The government has today announced a cap of 21,700 on the number of skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area allowed into the UK, the BBC reports.
The cap represent a cut of 6,300 on the figure for 2009.
The cap excludes employees transferred by their companies from another country – in future they will be allowed to stay for up to five years if their salary exceeds £40,000.
Home Secretary Theresa May said immigration would become “sustainable”.
The exclusion from the cap of intra-company transfers – for example someone working for a large US company taking up a job in their London office – is a clear success for the business lobby.
In addition to an apparent unlimited number of such transfers if the salary is above £40,000, firms are also being allowed to bring one of their staff in to work for the UK for a year if the job is an ICT one and the salary is over £24,000.
Altogether 22,000 employees came to work in the UK via intra-company transfers.
New ‘Exceptional Talent’ scheme
Some 1,000 people will be let in under a new “exceptional talent” scheme applying to scientists, academics and artists, Mrs May told MPs.
The government has committed itself to reduce net migration from 196,000 to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
Mrs May said: “We will have to take action across all routes to entry – work visas, student visas, family visas – and break the link between temporary routes and permanent settlement.”
A total cap of up to 43,700 – for skilled workers and intra-company employees – was recommended by migration advisers last week.
The 21,700 cap announced, added to the 22,000 intra-company transfers last year is equal to the top end of the advisory committee’s suggestion.
During the election campaign, Tory leader David Cameron pledged to cap immigration levels, while his then Lib Dem rival Nick Clegg – now his deputy – said that policy ignored the fact that most immigration came from the EU.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said tense talks between the Tories and Lib Dems had resulted in a compromise.
Last year 50,000 visas were issued for tier one (highly skilled) and tier two (skilled) workers from outside the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein).
Too many lower level students
A consultation on cutting the number of non-degree level students coming to the UK – due to be published soon – has not yet got cross-coalition agreement, the BBC has learned.
Mrs May said: “Nearly half of all students coming here from abroad are actually coming to study a course below degree level and abuse is particularly common at these lower levels – a recent check of students studying at private institutions below degree level showed that a quarter could not be accounted for.
“Too many students, at these lower levels, have been coming here with a view to living and working, rather than studying. We need to stop this abuse.” Source: BBC.
In summary, Theresa May said:
‘To control those coming here, the government has committed to:
- introducing an annual limit of 21,700 for those coming into the UK under the skilled and highly skilled routes – 20,700 under Tier 2 (General) and 1,000 under the new ‘exceptional talent’ route;
- raising to £40,000 the minimum salary for those coming under the Tier 2 (Intra company transfer) route for more than 12 months;
- restricting Tier 1 to all but entrepreneurs, investors and the exceptionally talented; and
- requiring occupations in Tier 2 (General) to be at graduate level.’
Opposition spokesman Ed Balls said the measures ignored the fact that 80% of immigration comes from Eastern Europe and admitted that it was a ‘mistake’ by the previous Labour government to allow unrestricted access to the UK when the EU expanded in 2004.
He added that Theresa May has bypassed the points based system and introduced a new category of highly skilled migrant, the first 1000 people with as yet undefined ‘exceptional talent’, effectively replacing Tier 1.
Mr Balls said that civil servants would now have to quickly draw up legislation to define exactly what is meant by ‘exceptional talent’.
James Pitman, the managing director of Study Group points out in the Financial Times, that any reduction in student numbers would be ‘disastrous for the UK’s fragile economy’ given that education and training exports are worth almost 40 Billion – representing the second biggest contributor to the UK’s net balance of payments behind financial Services.
A number of universities have already real concerns about the impact of the work based cap. Professor Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, and vice-chancellor of Exeter University recently noted in the Guardian that the cap:
‘..could be a serious blow to the UK market in the face of huge competition from other countries that are investing in higher education… with the investment that competitor countries such as the US and China are putting into universities makes them more likely to poach staff at British universities. All of which amounts to a serious worry.’
With foreign students also accounting for as much as 30% of the revenue of some universities, and public expenditure cuts of 40 % to the higher education budget and 25 % to the further education budget, can the UK really afford to go down this road?
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