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Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit

“The Points System is Dead. Long Live the Points System!” Why Immigration Policymakers in the UK Are Never Quite Happy with Their Points Systems#


The UK’s ‘Australian-style’ points-based system (PBS), introduced in 2021, has been promoted by politicians as a strategy to ‘take back control’ of migration after leaving the European Union. However, the 2021 PBS is just the most recent of several initiatives since 2002 to introduce points into the UK’s labor migration policy. Points tests in various forms have been repeatedly introduced, modified, and removed in the UK’s immigration system. This paper examines what accounts for the enduring appeal and repeated reinvention of this policy tool. We argue that the main factor driving interest in points-based systems is not what they achieve in practice, but their symbolic value. Points systems have allowed policymakers to signal that labor migration policy is objective, rational, meritocratic and efficient. These objectives appear to outweigh the substantive policy benefits of points-based systems as mechanisms for accumulating human capital or offering flexibility in eligibility criteria. © 2023 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

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Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies


Madeleine Sumption (United Kingdom)
Peter William Walsh (United Kingdom)

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