Visas in the UK are to be re-classified as either temporary or permanent and tens of thousands of migrants in the UK will be asked to leave under proposals that are part of a clampdown on abuse of the temporary visa system.

It is part of the government’s overall plan to drastically reduce immigration levels. Moreover, Immigration Minister Damian Green said that Britain will be ‘more selective about who we allow to stay’ as immigration hit record levels last year.

He announced that migrants coming to the UK to work on temporary visas would no longer be able to apply for settlement. ‘The proposals are aimed at breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration. Settlement has become almost automatic for those who choose to stay. This needs to change. The immigration system has got to be made to work properly,’ Green said.

‘We want the brightest and best workers to come to the UK, make a strong contribution to our economy while they are here, and then return home,’ he added.

Under the current system, many workers are allowed to apply to stay here permanently. In 2010, 84,000 people who entered the UK for employment were granted settlement. This compares to less than 10,000 who qualified for employment related settlement in 1997.

The government has already implemented new settlement requirements for skilled workers entering under Tiers 1 and 2 of the points based system, which require applicants to demonstrate English language proficiency, continue to meet the salary requirements and to pass a new criminality test.

There will now be a 12-week consultation to examine key proposals to retain an automatic route to settlement, including re-branding Tier 2 (the skilled worker route) as temporary and ending the assumption that settlement will be available for those who enter through this route. It will also allow certain categories of Tier 2 migrant for those earning over £150,000 or occupations of a specific economic or social value to the UK. The proposals will also see the creation of a new category into which, after three years in the UK, the most exceptional Tier 2 migrants may switch and go on to apply for settlement. The program would also allow Tier 2 migrants who do not switch into a settlement route to stay for a maximum of five years with the expectation that they and any dependants will leave at the end of that time.

Green also wants to introduce an English language requirement for adult dependents of Tier 2 migrants applying to switch into a route to settlement, to restrict the maximum period of leave for Tier 5 Temporary Workers to 12 months and closing or reforming routes for overseas domestic workers. Those coming to stay in diplomatic households as servants could be limited to just six or 12 months, while visas for domestic workers in private households could be scrapped altogether.

‘A small number of exceptional migrants will be able to stay permanently but for the majority, coming here to work will not lead automatically to settlement in the UK,’ Green confirmed.

The number of people granted settlement in the UK reached an all time high in the 12 months to last September, up 35% from the previous year to 238,950, the highest level since records began in 1960.