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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Winners and losers in points bid
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Many British people go through the Australian points system

Under the Australian system of immigration, points mean prizes.

If you presently earn a living as a taxidermist stuffing dead animals, you are 40 points closer to getting the opportunity to work down under.

Better still, if you treat live animals as a qualified veterinarian, you get 60.

If you are eligible still to go on a Club 18 to 30 holiday, you can bag another 30.

But cross the 40 threshold and you only get 15. Nudge past 44 and you are completely ineligible for a skilled work visa.

Language skills

Fluency in one of Australia's community languages wins you another five. A capital investment in Australia or work experience here yields the same number.

A new Australian-style points system will be simpler, cheaper, and easier to enforce
UK immigration minister Liam Byrne

To enter this cricket-obsessed country as a skilled migrant, the ultimate aim is to score over a century. The current pass mark is 120 for independent applicants and 110 for family sponsors.

Then, if you pass the necessary health and criminal checks, the way is clear to start living the Australian dream.

Transparent, fair, rigorous and designed to suit the needs of the economy. No wonder the UK government has decided to craft its own system, which will become operational next year, on the Australian model.

UK immigration minister Liam Byrne even went as far as to unveil the timetable after a photo opportunity at Sydney Airport, half a planet away from Westminster.

"Migration has to support Britain's national interest," he said.

"A new Australian-style points system will be simpler, cheaper, and easier to enforce. Crucially it will give us the best way of letting in only those people who have something to offer Britain."

I have the necessary skills which Australia is looking for. But I'm not a graduate, so I'm about five to 10 points short
Lee Alexander

But the points system does have drawbacks.

Just ask Lee Alexander, a British IT specialist working in Sydney, who just falls short of the number of points required.

Lee and his family love living here. His firm, which is presently sponsoring him, thinks he does a terrific job. He has specialist computing skills ideally suited to the needs of the Australian economy. But his curriculum vitae is bereft of one salient entry - a degree.

"It's a strange position," says Lee. "I have the necessary skills Australia is looking for. But I'm not a graduate, so I'm about five to 10 points short of the required number to work here full time."

In some instances, the points system arguably makes it too hard to get in and sets criteria that are too rigid.

Hairdresser shortage

As Lee's case illustrates, it often places too high an emphasis on paper-based qualifications rather than on-the-job experience.

Oddly, the country's hair salons highlight another problem with the points system.

Presently, Australia faces a chronic shortage of hairdressers, prompting the corniest of headlines: "Hairdressers groomed to cut shortage" and "Industry tearing its hair out". It has also forced some salons to close down through lack of trained staff.

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Each six months, the points system is adjusted to meet these kind of skills shortages - hairdressing now makes the migration occupations in demand list, the severe skills shortage list.

But there is often a time lag and it is hard to synchronise the needs of a fast-changing economy with the kind of migrants the system delivers.

"The system needs constant recalibration," says Christopher Brown of the Tourism and Transport Forum, a lobby group representing industries which themselves suffer chronic skills shortages.

"Is it hairdressers this week, pastry chefs next week, or engineers the week after? How quickly can the points system adapt? You have to be very nimble and fleet of foot."

'Geographical isolation'

And is it a good economic move to exclude the non-skilled? The experience of the Australian hotel and construction industries suggests not.

"Points systems are good at attracting the upper-end skilled workers," says Christopher Brown. "But the difficulty for an economy like ours is how to do we get the bulk of people to work in the lower end of the tourism industry or the labouring end of the construction industry."

It is nobody's business how we regulate who comes to our country but ours
William Burt, Melbourne

Admittedly, the problem is worse in Australia than elsewhere, partly because of its geographic remoteness.

"Everyone in the world has access to a cheap labour force," says Christopher Brown.

"Western Europe has Eastern Europe; North America has South America; the Gulf has the Subcontinent. The problem is where does our source of low-cost labour come from to sustain and grow our economy?"

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