Cap on skilled non-EU migrants 'will leave holes in public sector'

Record numbers of foreigners were allowed to settle in Britain last year, swelling the country's permanent population by more than 200,000.

Net migration also increased, mainly because the number of Britons moving abroad has fallen while immigration levels have stayed broadly constant over the last three years. Ministers said the continuing pressure on borders underlined the need to impose stricter limits on non-European Union citizens applying to live and work in this country.

However, a survey found that many employers, including hospital managers, are struggling to fill vacancies because of tough new visa restrictions. Figures released yesterday showed that 237,890 people were granted settlement in 2010, a rise of 22 per cent on the previous year and the highest figure since records began in 1960.

Most initially came to Britain either to work or to join relatives already in this country, while just over 5,000 were former asylum seekers. The figures, published by the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics, also disclosed that net migration to Britain stood at 226,000 in the year to June 2010, with 572,000 people entering the country and 346,000 leaving.

The statistics show that numbers of asylum seekers are dropping sharply, with 17,790 claims for refuge last year, a fall of 22 per cent on 2009 and less than a quarter of the peak of 84,130 reached in 2002. But officials are struggling to clear the backlog of rejected asylum-seekers; last year the number leaving the country, voluntarily or forcibly, dropped to 57,085, the lowest total for five years.

Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, said: "These statistics reinforce why we are radically reforming the immigration system to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. We will continue to... ensure that those who come and make a positive contribution to our society are welcomed, those who have no right to be here are refused and those who break our rules are removed."

From April the number of skilled non-EU workers allowed to take jobs in Britain will be capped at 21,700. But a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the accountancy group KPMG found that demand was growing from skilled migrant workers despite Britain's lengthening dole queues.

One in six employers, including more than a third of those working for the NHS, said they had been prevented from recruiting abroad because of the new limits. They said they were particularly struggling to fill vacancies in engineering, accountancy, IT and nursing from within the British and EU workforces.

Gerwyn Davies, the CIPD's public policy adviser, said: "Keeping out skilled non-EU workers won't help unemployed people in the UK, but could have negative consequences for business and the public sector."

Student influx

Our campuses are becoming as cosmopolitan as our towns and cities, according to a report showing the number of international students at UK universities is increasing at almost four times the rate of domestic students (11.7 per cent against 3 per cent last year). The Higher Education Statistics Agency data also showed UK universities becoming more reliant on income from international students.

Richard Garner