Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Wednesday, 5 December 2007

UK bans non-EU unskilled workers

The government is concerned about impacts on social cohesion

Unskilled workers from non-EU countries will be banned from taking jobs in the UK for the "foreseeable future", the government has said.

Foreign nationals who want to marry a British person and come to the UK may also have to sit an English test.

The moves come as ministers unveil details of their new points-based system for migrants.

About 12,000 unskilled migrants from non-EU countries in Africa, America and Asia came to work in the UK last year.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith set out the proposals, which come into force in 100 days' time, in a speech at the London School of Economics.

She said that immigration policy should not just be about economics but should also take into account the wider impact on society.

She also stressed the importance of migrants learning English.

Ms Smith told BBC News the aim of the proposals was to "control those who come here, for the good of the country".

'Key contributors'

In moves aimed at strengthening "British values", Ms Smith wants a clampdown on forced marriages, English tests for spouses applying to enter the UK and tighter restrictions on convicted criminals gaining citizenship.

It comes ahead of the launch of an Australian-style points-based immigration system in the early part of next year.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne earlier set out how the five-tier system would work for highly skilled migrants, which he defined as those who are "key contributors" to the UK economy.

We are not running immigration policy in the exclusive interest of the British business community
Liam Byrne, immigration minister

They include people who work in "financial and public services, education and health, ICT and business".

With the exception of Romania and Bulgaria, there are no restrictions on people from EU countries coming to work in the UK.

But those from outside the EU will have to pass a number of tests designed to ensure they have value for the UK economy.

Economic contribution

People applying to come to the UK as a Highly Skilled Migrant will be awarded points based on their qualifications, age, previous salary or the amount of money they are planning to invest in the economy.

The new system will supersede the existing Highly Skilled Migrants programme, which also evaluates people on their likely economic contribution.

Under the new system, someone aged under 28 with a PhD, for example, who has previous annual earnings of at least 16,000 a year, will gain the 75 points necessary for entry.

University graduates who have not gone on to do a masters or PHD would need to prove previous earnings of at least 40,000 a year to gain entry.

Business community

Successful highly skilled applicants will also need to have passed a test in English, equivalent to GCSE Grade C or above.

They will not need a job offer and may be able to settle in Britain after two years.

The government's approach to this issue has been disfigured by a combination of tough-talking populism and utter administrative incompetence
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrats

They will also be able to bring wives, partners and children to the UK, who will be able to take jobs.

But if their dependants want to apply to be in the UK in their own right they will have to leave the country to make an application.

Details of the points system for skilled workers, students and temporary workers will be announced next year.

But Mr Byrne said plans to include unskilled workers in the system had been shelved "for the foreseeable future".

Mr Byrne denied the move would lead to labour shortages in the construction and other industries, saying: "We think Britain's needs for low-skilled workers can be fulfilled from within the EU."

But he said voters' concerns about immigration and its impact on communities had been taken into account, adding: "We are not running immigration policy in the exclusive interest of the British business community."

University graduates
Business people and investors
Financial services
IT workers
Education and health

Mr Byrne said a "greater sense of shared protections and shared values should be a necessary condition of citizenship".

He said it was important to "strike a balance" between economic needs and the wider impact of immigration on communities.

Marriage age

Mr Byrne said he doubted banning non-EU migrants would be "pain free" and stressed that it would be kept under review by an independent panel.

The number of unskilled migrants from outside the EU is already restricted, with only about 12,000 permitted to take jobs in the UK in the past year under existing sector-based and agricultural schemes.

That will be reduced to zero, with all migrant jobs in low skilled sectors expected to be filled by workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

According to official figures, 234,000 migrant workers moved to work in the UK from the EU in 2006, mainly from Eastern European countries such as Poland - of which about 40% are thought to be low skilled.

Asked if the new restrictions should not also apply to eastern Europeans, Mr Byrne said Britain was bound by EU laws on the free movement of labour.

'Tough talking'

Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green said the points-based system was "half a good idea" but there should be "an annual limit on how many people can come here".

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said the government should concentrate on "getting the basics right" on immigration.

"For the last 10 years the government's approach to this issue has been disfigured by a combination of tough-talking populism and utter administrative incompetence," said Mr Clegg.

Sir Andrew Green, of pressure group Migration Watch, said the points system had a fatal weakness.

"There's no upper limit. A huge majority of the public want to see an upper limit - the Home Office's own opinion survey that they published last week showed that a majority of the country want to see less than 10,000 immigrants a year.

"At the moment there are 300,000 - so the government is just not within sight of public opinion on this and this scheme is simply not going to produce the limitation that everyone wants to see."


The Home Office earlier published a consultation paper on making it a condition of entry that spouses who apply for visas to join husband or wife in the UK should have to pass a basic English test.

Around 47,000 spouses were admitted to the UK last year.

On forced marriage, there are proposals to raise the age at which a person can sponsor or be sponsored to come to the UK for marriage is raised from 18 to 21.

The rules on deporting convicted criminals will also be tightened-up so that no-one with an unspent conviction - in effect anyone who has been jailed for more than 30 months - will be given citizenship.


All categories except Investors require English

Category Specific criteria
General Qualifications
  Previous earnings
  UK experience
Entrepreneurs 200,000 held in regulated financial institution and disposable in UK
Investors 1m held in regulated financial institution and disposable in UK
Post-study work Eligible qualification
  Eligible UK institution
  Obtained while holding student leave or as dependant
  Apply within 12 months of qualifying

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