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Skilled immigration cap plan probed

Government plans to introduce a cap on the numbers of skilled workers coming to the UK from outside the EU is to come under scrutiny.

Professor David Metcalf, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), will give evidence to MPs amid concerns from business leaders that the Government got its policy wrong and caps on skilled labour could threaten the recovery and drive business abroad.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee, has said the cap should pass the scrutiny of parliament before it is brought into force because it risks placing "restrictions on friendly countries like India".

An immediate 5% reduction was imposed earlier this year to prevent a rush of applications while the independent MAC consults on where the limit should be set from April next year.

Business Secretary Vince Cable raised concerns about the proposed caps while on a visit to India this summer, admitting there was a "debate" in the Cabinet about the plans. The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary said he was pushing for a light-touch regime, saying he wanted to encourage trade and inward investment.

Some business leaders are worried that the cap might have an impact on Indian companies which heavily invested in the UK, as well as UK-based companies that rely on workers from the south Asian peninsula, particularly in services such as IT, food and hospitality.

The Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee will hear from Anwar Hasan, managing director of Tata, the UK's largest foreign investor which employs a total workforce of 47,000, and Som Mittal, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), the body representing India's IT industries. Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), will also give evidence after the organisation said it was concerned a cap could prevent local authorities from accessing skilled social workers from countries outside the EU.

Immigration Minister Damian Green admitted an annual limit on the 50,000 workers that arrive from outside the EU each year would not be enough to reduce net migration levels from last year's figure of 196,000 to "tens of thousands".

He said it would be "not just wrong, but self-defeating" to pull up the drawbridge, but added that skilled workers should not include people running take-away restaurants and production line workers.

"We cannot assume that everyone coming here to work has skills that the UK workforce cannot offer," he said in his first major speech since the coalition Government took office. We will not make Britain prosperous in the long term by telling our own workers, 'don't bother to learn new skills, we can bring them all in from overseas'."

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