Britain on Monday temporarily capped the number of skilled non-EU immigrants allowed to enter the country, ahead of a permanent limit to be introduced next April after gauging the needs of the wider economy.
Interior minister Theresa May said the temporary curb and eventual cap were among a series of measures being implemented to control net immigration, which she said had been way too high under the previous Labour government.
May told reporters that skilled migrants benefited Britain, but that uncontrolled immigration "was not a good thing" as it often brought pressures to bear on public services.
"What we have as an aim is indeed to bring immigration down from the hundreds of thousands that it became under Labour to the tens of thousands that it used to be. There are various ways in which we can do that," she told BBC Radio.
The temporary cap, which will take effect next month, will limit the number of non-EU migrants to just over 24,000 before April 2011, which would be a cut of 5 per cent on last year.
She said the interim limit was necessary to ensure "we don't get a rush of people trying to come through into the UK" before the permanent cap was announced in the autumn, after a three-month consultation with business and the public sector.
May said the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which took power after the May election, was targeting non-EU immigration because it represented by far the largest share of economic migrants.
She conceded the government's hands were tied when it came to restricting immigrants from within the European Union, other than by what are known as transitional rules which are applied when new countries join the economic bloc.
May said the last set of Home Office (interior ministry) figures showed migration from the EU was about 33 per cent of the total and that the vast majority was non-EU and non-British.
"Lots of figures fly around about this and it's important to get that on the table first of all," she told reporters.
May said net migration had been negative through the 1970s and early 1980s, had been broadly in balance through the remainder of the 1980s and 1990s, but had grown significantly since Labour took power in 1997.
Home Office figures show net immigration peaked at 245,000 in 2004. The figure has fallen in the last couple of years, as the recession has taken its toll and an Australian-style, points-based system introduced during Labour's last years in power kicked in.
Net migration to the UK was 142,000 in the year to September 2009, down from 160,000 in the previous 12-month period.