UK to cap visas for non European Union skilled workers at 43,000

by Ray Clancy on November 23, 2010

UK caps non-European visa issuances

The number of skilled workers from outside the European Union to be allowed to live in the UK is to be reduced to 43,000 a year, a cut of 13% from 2009, the government has decided. The workers though who are transferred to work in the UK by their employers will be exempt from the new cap if they earn over £40,000 a year.

The cap is set higher than some experts had predicted. The Migration Advisory Committee had recommended a cap of between 37,400 and 43,700. But it is expected that the number of visas for students and families will 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 could be cut 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 committee has suggested.

Currently, 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.

Home Secretary Theresa 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 would do nothing to prevent those coming to study degree level courses.

According to Professor David Metcalf, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, 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 committee includes 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.

The shadow Home Office minister Gerry Sutcliffe believes that the cap is 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.

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