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Australian points-based immigration system in the UK: What’s the point?

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Following on from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) review which was commissioned in 2019, we explore the results of the report published on 28th January 2020.


  • In September 2019, the Home Office commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the merits of introducing a new immigration framework based on the Australian points-based-system.
  • The MAC is commissioned to advise the Government on the implications of immigration policy.  Whilst there is no obligation to follow their recommendations, the Government invariably does. 
  • The MAC report, published on 28 January 2020, concludes that an Australian style points-based system is not required in the UK.   

Key findings and recommendations:

  • Similar visa routes have historically not worked in the UK. 
  • The MAC do not see the point in points. Eligibility criteria can be in checklist form and work the same without point scoring. 
  • Job offers are highly valued. A job offer in the UK is still the most valued attribute for migrants as it ensures they will be gainfully employed in a skilled job.  Evidence suggests that skilled migrants who enter the UK via a visa route which does not require a job offer often never end up working in a skilled role.
  • Tier 2 is still the most effective visa route for highly skilled employment. Tier 2 began as a visa route where points were awarded but has evolved to a checklist-based visa route. Tier 2 requires a job offer and so is the best option for ensuring that migrants undertake skilled work in all cases. 
  • Tier 2 still needs to change. Tier 2 needs to be adapted to encompass EU nationals.  In particular, the MAC recommends: 
    • removal of the resident labour market test (RLMT) 
    • lowering of the minimum skill level from RQF6+ to RQF3+ 
    • the removal of a cap on the total number of applications per year
  • Introduction of a ‘pool’ for interested migrants. A pre-visa process whereby migrants can express their interest in a UK visa. The Expression of Interest (EOI) process has allowed other countries with points-based systems to select migrants from a central pool and invite them to make full applications. 
  • Reduce the minimum salary for Tier 2. The MAC recommend reducing the minimum salary requirement for Tier 2 (General) from £30,000/PA to around £26,000/PA for experienced workers and from £20,800/PA to around £18,000/PA for new entrants.
  • Two birds with one stone: improve Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and have a point scoring visa at the same time. Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) has been underused, largely owing to barriers to entry. The MAC suggest amending the eligibility criteria for the Exceptional Promise sub-category to include a points-scoring system whereby an applicant can still qualify even if he/she does not score highly in each of the eligibility criteria.

Stick or twist?

The Government now needs to decide how this advice is interpreted in order to create a White Paper. Accepting the MAC’s proposals will mean conceding that the UK will not have an Australian points-based-system, which has been a key component of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister’s immigration policy pledges. 

It was perhaps no coincidence that the Home Office preceded the publication of the MAC report, with a press release about a new Global Talent visa to replace the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa. The Global Talent visa will allow for broader sources of endorsement and no cap on the number of endorsements for each endorsing body, similar to the  changes proposed by the MAC.  

What does this mean for employers and business owners in the UK?

Employers familiar with Tier 2 will be able to sponsor a wider spectrum of workers and face fewer restrictions and delays. Sponsorship will be much quicker and, with the introduction of EU workers within the Tier 2 system, it will be much more commonplace.

Established sponsors will be encouraged by the proposal to end the Resident Labour Market Test.  The sponsorship process should be noticeably streamlined if there is no need to advertise the role for 28 days or apply for a restricted certificate under the monthly quota.

Employers unfamiliar with Tier 2 are best advised to review their workforces and assess the extent to which the company relies on EU workers, because it is now very likely that EU workers will need to be sponsored under the Tier 2 system*.

Having worked with lots of applicants in the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route, particularly within the tech sector, our team of immigration experts have been able to learn through experience what a successful application looks like. Removing the cap of endorsements is unlikely to affect the number of successful applications unless it has the effect of encouraging more speculative applications.  This visa is less restrictive than Tier 2 and comes without the various compliance obligations associated with sponsorship.  With the added attraction of leading to indefinite leave to remain after just three years, we expect this visa route to become increasingly popular.

Next steps

In anticipation of these changes, we developed a tool that allows employers to screen employer data and receive instant feedback on job roles in the company that would fall below the recommended changes to Tier 2. For information please contact the team on the details below. 

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