Australian-style immigration system begins

The first stage of the new points-based immigration came into force today, designed to ensure only foreign workers with the skills needed by the UK are allowed entry.

The first tier of the new five-tier system regulating entry by highly-skilled migrants from outside of the EU will be fully in force by the summer.

Tier one affects qualified workers including scientists and entrepreneurs and is designed to ensure talented workers can still access the UK.

Applicants will be awarded points based on their skill levels and only workers with a sufficient score will be granted entry to the UK.

There are as yet no plans to roll out the lower tiers for unskilled migrants, with workers from eastern Europe able to fill low-skilled jobs.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith said the changes were part of the biggest shake-up to British immigration for a generation.

Ms Smith said: “The introduction of our Australian-style points system will ensure that only those with skills the country needs can come.

“Migrants benefit this country economically, contributing an estimated £6 billion to our national output, as well as socially and culturally and it is right that we have a system which is fair but firm, accessible but controlled.”

Tougher penalties for businesses caught employing illegal workers have also come into force.

Employers hiring illegal migrants now face a fine of £10,000, doubling the previous penalty.

Bosses that knowingly hire illegal workers risk an unlimited fine or custodial sentence.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has, however, criticised the new rules, claiming they place unrealistic expectations on employers to verify ID and immigration status.

Alan Tyrrell, FSB employment chairman, said: “It is totally unfair to expect small business owners to act as immigration officers and then threaten them with huge fines if they slip up. It is doubly unfair when the government then fails to adequately publicise the new rules.

“Immigration policy and the implementation of it is a matter for the government, not for small business owners.

But immigration minister Liam Byrne said the fines meant “instant justice” for firms that try to undercut their rivals by paying migrant workers low wages.