Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that the number of UK visas issued to skilled migrant workers from outside the EU will be capped at 21,700 from next year - a reduction of one fifth from current levels.
In a Commons statement on 23 November 2010, Mrs May said there would be a new minimum salary of £40,000 for firms using intra-company transfers (ICTs) to bring their own people into the UK for more than a year to do specific jobs.
"Controlled migration has benefited the UK economically, socially and culturally, but when immigration gets out of control, it places great pressure on our society, economy and public services," she told MPs.
"Over Labour's time in office net migration totalled more than 2.2 million people - more than double the population of Birmingham.
"We cannot go on like this," she concluded, arguing that the new visa requirements would allow only the most "economically beneficial migrants" entry to the UK.
The number of visas issued to skilled non-EU migrants without job offers - known as tier 1 - would be cut by 13,000 to 1,000, and the corresponding number of visas issued to those with job offers - known as tier 2 - would increase by 7,000 to 20,700, Mrs May explained.
But shadow home secretary Ed Balls said that the government was "in wholesale confusion over this policy" and claimed it was a "con" because there was no limit on the number of ICTs.
"If the number of intra-company transfers goes up, will she put in place an offsetting cut in tier 1 and tier 2 work permits?" Mr Balls asked.
"If not, and I very much hope that she will not, will she confirm that her supposed cap is a con, a guess and a fig leaf - in fact, no cap at all?"
He also claimed: "The Confederation of British Industry, the chambers of commerce, universities, Nobel prize winners, and UK and foreign companies - large and small - have all highlighted the huge damage that the government's proposals would do to investment and jobs."