Alex Hilton: Immigration cap traps the Tories

The Government has finally announced its long-awaited immigration cap.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

Home Secretary Theresa May looks set to limit the number of skilled migrant workers entering the country to between 37,400 and 43,700 from the year 2011/12. But is this all a matter of smoke and mirrors designed to mollify the immigrant-obsessed media?

Last year, 50,000 visas were issued to skilled workers coming to the UK from outside Europe.

Yet, as usual, the devil is in the detail. About 22,000 of last year's visas were issued to people on 'intra-company transfers'. That is where an employer moves staff from another country to work in the UK.

The Government's proposal is to have no limit on these corporate staff transfers where the employee earns more than £40,000.

Setting aside the fairness aspect of barring people earning up to double the average wage, this proposal makes the assumption that the skills we need in this country are those that would necessarily attract this kind of salary. Furthermore, policing intra-company transfers for fraud will be nearly impossible.

A great many foreign workers send money back to their families abroad.

If some of that money circulates back to subsidise that worker's visible salary, there is no way the British Government would find out. The perversity is not just the scope for fraud. You could find a plumber legitimately entering the UK on a £40,000 salary under an intra-company transfer, while tutors of plumbing could fall foul of the cap, preventing them from teaching those skills to British youngsters.

If you throw into the mix the continuing free-for-all in European movement, this cap won't have any effect and might even lead to a increase in immigration.

The Conservatives are trapped between their love of free markets - which demand freedom of movement - and their hatred of foreigners.

Time will tell if their sleight of hand will have placated the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, and if impeding our economic growth will be the price paid.

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