Interim cap on non-EU migrant workers coming to UK

Image caption, The plan aims to prevent a last-minute rush of applications

A temporary limit on the number of migrant workers from outside the EU allowed into the UK is to be introduced ahead of a planned permanent cap.

Home Secretary Theresa May will limit the number of workers to 24,100 - down around 5% - between now and April 2011.

The Conservatives' election pledge to curb immigration survived the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats.

Labour said that the introduction of an arbitary immigration cap "is fraught with difficulty".

The temporary cap is aimed at preventing a rush of applications before a permanent cap is set next April.

Ms May will announce the move on Monday, as she launches a consultation process for deciding the level of the permanent cap.

According to the BBC's Mark Easton, the latest official immigration figures available are for 2008 and suggest 258,000 EU and returning British citizens - about 48% - came to the UK out of a total of 538,000 immigrants.

Julia Onslow-Cole, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, told the BBC that every overseas national brought by firms into the UK cost them three times as much as hiring a resident worker.

"They are not spending this money for nothing, they really need that expertise.

"Particularly in these economic times, I think it's very important that we allow businesses a free choice to bring in overseas nationals," she said.

The Bangladesh Caterers' Association - which represents 12,000 Asian restaurants across the UK - says a cap on immigration will have a serious effect on their ability to recruit skilled chefs from outside the EU to work in the UK.

A spokeswoman for the sector said it contributed £30bn to the UK economy and the planned temporary limit would hinder economic recovery and growth.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents the UK's £27bn private recruitment industry, also said it was concerned the cap would lead to greater skills shortages and would affect the delivery of social care in some areas.

'Tough but fair'

A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said the organisation would wait until an announcement by the home secretary on Monday before making any comment.

A spokesman for the Labour Party said they would wait until Monday to make a full response, but added: "It seems that senior Tories are also doubtful about the proposals.

"The tough Australian-style points system introduced by Labour has already had a big impact on bringing down migrant numbers and closed the door to unskilled workers from outside the EU.

"We remain committed to an approach that will help our economy and which is tough but fair."

During the election campaign David Cameron said he wanted to reduce net annual migration - the number of immigrants minus the number emigrating from the UK - from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. The figure currently stands at 163,000.

The Liberal Democrats opposed a cap during the election campaign in May but signed up to the Tory idea as part of the coalition deal.

However they won agreement to end the detention of children in immigration centres.

Alp Mehmet, of MigrationWatchUK, said the introduction of a temporary limit was "a welcome sign that the government is starting as it means to continue".

He said: "We need carefully to consider how net immigration will be brought down to tens of thousands - we believe about 40,000 is a realistic target - rather than the hundreds of thousands of the last 10 years, and is therefore good news for all our people, including immigrants and future immigrants.

"Immigration at the levels of the past decade is in no-one's interest."

Language skills

Tory MP Peter Bottomley, a member of the cross-party campaign group, Balanced Migration, said the cap was needed.

"Clearly you need to have people you need. If for example, you have Canadian graduates with teaching diplomas, those are the sorts of people we need.

"For many others, we actually have 8% unemployment. It's not the employment thing that matters most to most people, the biggest thing is the effect on environment and on planning."

Tim Finch from the Institute of Public Policy Research, said the measures were just a stopgap and would have a detrimental affect on the higher education sector.

He added: "Do we really want to have restrictions on foreign students at a time when the higher education sector is facing funding cuts and is going to rely on the fees that those students bring in?"

The new government has also axed the national identity card scheme. It was brought in by Labour to tackle fraud, illegal immigration and identity theft but was often criticised for being too expensive and an infringement of civil liberties.

Ministers are also bringing forward to the autumn measures requiring many immigrants marrying UK citizens to prove they have a command of English.

The plans, which Labour had planned to introduce in July 2011, will apply to partners coming to the UK from areas outside the EU, such as South Asia.

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