Immigration: the Points Based System – Work Routes

The Points Based System introduced by the UK Border Agency in 2008 was for the most part designed well and provides an adaptable means of meeting the UK’s work-related immigration policy objectives. However, according to the National Audit Office, the System is not yet delivering its full potential for value for money. Its processes and systems are not efficient and customer service could be improved. The Agency can also provide little assurance that it is effectively managing the risk of non-compliance with immigration rules by migrants and their sponsors.

The Points Based System scores migrants against a number of assessment criteria, including their skills. The system appears to have attracted skilled applications, although the evidence is not robust. Around 60 per cent of Tier 1, or highly skilled individuals, who did not study in the UK are working in highly skilled jobs. However, sampling by the National Audit Office suggests that, while more highly valued Tier 2 applicants are applying under the new system, most Tier 2 migrants have not taken up positions which meet national priorities.

The System has so far worked effectively to meet needs of employers although a third of sponsoring employers surveyed wanted to recruit more skilled foreign workers than they were able to. Sponsors and migrants often struggle to get the information and assistance they need and one-fifth of all sponsors would pay an additional charge to receive better customer service.

The Agency has work in hand to improve the efficiency and productivity of its processes. It needs, however, to improve its management information. At present, it lacks the ability to identify easily individuals whose visas have expired and it does not do enough to check that migrants leave the UK if they have no right to remain. Since 2009, one Agency region has contacted failed applicants and encouraged around 2,000 to leave voluntarily. But, while it has some contact details for an estimated 181,000 failed applicants overall, the Agency cannot be sure how many have left the UK.

Poor information systems are also undermining the ability of the Agency to manage the risk that sponsors are failing to comply with immigration rules. It rates as compliant some 96 per cent of its 22,000 sponsoring employers but is unable to say how many it has visited to confirm this.

"The UK Border Agency’s Points Based System is not yet delivering its full potential for value for money. While it is well designed and adaptable, the underlying systems and management information are in need of improvement. Customer services do not meet customer expectations and the Agency cannot easily identify and follow up individuals whose visas have expired. "Implementing the radical changes planned for the System in 2011-12 will enable the Agency to reconsider its priorities and improve customer service and its assurance over control systems."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 15 March 2011

Notes for Editors

  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.


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PN: 13/11