The UK wants the ‘best’ immigrants. Why would they want the UK?

With its new points-based immigration system, Britain should realise it is not the only one able to pick and choose.

Britain''s Home Secretary Priti Patel leaves Downing Street 10 in London
The UK's Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced plans for a new points-based immigration system to reduce the number of "unskilled" workers coming to the country. [REUTERS/Hannah McKay]

After months of speculation and years of endless debates on the topic, the British government has finally announced the details of its post-Brexit immigration plans. As promised in the election manifesto with which the Conservative Party won its majority last year, the UK will soon adopt a points-based system, aimed to put an end to “low-skilled” immigration.

Under the new rules, people wishing to move to the UK will need 70 points. To clock up said points, they will need to earn above £25,600 a year (20 points), speak good English (10 points), have a job offer from an approved sponsor (20 points), and so on. In short: unless you are already successful, good luck with that. (I, myself, am a foreigner in the UK and have been living here for over a decade. But I would still not have enough points to move here now).

The new system may be welcome to those who voted Leave in the Brexit referendum in 2016 – many wanted to reduce immigration and saw leaving the EU as a means to that end. But a points system risks leaving the country poorer – both literally and figuratively. It also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the mindset of most immigrants, either by design or by mistake.

Many successful people in the UK did not already have a brilliant career elsewhere. They came here first and built their fortunes afterwards.

One great example of this was tweeted by London-based journalist Harry Wallop yesterday, whose great-grandfather moved to Britain “nearly penniless, aged 15, from Lithuania. He earned money as a pedlar, selling shoelaces door to door. Speaking no English. He went on to start one of the great clothing brands and Britain’s 6th biggest company, Burton’s the Tailors”.

Wallop’s ancestor is not an exception. According to a 2017 study from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, immigrants are one-and-a-half times as likely to be involved in “early-stage entrepreneurial activity” as their UK-born counterparts.

Meanwhile, research from the analysis company Zirra has found that nine out of Britain’s top 10 “unicorn businesses” – companies valued at $1bn or more – had at least one first or second-generation immigrant in their founding team.

Then there is the analysis from the Centre for Entrepreneurs published in 2014, which found that migrant entrepreneurs had created one in seven UK companies, and are responsible for 14 percent of British jobs.

But beyond these success stories lies an uncomfortable truth for the government; to remain a country that is a proud home to bright immigrants with brilliant ideas, it must be willing to take a chance on foreigners.

Britain was built on taking a chance; on letting people in who then helped it become what it is today


For every person who moves here and then makes it, countless others have tried and failed – or more likely, who tried, then realised that they could just lead a normal, quiet life instead.

As with dating, one cannot stumble upon the partner of one’s dreams without putting oneself out there. Similarly, a country cannot choose to only attract excellence. It must be willing to take a chance on people, then get rewarded when it does.

In many ways, Britain was built on taking a chance; on letting people in – people who then became part of the tapestry of society, and helped it become what it is today. Some of those later went on to have exceptional careers, but many did not.

In fact, many are still here, in the background; treating patients in hospitals, caring for the elderly, serving busy workers their black coffees and making their ham-and-cheese toasties. They do not need to earn extravagant salaries or be the sharpest minds in their academic fields to be part of their communities and to help those around them.

By only seeing immigrants as human-shaped skills providers, Home Secretary Priti Patel risks missing the bigger picture. If you make it clear to the world around you that you only value foreigners as long as they can show their usefulness from the outset, the offer you make is not an attractive one.

People do not solely think in numbers (or points); if they are going to move somewhere, it is not unreasonable to want to feel welcome in the place they wish to call home. Aiming to attract the “best of the best” to Britain is not a flawed pursuit in itself, but the UK needs to remember that it is not the only one able to pick and choose.

After all, if someone is brilliant, ambitious and open to the world, why would they want to move to a place that will only let them in while pinching its nose?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.