Home Secretary, Theresa May, spoke at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham earlier this week, using strong rhetoric concerning the continuing high levels of net migration to the UK. She indicated that the party remains committed to reducing net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands of migrants by the end of this Parliament, adding that uncontrolled, mass immigration can displace local workers and undercut wages.

In her speech, Mrs May remarked, "When we came to office, we found that official government assessments assumed that there was absolutely no displacement of British workers by immigrants....our independent advisers….found that every 100 non-European working age immigrants were associated with 23 fewer British-born people in work".

Mrs May stressed the efforts already made to limit work visas. Steps taken by the Coalition Government in this area include:

  • capping the number of skilled non-European workers coming to the UK under Tier 2 (General) of the points-based system to 20,700 places for 2012/2013 for workers earning less than £150,000/year.
  • restricting the entry of highly skilled non-European workers to investors, entrepreneurs and a small number of graduate entrepreneurs and persons of "exceptional talent."

The success of the Coalition Government in reducing net migration has been limited, with most changes being made to the points-based system which affects non-European nationals only.

One significant barrier for the Government has been the principle of free movement of people and services within the European Union. This is seen as one of the central pillars of the European Single Market, although recent press reports have suggested that Mrs May is examining the possibility of curbing this right with the support of other European member states such as the Netherlands. David Cameron has also voiced intentions to renegotiate the UK's relationship within the European Union, hinting at the possibility of a referendum on a "fresh settlement" with Europe. We await further developments.