The number of non-EU workers entering the UK will be capped for the rest of the year, the home secretary has confirmed.
Announcing a 12-week consultation with businesses on how the permanent immigration cap will be delivered, Theresa May said an interim cap will be introduced to ensure there is no rush of applications and the number of work visas issued stays below 2009 levels.
The temporary cap will take effect from 19 July, and will mean 24,100 workers from outside Europe can enter the UK before April 2011 – a fall of 5% on last year.
The measures include capping the number of tier 1 highly skilled migrants at current levels and raising the number of points needed by non-EU workers who come to do highly skilled jobs from 95 to 100.
The home secretary has also asked the Migration Advisory Committee to launch a separate consultation into what level the limit should be set at, taking into account social and economic impacts.
May also reiterated the Conservative Party election pledge that immigration should be cut to “tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands”.
She said: “This government believes that Britain can benefit from migration, but not uncontrolled migration. I recognise the importance of attracting the brightest and the best to ensure strong economic growth, but unlimited migration places unacceptable pressure on public services.
“While we consult on our tough new limit, it’s important we have an interim measure to avoid a rush of applications for migrants and ensure that the number of work visas issued stays below 2009 levels.”
The government’s consultation will run until the middle of September. The permanent cap on non-EU migrants will then be implemented from 1 April 2011.
Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), added: “There were huge skills shortages before the recession, and if the private sector is to grow rapidly out of recession, it will need skilled workers to do so. An artificial cap on immigration will affect business growth and delivery of core services, such as social care.
“Without a doubt we need to train up our young people to fill these gaps, but this will take time. We ask that the government seriously considers the impact of preventing skilled workers coming into the country, if the positions they are being recruited for cannot be filled locally.”
John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, was more positive, describing a cap as “a valid way of balancing the need for skilled workers with the social pressures caused by immigration”.
“But it’s important that we get the structure right,|” he added. “It should be designed so that very highly-skilled people who are essential to work being done in Britain can get a permit more readily.
“As well as setting the cap at the right level, the government should also be able to adjust it in future to meet changing economic circumstances.”