The level of the Government’s proposed immigration cap is due to be announced by Home Secretary Theresa May.
The number of migrant workers coming to Britain from outside the EU should be cut to between 37,400 and 43,700 next year, down between 13% and 25% compared with 2009, experts on the Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) said last week.
But the Government’s advisers warned that students and family visas will also have to be slashed if the Government is to fulfil its pledge to bring net migration down from 196,000 to the tens of thousands by 2015.
The number of students coming to Britain from outside the EU will also need to be cut, perhaps by more than 87,000, as will the number of people travelling to the UK for working holidays and those who come to work as domestic servants or on creative and media visas.
Work-related migration accounts for just 20% of the overall reduction needed for the Government to reach its target, meaning non-EU students must make up 60% of the cut with the final 20% coming from family visas and their dependants, the Mac said. Two-thirds of the non-EU migrants who enter the UK come on student visas, with more than half of these studying courses below degree level.
Mrs May said she would crack down on non-EU students coming to privately-funded colleges and to study courses that were below degree-level as she seeks to make eligibility criteria for visas more selective. But in a key speech on immigration earlier this month she added that she will do nothing to prevent those coming to study degree-level courses.
Professor David Metcalf, Mac chairman, said skilled workers with job offers, who enter the UK on tier-two visas under the points-based system, should be prioritised over tier-one visas for highly skilled workers without a job offer. And a new provision could be made for non-EU scientists under tier one of the visa system to address the concerns of universities who fear that the cap could make it harder for the UK to attract the world’s best researchers, he said.
The limit proposed by the Mac included a cap on intra-company transfers (ICTs), which are used by firms to bring their own people into the country to do specific jobs and account for 22,000 of the 36,000 tier-two visas.
To the relief of businesses, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs in the Commons that ICTs “shouldn’t be included” in the proposed cap, but Prof Metcalf said there was “more than one way to skin a cat” and that they should take the “lion’s share” of the cut to non-EU work visas. The Government should raise the minimum threshold for both earnings and qualifications, he said.
But shadow Home Office minister Gerry Sutcliffe said the cap was “the worst of all worlds”. “It does very little to control immigration but is bad for business and scientific research at this critical time for our economy,” he said.