The government has announced it is to limit the number of skilled non-EU workers who can come to the UK - but has confirmed that staff entering the country through intra-company transfers (ICTs) are to be excluded from the cap.
The government is aiming to reduce net migration to the UK from hundreds of thousands per year to tens of thousands by imposing an annual limit on immigrants from outside the EU. The cap is set to come in to force from April 2011.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May said: "We have worked closely with businesses while designing this system, and listened to their feedback, but we have also made clear that as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country."
The Home Secretary said the annual limit on migrants coming to the UK under the skilled and highly skilled routes will be set at 21,700. Of those, 20,700 will be under the skilled route and 1,000 under a new "exceptional talent" route. The cap represents a reduction of about 23 per cent on last year's figures, when 28,000 non-EU migrants came to the UK to work not on an ICT.
"These changes are crucial if we are to limit the numbers coming here to work, while still attracting the brightest and the best to the UK," May said.
The cap, a Conservative manifesto policy, survived the coalition agreement in May despite Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg describing such a policy as unworkable before the General Election, citing the government's inability to put limits on the number of EU workers coming to the UK. In 2009 net immigration to the UK was 196,000, according to government consultative body the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
Last week a government-commissioned report by the MAC said it will be difficult for the administration to cap migration unless it imposes restrictions on ICTs, which account for a significant proportion of net migration.
In its Limits on Migration report , the MAC notes that ICTs were the single largest route for highly skilled and skilled migrants - also known as Tier 1 and Tier 2 migrants respectively - to enter the UK workforce last year, making up 22,000 of the 50,000 visas issued.
Most non-EU IT staff join the UK workforce using ICTs - close to 10,000 such workers entered the UK last year through the transfers, according to the committee.
Almost half, 48 per cent, of ICTs issued between July 2009 and Jun 2010 were for IT or software professionals, according to the MAC, while non-EU Tier 2 techies...