Government begins consultation on limits to migration from outside the EU
The government has taken the first steps to limiting non-EU migration ahead of imposing a permanent cap next year - a move that could limit businesses' ability to plug skills gaps through intra-company transfers involving foreign tech workers.
Capping immigration was a key Conservative policy during the election campaign, and one which survived its coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats. "We have agreed that there should be an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work. We will consider jointly the mechanism for implementing the limit," the document agreeing the coalition between the two parties read.
Yesterday the Home Office kicked off a 12-week consultation with businesses on how the permanent limit on the number of non-EU workers coming to the UK will operate, and what that limit should be when it comes into force in April 2011.
The government said its aim is to reduce net migration to the UK to 1990s levels - scaling it back from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.
"Government believes that Britain benefits from migration," the consultation document states. "We want to continue to attract the brightest and the best people to the United Kingdom. However, unlimited migration places unacceptable pressure on public services, school places, and the provision of housing, all of which can cause problems for local communities."
Measures to reduce immigration set out in the consultation include introducing either a first-come-first-served or a 'pool' approach for Tier 1 migrants - highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and graduate students.
In the pool scenario, those migrants judged most eligible from the pool of those who have applied according to the UK's points-based immigration system would be offered entry to the UK at pre-set intervals - a scenario the government favours.
"The government believes that adopting a pool approach would ensure that highly skilled migrants who come to the UK are those who are most beneficial to the country," it states in the consultation.
The document also asks businesses for their views on Tier 2 migration - which covers skilled migrants with job offers from UK employers who have been licensed as sponsors with the UK Border Agency. This category also covers Intra-Company Transfers (ICTs) - a route many UK companies have used to bring in IT workers from outside the EU.
Back in 2008, figures obtained by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies from Work Permits UK, the Home Office body responsible for visas, found that the vast majority of IT workers coming to the UK came through Intra-Company Transfers.
The government is consulting on whether to...
...include caps on ICTs as part of the permanent limit next year, noting that ICTs account for almost half of all Tier 2 visas.
"We have considered carefully the position on Intra-Company Transfers. The unique and temporary nature of this form of transfer begs the question as to whether it should be included under the limit at all. However, Intra-Company Transfers account for a significant proportion (around 45 per cent) of all Tier 2 entry clearance visas," it states.
The consultation document covers several options for approaching ICTs, with the government suggesting that short-term ICTs - where migrants remain in the country for less than a year - could be exempt from the permanent cap, while those ICTs staying longer than a year would be included in the cap.
For Tier 2 visas, the government also said it believes migrants "should only be brought in where every reasonable avenue to recruit a resident worker has been exhausted".
"There is a strong case... for combining the [Resident Labour Market Test and Shortage Occupation List] tests so that in the future, employers could only bring in migrants where the occupation was in national shortage and the local labour market had been tested through the JobCentre Plus," the consultation adds.
The government also voices a view that migrant sponsor companies should be required "to demonstrate a practical commitment to upskilling British workers" - such as by supporting national or local apprenticeships or other similar schemes - in future.
The consultation runs until 17 September 2010 and can be found here.
The Migration Advisory Committee, a non-departmental public body which advises the government on migration issues, has also been commissioned to advise the Home Office on the levels at which non-EU worker limits should be set for the first full year of operation of any new system.
Yesterday the Home Office announced that interim limits on non-EU workers will be imposed from next month, with the number of skilled people without a job offer that are allowed to enter the country under the government's points-based immigration system held at 5,400 until April 2011.
In addition, the number of migrants allowed to enter the country with a job offer will be reduced by 1,300 from next month, and capped at 18,700 until April 2011.
Announcing the interim limit, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement: "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."