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UK puts cap on Indian skilled migrants

The new British government on Monday announced a controversial cap on migrants from outside the European Union region — a step that will hit Indian skilled workers the hardest. Dipankar De Sarkar reports.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2010 02:05 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

The new British government on Monday announced a controversial cap on migrants from outside the European Union region — a step that will hit Indian skilled workers the hardest.

But visiting Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said he has been assured Indian interests will not be harmed.

Sharma said he raised the issue in a meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday morning – just as Home Secretary Teresa May was announcing the cap that fulfils an election pledge.

The minister, who is leading an Indian business delegation, told Hague the cap must not be allowed to impede the movement of Indian professionals and business people, as many Indian businesses use Britain as a hub for Europe.

"We have been assured that this will be done in a manner so that the movement won't be affected," Sharma told HT in response to a query in a business and investment forum.

"We, as a government, are mindful of the fact that over 500 Indian business establishments have offices in Britain, and we are the second largest investors and employment providers in the UK, after the US."

The immigration cap is controversial because it is opposed by British businesses, who say a decline in the numbers of foreign skilled workers will affect economic growth as Britain struggles to recover from its longest and deepest recession in more than 50 years.

The immediate restrictions will mean that 24,100 workers from outside Europe can enter the country before April 2011 – a fall of 5 per cent on last year.

May said the measure is temporary and intended to prevent any "surge" in numbers in the run-up to the introduction of a permanent cap next April.

The cap — a first for Britain — follows more than a decade of a close economic partnership during boom years that saw a large number of Indian companies invest in Britain and tens of thousands of Indian skilled workers granted the right to live and work in the country.

Senior British business and political sources said May recognises the need to strike the correct balance between bringing down immigration to 1990s' levels — an election pledge — while ensuring that Britain did not slip back into recession.

"I'm quite certain that there is that acknowledgement in the government not to harm business and trade interests," a former British cabinet minister told HT.

According to some reports the Conservative-Liberal coalition government has decided not to touch intra-company transfers by multinational companies, which make up 45 per cent of the total non-EU immigration — a likely reason for Sharma's optimism.