Unfortunately, a points-based system for skilled workers would not reconcile Britons to immigration. It would make no difference to the numbers of two unpopular types of migrant—spouses from rural Pakistan and refugees. By design, it would not cover the sort of immigrant who trims cabbages for a living, and is blamed both for suppressing working-class wages and for cluttering doctors’ offices. If Britain leaves the European Economic Area, it could bar all unskilled workers. But that is improbable: a quarter of security guards and two-fifths of people working in food processing are immigrants.
Britain’s problem is not that it has a bad system for choosing skilled immigrants. It is that it routinely lapses into thinking that all immigrants are the same. Politicians set crude targets that include everybody. Amid the hosannas for Australia, Britons seem to have forgotten that their own government created a points-based immigration system in 2008. It was demolished by a politician who was trying to suppress all immigration, in a vain attempt to bring the net number below 100,000 a year. That politician was Theresa May—the front-runner to be Britain’s next prime minister.
Skilled immigrants who get lots of points are not necessarily the migrants our economy needs. The Polish guys who washed your car for less than ten quid yesterday; how many points would they need to get into this country? Remember the days when you had to have your car washed by a machine? Assistants in care homes would probably not be able to get many points. Would we be prepared to see care homes close for lack of staff?