Calls to cut non-EU skilled migrant worker numbers by up to 25%

A recommendation to cut the number of migrant workers coming to Britain from outside the EU by between 13% and 25% next year has been given a mixed reception from employers’ groups.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the independent body asked to recommend a level for the Government’s proposed immigration cap, said that the number of visas for skilled workers issued under what is called Tier One and Tier Two needs to be between 37,400 and 43,700 for 2011/12.

This would represent a cut of up to 12,600 visas compared to the 50,000 in 2009, committee chairman Professor David Metcalf said.

The report recommended that Tier Two visas – for skilled workers with job offers – should be prioritised over Tier One visas for highly skilled workers without a job offer. It also called for both tiers to be more selective and suggested that the Government raise the threshold for earnings and qualifications.

Metcalf said: “It is not possible to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by limiting work-related migration alone. The Committee assumes that work-related migration takes 20% of the total cut – its fair share – which implies that family and student migration must take the other 80%.”

Immigration minister Damian Green said that bringing down net migration to sustainable levels would not be easy, but introducing an annual limit would reduce the number of people who come to the UK to work from outside the EU.

“We can reduce net migration without damaging our economy,” he added. “Britain will remain open for business, and we have already announced that managers and specialists will continue to be able to come to the UK through an exempted intra-company transfer route.”

Dr John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said that the committee is right to suggest that visas issued to skilled and highly skilled migrants should be cut by 25%.

“Although this will not be welcomed by some employers, the limits the MAC proposes to ministers show that a more selective approach to controlling skilled migration within the points-based-system will both enable most organisations to meet their skills needs and support the broader policy drive to improve the skills of the home grown workforce.”

However, NHS employers warned that the health service would not function effectively under an inflexible immigration cap. It argued that more than one-third of the current NHS medical workforce qualified overseas, and added that schemes such as apprenticeships would not generate enough home-grown talent in the next few years to cover gaps left by the shortfall of overseas workers.

Karen Charman, head of employment services at NHS Employers said: “We are pleased to see the recommendation to exclude in-country migrants from the limit and this could be helpful to employers in the immediate term. But at the very least, exemptions must be provided for any trusts whose ability to maintain quality patient care relies on a number of migrant workers who could not be recruited within the cap.”

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