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Immigration cap 'a threat to economic recovery'

Business leaders and professional groups representing sectors from doctors to IT consultants warned yesterday that a cap on the numbers of skilled immigrants will damage the economic recovery and lock Britain into a cycle of slow growth for the sake of a political "gimmick".

The Government imposed a temporary limit on the level of skilled migrants entering the UK from outside the European Union to allow a 12-week consultation on a permanent cap designed to meet the Conservative Party's election pledge to reduce net immigration annually to "tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands". But critics said the interim measure, which comes into force next month, was part of a wider problem that threatened to constrict British employers' recruitment of staff.

The British Chambers of Commerce said failure to strike the right balance in setting the limit risked "damage to the economy and future economic growth" while the British Medical Association said it might restrict the ability of NHS trusts to recruit sufficient doctors. Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the cap was a pointless "gimmick".