Migrant cap 'will support business', says David Cameron

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David Cameron
Image caption,
Mr Cameron said it was possible to reduce net migration to the "tens of thousands"

David Cameron has said the immigration cap, due to come into force next year, will be "business friendly".

Businesses have been lobbying the government to exempt transfers within companies from the cap on workers from outside the European Economic Area.

A temporary cap is in place but an announcement is expected next week on permanent measures from next April.

The PM told Sky News: "We will try and exempt many of the inter-company transfers from the immigration system."

The annual cap on non-EU immigration was a key Conservative manifesto commitment - although it was opposed by their Lib Dem coalition partners before the election. But businesses have complained it will leave them at a competitive disadvantage.

Net migration - the difference between the number of people coming to live in the UK and the number emigrating - stood at 196,000 last year.

The government has promised to at least halve this by 2015, partly by capping the number of skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area.

'Control it properly'

Mr Cameron told Sky that the government had partly been elected to get "proper control" of immigration - and he believed it was "perfectly possible" to reduce the number of get net immigration "down in to the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands".

"That is our aim, that it what the policies will deliver and we'll do it in a business-friendly way," he said.

"The last government's system, it had uncontrolled immigration, and 200,000 people net coming in each year, it wasn't actually delivering what business needed."

He also confirmed a hint he first made at prime minister's questions a few weeks ago, telling the programme: "I'm quite convinced you can tackle immigration and control it properly at the same time as making sure business can move people around the world.

"So for instance, inter-company transfers - a company like PriceWaterhouse or someone wanting to move people between different countries - we will try and exempt many of the inter-company transfers from the immigration system."

The majority of skilled workers entering the UK from outside the European Economic Area come in on intra-company transfers. In 2009, they accounted for 22,000 out of a total of 36,490 skilled migrants.

Under present rules, workers on intra-company transfers can stay for up to five years.

The CBI has urged ministers to exempt intra-company transfers from the cap, arguing that the they "enhance the UK's attractiveness as a global location for investment and jobs" and Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has been lobbying for a more flexible cap.

The Home Office introduced a limit for work visas for non-EU citizens in June. As a key part of the Conservative election manifesto, this temporary cap of 24,100 will be replaced by permanent measures from April 2011.

However, the Commons Home Affairs Committee has said this would affect only 1% to 20% of the total number of immigrants and would "make little difference to immigration overall" unless it was set at virtually zero.

But Mr Cameron told Sky: "If you stand back and sort of look at the big picture, actually the immigration between Britain and the rest of the EU is pretty much in balance, it's between Britain and the rest of the world where it's got badly out of balance, where we have this large level of net migration in to the UK.

"That is partly economic migration it's also about huge numbers of people coming over to settle in the UK; it's also about a lot of people, some of whom are abusing the student regime."

When Mr Cameron first made the suggestion intra-company transfers could be exempted, the then shadow immigration minister Phil Woolas said the immigration cap policy was "unravelling before our eyes, with coalition ministers at war behind the scenes".

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