Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

Migrants face tighter work rules

Jacqui Smith talks to the BBC's Andrew Marr

Immigrants should not be able to take a skilled job in the UK unless it has been advertised to British workers, the home secretary has said.

The government had to make sure policy on overseas workers was "responding to the current economic circumstances", Jacqui Smith told the BBC.

She has also ordered an investigation into the impact of the arrival of families of immigrant workers.

The number of non-UK-born workers in Britain reached 3.8 million last year.

Workers from non-EU countries are categorised by a points-based system that decides whether they can find work in the UK, while there are no restrictions on EU citizens.

Ms Smith told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "Given the current economic situation, it is right for us now to look at that points-based system and to make sure that it is responding to the current economic circumstances.

Master's degree

"I'm proposing, for example, that it shouldn't be possible for somebody to come into this country to take a skilled job unless that job has been advertised to a British worker through Jobcentre Plus."

From April, non-EU workers wanting to come to Britain without securing a job beforehand must have a master's degree - rather than a bachelor's degree, as currently - and a previous salary equivalent to at least 20,000.

What is needed is an explicit annual limit on the number of people coming here
Conservative MP Damian Green
"I am actually raising the bar," Ms Smith said.

But Conservative home affairs spokesman Damian Green accused Ms Smith of tinkering at the edges of the problem.

"Jacqui Smith is clearly worried that people feel nervous about the levels of immigration we have seen under this government," he said.

"She's right to be nervous but what she's doing isn't anything like enough to meet the challenge. What is needed is an explicit annual limit on the number of people coming here.

"That that would give people confidence in the system, we'd get the right numbers of people here as well as the right talents that we need in this country."

The Home Office estimates its move will mean 12,000 fewer immigrants each year.

'Skills action'

The home secretary added: "I am proposing that we should more clearly link those areas where there are shortages of skills in this country with actually trying to grow the skills within British workers.

"So we'll be putting skills reviews, skills action alongside everywhere where we identify a shortage."

The employment of foreign labour has been a high-profile issue recently after a week-long dispute at the French-owned Lindsey oil refinery in eastern England, which was settled when operators Total agreed to hire more local employees.

Ms Smith also said she had asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look at the issue of non-EU migrant workers' families entering the UK.

"There are all sorts of questions that we might want to ask here: their access to the labour market; the extent to which they, as well as the people that they are coming with, need to demonstrate the contribution that they are going to make to the UK economy," she said.

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