Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has scrapped controversial proposals for an immigrant "amnesty" as he unveiled a tough new stance on visa abuse.
The Liberal Democrat leader said plans to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the UK if they have been in the country for 10 years, which were seen as key to the party's manifesto in the run up to the 2010 general election, risked "undermining public confidence".
In his first speech on immigration as deputy prime minister, he said: "Despite the policy's aims, it was seen by many people as a reward for those who have broken the law."
He added: "That is why I am no longer convinced this specific policy should be retained in our manifesto for the next general election."
Taking a harder line on immigration, Mr Clegg unveiled plans for bail-like security bonds, which would be paid as a cash guarantee from visa applicants coming from high-risk countries.
Liberal Democrat plans for a so-called "earned route to citizenship" were rounded on by Conservatives and Labour in the run-up to the general election nearly three years ago.
The party's manifesto said: "We will allow people who have been in Britain without the correct papers for 10 years, but speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long-term to earn their citizenship. This route to citizenship will not apply to people arriving after 2010." The Liberal Democrats believed it would help illegal immigrants integrate into the legal economy and contribute by paying taxes.
Mr Clegg said that he felt it was an "honest and pragmatic solution given the chaos in the Home Office". He went on: "Better surely, we asked, to get them to pay their taxes and make a proper contribution to our society, than to continue to live in the shadows?"
But Sir Andrew Green, chairman of pressure group Migration Watch UK, said: "This speech ducks the main issue, which is the present massive level of immigration. Instead it focuses on illegal overstayers, which is a bit rich coming from the party that proposed at the last election that there should be an amnesty for them.
"Since then some of his colleagues have obstructed at every turn the Government's efforts to reduce immigration. As for the proposal for bonds, it is a non-starter. To be effective in discouraging people who intend to overstay, it would have to be set at a level that would discourage many people from coming in the first place."