Press release

Government sets the first annual limit for non-European workers

New measures will strictly control the numbers that can come to the UK and work from outside Europe, the Home Secretary announced today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

As well as limiting the number of skilled non-EU workers businesses can bring into the country, the Home Office is tightening the intra-company transfer route which will sit outside the annual limit, and restricting Tier One of the Points Based System (PBS) to all but entrepreneurs, investors and people of exceptional talent.
The introduction of an annual limit was a coalition government pledge and will allow Britain to remain competitive in the international jobs market, while ensuring migrant labour is not used as a substitute for those already looking for work in the UK.

Annual limit

To control those coming here, the government has committed to:

  • introducing an annual limit of 21,700 for those coming into the UK under the skilled and highly skilled routes - 20,700 under the skilled route and 1,000 under the new ‘exceptional talent’ route
  • raising to £40,000 the minimum salary for those coming through the intra-company transfer route for more than 12 months
  • restricting the highly skilled tier of the PBS to all but entrepreneurs, investors and the exceptionally talented
  • requiring occupations in tier two to be at graduate level

The government was determined to make changes to tier one - the ‘highly skilled’ tier -  when it was revealed that approximately a third of those coming through this route were actually doing low skilled jobs once they were in the UK. Businesses have made it clear that their priority is to fill their specific vacancies through tier two. 

Home Secretary’s statement

Home Secretary Theresa May said: ‘Today’s announcement has set out a clear, rational approach to which workers we will allow into the UK job market. We have set out an approach which will not only get immigration down to sustainable levels but at the same time, protects those businesses and institutions which are vital to our economy.
‘We will take action on all routes into the UK and these changes are crucial if we are to limit the numbers coming here to work, while still attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. 
‘We have worked closely with businesses while designing this system, and listened to their feedback, but we have also made clear that as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country.’
The new rules will take affect from April 2011. Applicants under tier two will still be required to apply for a visa from the UK Border Agency through the PBS, will have to be of graduate level, be sponsored by an employer and will be awarded points based on scarcity of skills and salary.

However they will be competing against other applicants for a visa to enter the UK and in months when the limit is oversubscribed those with the most points will qualify for one of the certificates of sponsorship available each month. 

Separately, businesses can bring in their own employees through the intra-company transfer route but they must be earning more than £40,000 to stay more than 12 months, and their stay will be restricted to five years.

The coalition government has vowed to reduce net migration, to achieve this goal changes are being made across the immigration system - with the tightening of the economic routes just one part of a package of measures.

Consultation to launch

In line with that commitment, a consultation will be launched before the end of the year focusing on tier four of the PBS -  the student route -  which currently accounts for two thirds of migrants entering the UK each year. By introducing a system that is more selective and more robust, the Government is aiming to stamp out abuse while continuing to attract the top students to our top universities.

The consultation, which will run for eight weeks, will seek views on a range of measures to reduce the number of students that can come into the UK including:

  • for adult students, focussing Tier 4 on higher level courses and those offered by Highly Trusted Sponsors
  • introducing tougher entry criteria such as English language competence
  • ensuring students wishing to extend their studies show evidence of academic progression
  • limiting students’ entitlements to work and sponsor dependants
  • improving the accreditation process for education providers, alongside more rigorous inspections

Theresa May added: ‘I want to ensure that students and education providers are of a high quality.

‘People imagine students to be those who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home - that is not always the case. We estimate that nearly half of all students coming here from abroad are coming to study a course below degree level where levels of compliance with immigration requirements are not high enough.

‘While we will protect our world class universities, we want suitably qualified students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country. We must also have a more robust system to ensure that students leave the country at the end of their legitimate stay.’

Notes to editors

  1. The full details of the changes to applications under Tiers 1 and 2 of the points based system can be found on the UK Border Agency website.
  2. The Home Secretary’s oral statement can be found on this website.
    3. The most recent annual immigration statistics can be found at:

Updates to this page

Published 23 November 2010