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Coalition government crackdown on migration

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 26 June 2010

A temporary cap on the number of migrant workers allowed into the UK from outside the EU will be set from next month, ahead of a permanent limit, as Mayor of London Boris Johnson's spokesperson tells Channel 4 News the cap could be "very detrimental".

Home Secretary Theresa May is set to announce the move on Monday, when she will also launch a consultation process to determine the level of a more permanent cap, set to be introduced in April.

The temporary limit - only 24,100 workers from outside Europe will be allowed into the UK before April - is designed to stop an influx of migrant workers into the UK before the longer-term restrictions come in. Highly-skilled migrants will also have to meet tighter conditions.

However there are concerns that the plans will hit the UK's economy, preventing talented people coming in from overseas to work for the UK's best companies.

A spokesperson for Mayor of London Boris Johnson told Channel 4 News: "We share the concerns of the business community that a crude cap could be very detrimental to the free movement of the talented, creative and enterprising people who have enabled London to be such a dominant global force.

"We urge the government to proceed cautiously here and look again at how immigrants who've been here a long time, pay their own way and keep out of trouble could be enabled to work legitimately and pay taxes."

The plans were part of the Conservative election campaign, but were opposed by the Liberal Democrats. However, the Liberal Democrats agreed to the move as part of the coalition agreement.

In the run-up to the election, now Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to keep immigration in the 'tens of thousands' rather than 'hundreds of thousands'. In the most recent data, net immigration - the number of people coming to the UK to work and study, minus those leaving - was 142,000 in the year to September 2009.

This continued a pattern of decline. 2008's figures saw net immigration of 160,000. The numbers of economic migrants - which the cap will hit - has also declined recently for a number of reasons, such as the recession and the points system implemented by the last government, by 15% in the first three months of 2010 compared to 2009. 

UK Immigration in Numbers – from the Office for National Statistics latest quarterly report, based on International Passenger Survey numbers, released in May:

Net immigration declined to 142,000 in the year to September 2009, down on 160,000 for the corresponding period in 2008

- The numbers of economic migrants coming to the UK, under the points system, was down almost 15% in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same quarter in 2009 

- Long term immigration in the UK declined in the year to September 2009 by 9%, from 550,000 to 503,000

- Long term immigration of citizens from the central and Eastern European countries which joined the European Union in 2004 also declined in the same period, down by 55%, from 100,000 to 45,000

- 616,000 National Insurance numbers were allocated to non-UK nationals in the year to September 2009, a decline of 14%

- The number of applications for asylum was 48% lower in the first quarter of 2010, at 4,355, than the first quarter of 2009, at 8,380.

- Comparing the 12 months ending 31 March 2010 with the previous 12 months, the number of people granted settlement in the UK rose by 40%, from 152,020 to 214,345. Employment related grants increased by 45% to 90,595, asylum related grants were up by 1% to 2,720, family formation grants up 19% to 73,605 and other grants were up 81% to 47,425.


It is understood that some senior ministers, including Education Secretary Michael Gove and Universities Minister David Willetts, voiced their concerns over the policy in discussions this week.

Other organisations and business leaders have also spoken of their worries.

Tim Finch, head of migration, equalities and citizenship at the Institute for Public Policy Research, told Channel 4 News: "The longer term question really is: is it logical to have a cap on immigration?

"Then you have got to come up with a number, and the danger is that number will be artificially low, and that could damage the economy."

PricewaterhouseCoopers partner and UK head of global immigration Julia Onslow-Cole told Channel 4 News Online:

Large corporations in the UK generally don’t take international hires lightly. There are many stringent provisions in current law to stop you undercutting the resident workforce in terms of salary - it can be very expensive to bring overseas workers in.

If this cap is applied across the board, to investment banks and large corporates – meaning they cannot get the best global talent – that potentially could hurt the UK economy.

The cap could work if it is done in the right way, however. The government is very sensitive to this subject and aware that it could be harmful, so it will try and make it into something workable. It is a good sign that there is a long consultation period when they will discuss it with the CBI and employers. But they have to be very careful.

In areas where caps work they have to be quite flexible – such as in Australia and New Zealand. But any caps on intra company transfers – where someone working overseas for a company couldn’t come and bring their experience to the UK – could potentially be very damaging.

Caps are obviously very difficult because they are only regulating a small part of the immigration flow – and only managing the managed immigration part, but I think that they have got to do it in a flexible way or it could really hurt the economy.”

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