UK Politics

David Cameron unveils new non-EU migration crackdown

Heathrow arrivals

David Cameron has unveiled measures to "significantly reduce" the scale of UK migration from outside the EU.

During Prime Minister's Questions, he proposed new restrictions on work visas, and a higher salary threshold before people are allowed into the UK.

Home Secretary Theresa May has asked the government's Migration Advisory Committee to come up with firm proposals by the end of the year.

Non-EU migration was 290,000 in 2014, an increase of 42,000.

Total net migration - the difference between the numbers entering and leaving the country - reached 318,000, close to its 2005 peak.

The government is still aiming to get net migration below 100,000, and with free movement enshrined in EU law, Mr Cameron has more freedom to act in relation to people coming from outside Europe.

Mr Cameron told MPs: "In the past it has been frankly too easy for some businesses to bring in workers from overseas rather than to take the long term decision to train our workforce here at home."

He said the advisory committee would consider:

  • Restricting work visas to "genuine skill shortages and specialists"
  • Putting a time limit on how long a sector can claim to have a skills shortage
  • A new "skills levy" on businesses who recruit foreign workers, to be spent on UK apprenticeships
  • Increasing the salary threshold for a skilled worker's visa

Currently, someone applying for a tier-two visa, covering skilled workers, must normally have been offered a job earning at least £20,800 and to have at least £945 in savings.

'Red herring'

Sir David Metcalf, who chairs the Migration Advisory Committee, said migration levels could be reduced but warned of "unexpected side effects" on productivity and the economy.

Skilled migration levels from outside the EU have been rising recently, he said.

"It's always worth checking that you've got the system right - we never get it completely right but we may be able to do it better," he said.

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Media captionMr Cameron's comments came following a question from new Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns,

"Given that the democratically elected government is suggesting reducing the numbers of skilled workers coming in, it's right that we - as an evidence based committee - should have a proper look at this."

The proposals were questioned by Simon Walker, of the Institute of Directors, who said the "supposedly lower" cost of migrant labour was a "red herring". Just 4% of the institute's members who hire from abroad do so because of cost of labour, he said.

Mr Walker also said any increase in the cost of visas was "essentially a tax on employing people from abroad".

He added: "This seems particularly odd given how dependent the UK economy is on international skills and expertise.

'Best and brightest'

Manufacturing organisation EEF said the government was "penalising employers" and the proposals were likely to lead to "a far less business-friendly immigration policy".

CBI deputy director general Katja Hall said: "We understand the public's concerns around immigration, but limiting highly skilled workers from coming to the UK is not the answer.

"They bring their skills and ideas to this country, pay their taxes here and boost growth. We need to keep up-skilling our population, but at the same time as attracting the best and brightest global talent."

Labour said trust in David Cameron's ability to control immigration had been "eroded by broken promises".

"British businesses should be looking to employ people in the UK, so it's good that the government have finally listened to the calls we've made for years to use and promote British skills first," said shadow immigration minister David Hanson.

'Window dressing'

UKIP MP Douglas Carswell said that without action to address the free movement of labour within the European Union, all other measures to control immigration were "window dressing".

"What I am alarmed about is this government is going to give migration control a bad name," he told the BBC News Channel.

"If we are going to restrict the rights of GPs who have come here from India to make a difference and work for our NHS but at the same time allow people, potentially not just with no skills but maybe with criminal records from other EU countries an automatic right to come here, we are going to give the idea of migration control a bad name."

The House of Commons, he added, should hold a vote every year to decide how many work visas are issued.

And Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman said quotas should apply to European Union migrants as well as other foreign nationals.

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