Britain will impose a tough annual limit on the number of non-Europeans allowed to work in the U.K. and slash visas for overseas students as it seeks to dramatically reduce immigration, the government said Tuesday.
Home Secretary Theresa May told the House of Commons that the number of non-EU nationals permitted to work in the U.K. from April 2011 will be capped at about 22,000–a reduction of about one-fifth from 2009.
But thousands of people who are allowed to work in Britain on intracompany transfers aren’t included in those figures–or under the new quota. Critics said that means it’s unclear how Prime Minister David Cameron’s government will meet a pledge to cut net immigration, which also includes students and families of visa holders, to below 100,000 by 2015, from about 196,000 last year.
As a member of the European Union, Britain must allow citizens of most other member states freedom to live and work in the U.K.
Business leaders had urged Cameron’s government against stringent restrictions on non-European workers, arguing vital sectors would be left short of staff–particularly in health care and for energy infrastructure projects.
Indian officials also warned Cameron over restricting the rights of their citizens to study and work in the U.K. during his visit in July.
Labour Party legislator Ed Balls criticized the government for failing to set a limit on intracompany transfers. “Can she confirm her supposed cap is in fact a con, a guess, a fig leaf, no cap at all?” he asked May in the Commons.
May’s quota will have only a limited impact on Britain’s overall immigration rate–as work-related visas account only for about 20 percent of migration.
Families of those with rights to live and work in Britain claim about 20 percent of visas, while non-European students arriving to study in the U.K. account for 60 percent of immigration.