LONDON, (Reuters) – Britain said yesterday it was tightening curbs on foreign workers from outside the European Union to increase the chances of British jobseekers at a time of rising unemployment.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was increasing the educational and financial requirements for the most skilled workers, such as scientists and lawyers, to cut around 12,000 overseas applicants during the coming year.
From April applicants will need a post-graduate, rather than just graduate, qualification and command a salary of at least 20,000 pounds ($28,400), up from 17,000 pounds.
Employers seeking permission to hire overseas staff in professions such as maths teaching which have been deemed a shortage area will first have to advertise the posts to British applicants for two weeks in government-run recruitment centres.
“These measures are not about narrow protectionism,” said Smith. “A flexible immigration system, rather than an arbitrary cap, is better for British business and the British economy.
Unemployment in Britain is at its highest for a decade with jobless numbers nearing 2 million as recession-hit firms axe staff.
The tighter job market has put a renewed focus on the use of overseas workers. British construction workers protested this month over the hiring of foreign contractors at a number of power projects across the country.
The immigration changes will be managed under a points system introduced last year to manage the number of foreign workers from outside the European Union.
The Home Office says it issued around 106,000 work permits to skilled foreign workers last year. Britain has already closed entry to non-skilled workers.
The opposition Conservative party, which wants a limit on immigration, said the measures would have little effect.
“Jacqui Smith is just tinkering around the edges of the immigration system,” said Conservative spokesman Damian Green.