Brushing aside objections from the industry and migrant groups, the British government on Monday went ahead and announced a temporary nine-month cap on immigration from non-European Union countries pending consultations on plans for a permanent annual limit scheduled to kick in next April.
The cap, to come into force on July 1, will hit immigrants mostly from India and other South Asian countries.
The HSMP Forum, which campaigns for the rights of highly-skilled migrants, described it as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the pressure from the anti-migrant lobby.
“There should not be any knee-jerk reaction just to show that the government is tough on immigration. The government needs to keep in mind the possible consequences which will be faced by employers due to such unfair measures,” said its executive director Amit Kapadia.
The move was also criticised by leading businesses who said that an artificial limit would make it difficult for them to recruit the necessary skilled workforce and damage the economy. Universities, which depend heavily on fee-paying foreign students for income, said it would have a debilitating effect on their already fragile financial health.
Labour Party dismissed it as a “pointless gimmick” saying it was “at best a gesture” to pressure groups and “at worst a deceit”.
Announcing the cap, Home Secretary Theresa May said the move was aimed at preventing a “rush of applications” ahead of the April deadline for a permanent cap. Immigration, she said, had been a “key issue” during the election campaign and the government was committed to delivering on its promise.
“Immigration into the U.K. has been good for us but uncontrolled immigration is not, so we need to bring in these controls,” she told the BBC.
Business Secretary Vince Cable assured businesses that the cap would be implemented in a “flexible way” taking into account their concerns.
The decision is a major departure from the existing system that puts no restrictions on numbers provided the immigrants meet the stringent criteria relating to skills, qualifications and earnings.