British government announced on Tuesday that it would reduce the number of immigrants it allows into the country next year.
In the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said there would be a cap on migrants from non-European Union countries of 21, 700 to be introduced next April, which is a reduction from 28,000 in 2009.
A pledge to reduce immigration was key part of the Conservative party manifesto in the run-up to the inconclusive May 6 general election. Some in the then-ruling Labor party said in the aftermath of their defeat and ousting from power after 13 years as the government that they failed to understand that immigration and capping the number of immigrants was a leading concern for voters.
Net international migration into Britain in 2009 was estimated at 196,000, and in 1995 it was 76,000, which led prime minister David Cameron to pledge that he would reduce this figure to the " tens of thousands" by 2015. EU residents are able to move freely between nations, and so cannot be kept out by the British government, so any bid to reduce migrant numbers falls on non-EU immigrants.
The cap on non-EU migrants is a small reduction, and in order to satisfy the manifesto pledge the coalition government, in which the Conservative party is the largest part, said it was considering restricting the number of students coming to Britain to study, and also the number of skilled workers.
Home secretary May told the members of the Parliament "Business groups have told us that skilled migrants with job offers should have priority over those who are admitted without a job offer."
The number of skilled migrants with no job offer will be heavily reduced to 1000 in 2011 from 14000 in 2009.
May said there would be 20,700 places, an increase on 2009, for skilled migrants, but now those places would be for migrants with degree-level job offers.
A further 1000 places would be available for people of exceptional talent -- "scientists, academics and artists who have achieved international recognition or are likely to do so".
At least 30 percent of skilled migrants end up in "low-skilled occupations such as stacking shelves, driving taxis or working as security guards", May said, and she said this abuse of the system would come to an end.
Last year fewer than 300 investors or entrepreneurs were allowed into the country, "and that is not enough," said May, adding that there would be no limit on their numbers in future.
Overseas companies or domestic companies with foreign employees in foreign offices would be able to bring those workers to Britain for up to 12 months if they earned 24,000 pounds (about 37,800 U.S. dollars) a year or more, but they could only stay for over 12 months if they had an annual salary of 40,000 pounds (about 63,000 U.S. dollars) or more.
May said there would be a public consultation on visas for students. Currently there are 300,000 non-EU students studying in Britain, and about 40 percent of those study at below degree level. Some of these colleges are bogus, or their work experience segments are just work, and several dozen have been closed in recent months.
Britain's education sector is worth about 8.5 billion pounds ( about 13.4 billion U.S. dollars), and there will be strong calls not to jeopardize this.
May was examining restricting visas to university-level students and only "highly trusted" institutions at lower levels. " The majority of non-EU migrants are students, they represent two thirds of the non-EU migrants each year. We cannot reduce net migration significantly without reforming student visas," she said.
About a quarter of these students at lower level colleges had disappeared from college, they "have been coming here with a view to living and working rather than studying and we need to stop this," said May.
May said she would also make it harder for migrants to stay in Britain by breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration, and requiring family members who came to join others in Britain to be able to speak a minimum standard of English. There would also be stronger policing of "sham marriages".
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) backed the government's plans. Director-general designate John Cridland said "Crucially, the design of the new system prioritizes the routes of entry that matter most to the economy. The new system rightly gives priority to people with a job offer over those without one, so companies will still be able to access talent from around the world."
In the House of Commons, the official opposition Labor party criticized the proposals. Shadow home secretary Ed Balls said the cap on immigration could be broken because there was no hard figure or limit on the number of workers moving to Britain to take up posts with their firms. Balls said the cap was "in fact a con, a guess, a fig leaf. No cap at all".