The number of migrant workers coming to Britain from outside the EU will be cut by a fifth and capped at 21,700 from next year, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.
Mrs May said there will also be a new minimum salary of £40,000 for firms using intra-company transfers (ICTs) to bring their own people into the UK for more than a year to do specific jobs.
But firms will still be able to bring non-EU workers into the UK on ICTs for less than 12 months as long as they earn £24,000.
To fulfil the Government’s pledge to cut 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.”
The number of skilled workers with job offers, who enter the UK on tier two visas under the points-based system, will be capped at 20,700 and will also be limited to graduate-level jobs, Mrs May said.
But the number of highly-skilled workers without a job offer – the old tier one route – will be limited to just 1,000 and to those with “exceptional talent”, which will include sports people and scientists.
The inclusion of scientists in this new route will help address the concerns of universities who fear that the cap could make it harder for the UK to attract the world’s best researchers.
Speaking in the Commons, Mrs May said: “The old tier one – supposedly for the best and the brightest – has not attracted highly-skilled workers. At least 30% of tier one migrants work in low-skilled occupations such as stacking shelves, driving taxis or working as security guards and some don’t have a job at all.”
Unite, the UK’s largest union, accused the Government of missing a golden opportunity to root out abuse and misuse by companies of the ICT route.
Peter Skyte, Unite national officer, said: “The Government has spectacularly squandered the opportunity to deal with misuse and abuse of the intra-company transfer scheme in its migration cap announcement in the face of largely empty threats by big business to withdraw investment from the UK.”