LONDON–Britain is to cap the number of skilled workers entering the country from outside the European Union at 43,000 a year, down 13 percent from 2009, but at the higher end of recent proposals, the BBC reported on Tuesday. Additionally, staff transferred by companies from another country would be exempt from the cap if they earned more than 40,000 pounds (US$64,060) a year, the broadcaster said. The BBC gave no source for its report, and officials were not immediately available for comment. The question of a cap on immigration has been a divisive issue for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and raised concerns among the business community. Prime Minister David Cameron said on Sunday that immigration to Britain was “unacceptably high” and had to be brought down. He has promised to reduce overall inflows into Britain from 196,000 last year to “tens of thousands” by 2015, the end of the current parliament. However, businesses have warned that plans to drastically cut the number of skilled workers could harm British competitiveness.
Some Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner, are uneasy with the proposals. Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat, has tried to reassure firms that the new measures will be flexible. Last week, the Migration Advisory Committee, charged with setting limits for skilled migrants, said the number of non-EU skilled visas should be cut by up to a quarter to between 37,400 and 43,700, down from 50,000 granted in 2009. Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May is due to officially announce details of the cap later on Tuesday. Curbing the number of skilled workers will only partly allow the government to reach its overall immigration target, and more cuts will need to be made on students from outside the EU and relatives joining their families in Britain. The government has no control over immigration from European Union countries, under EU rules which allow citizens of member countries to live and work anywhere in the bloc.