who must select the right migrants- both in skills and compliance- make sure they follow their stated role and that they leave in due time. Sponsors "will be expected to report any prolonged absence from work or discontinuation of studies".

All sponsors will have to be approved by the HO, who will rate them as A or B depending on their "track record and policies". A-rated sponsors will always bring in good migrants and get their paperwork right, etc. According to the HO, they "can expect that the applications from the migrants they sponsor will generally be successful... and a light touch from us". Resources thus will focus on policing B-rated sponsors and their migrants.

It is plain obvious how this will free time and money at the HO, but it is almost equally clear that this leaves workers in an incredibly vulnerable position in relation to their employers. The words bonded labour come to mind. The first casualty of the sponsor system will be imported domestic workers. After endless cases of maids being beaten, imprisoned, deprived from their documents and generally treated like modern slaves, the government agreed some years ago that it may be a good idea to let them look for alternative employers. Alas, with the PBS they will be once again tied to their sponsor, come rain or shine.

What it all means?

In fact the PBS will directly affect a relatively small number of those coming into this country in a vulnerable position. It is mainly a repackaging of existing schemes, where the devil will be in the detail of how points are allocated, the assessment of perceived labour shortages and the issues with sponsors mentioned above.

The big problems with the PBS lie elsewhere. It further reduces migration policy to a one-way street of "benefit to UK" that does not take into account the realities of both globalisation and human aspirations. The assumption is that migrants are informed individuals making cold cost-benefit decisions that will match the cold calculations of the government on how many hands, divided by two, we must import to keep inflation at bay. Chance, poverty, love, war, family ties, repression, rumours, etc; do not win you any points here. The alternative for most migrants will be more of the same we have now: being forced into the exploitation of illegal work or the destitution of asylum.

We also need to see how the PBS will impact all migrants more generally. The stated focus on the UK and EU first, could be easily translated understood by many into as government sanctioned racist discrimination of against non-whites. The three quarters of a million people trapped in the current system, both visa over-stayers and legacy asylum cases, are simply ignored in the PBS plan.

Finally, the implementation of the PBS depends on the development of a comprehensive electronic control apparatus. Basically a "management information system" that will keep track of every migrant entering, staying and leaving the UK, producing patterns of non-compliance for migrants from particular countries and job sectors. This in turn will only be possible with biometric controls and IDs, not just for migrants but for everyone, as you cannot make racist assumptions on who is UK and non-UK.

Perhaps something about Defy ID at the end or union campaigns / struggles against biometric ID in the work place?



Yes, another clear link between border control and ID schemes

30.04.2007 17:27

Thanks for the summary, Javier. This is yet another example of control of peoples' movement that will see us all become more unfree and treated just as units of labour for a capitalist economy that is backed up by state control. At the same time companies are able to move their manufacturing and other business anywhere they like to exploit people and make consumer goods or services they will sell for profit anywhere in the world - the more the better and fuck the environment...
Migrants and asylum seekers are first in-line for biometric ID (in fact asylum seekers already have an 'ARC' ID card and are on a fingerprint database which means they get checked all the time). See:
It is the capitalists who set the wages and the prices of goods because they are in control of our lives. We must create the maximum amount of solidarity and fight together for better

Nottingham Defy-ID & No Borders person
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  1. Well put together piece — Jock