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UK hits skilled workers immigration cap

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The government's immigration cap for non-EU skilled workers has been hit for the first time, provoking concerns about the impact of skills shortages on the economy.

The limit on Tier 2 visas covering skilled migrants earning less than £155,000 a year was set at 21,700 a year in April 2011, in spite of warnings it could prove harmful to the British economic recovery.

The Home Office has confirmed that the monthly allowance of Tier 2 visas has been filled for June.

The reaching of this limit coincides with an announcement by David Cameron of a new drive in this area. He has proposed raising the qualifying salary thresholds, introducing a time limit on declared skill shortage areas and creating a skills levy on visas to boost funding for apprenticeships.

Mark Hilton, executive director of policy at London First, told the BBC: "Every skilled migrant we turn away as a result of this cap will hit jobs and growth.

"Of course business wants to hire locally but you can't just magic people up with highly specific skills, because they take years to develop."

Speaking to the BBC Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said: "The cap has been hit at a time when many companies are hiring recent graduates from both the UK and overseas.

"In the short term there is likely to be some disruption for businesses that have been counting on hiring specific candidates.

"More broadly, the cap is reshaping the skilled migration system as we know it in the UK, making it much more difficult for businesses and the public sector to hire lower-paid skilled workers, including nurses and younger people – who tend to earn less.”

Those refused visas include nurses, doctors, teachers, accountants, solicitors and management consultants.

Applicants have a greater chance of success if the company is trying to fill a post on a national list of shortage occupations. None of the visas declined this month under the cap relates to a job on that list, according to the BBC. 

Immigration minister James Brokenshire said there are no plans to change the current Tier 2 limit.

"Our reforms will ensure that businesses are able to attract the skilled migrants they need," he said. "But we also want them to get far better at recruiting and training UK workers first."