The Tories are preparing to support moves by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to issue US-style "green cards" to more immigrants.
The Government is considering relaxing the rules for living in Britain both for highly skilled applicants and for those with skills the country lacks.
In an interview with The Independent today, Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, says: "I have been terribly careful not to oppose further economic migration where we're talking about people who can make a contribution."
He says it is "terribly important" to realise limits are needed on immigration into a "small and crowded island". But he adds: "The contribution that those who come seeking work and who are entrepreneurial enough to travel can make to the economy and for subsequent generations of society, can be very large. We shouldn't cut off our noses to spite our faces."
His comments, striking a markedly different tone from Tory comments on immigration under William Hague, will be seen as fresh evidence of the party's desire to extend its appeal beyond its core support.
Mr Letwin is also critical of the Home Secretary's use of "very tough rhetoric" in his controversial comments last week about the children of asylum-seekers "swamping" some schools. "My analysis is you're better off taking a softer tone in order to keep the level of debate on these very sensitive issues carefully controlled and rational without inflaming tempers, so that you can talk about the vital practical problems, not shy away from them, and then get on with really effective action to solve the underlying problems," he says.Reuse content