The Government on Tuesday announced plans to sharply reduce the number of skilled migrants from India and other non-European Union countries who would be allowed to enter Britain from next April when a new cap on annual migration would kick in.

Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs that the total number of non-EU migrants would be capped at 21,700. She also launched a review of student and family visas with a view to further reducing migrant levels.

The cap would not apply to intra-company transfers following protests from multinational corporations, some of whom threatened to close their British plants if such transfers were included in the cap. But the exemption would apply only to those earning more than £40,000 a year.

In a statement in the Commons, Ms. May said that “all routes” to migration would be reviewed in order to meet the Government's target of reducing the migration level to “tens of thousands” from the existing “hundreds of thousands.” Scientists, academic and artists would be given visas under a new ``exceptional talent'' scheme.

Rules for professionals and other highly-skilled workers under Tier 1 and Tier 2 categories would be made more stringent to prevent “abuse” of the system. Only those who had firm job offers would be allowed.

Ms. May said the eligibility for student visas would also be reviewed, and only those signed up for degree courses would be allowed.

She said there had been “widespread abuse” of student visas and it had been found that many used the student-visa route to come here for jobs.

Dependents of families already settled in Britain would have to demonstrate a level of knowledge of English in order to qualify for family visas.

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