By Marcus Leach

The UK's coalition government has today formalised a cap on economic migration for non-EU migrants for 2011/12. Under the overhaul, employers in the UK will be limited to bringing in 20,700 from outside the EU to work in skilled professions under Tier 2 of the system.

The government today formalised a cap on economic migration for non-EU migrants for 2011/12.

A further 1,000 UK visas will be made available to people of “exceptional talent” and the Conservative-led government has ensured that anyone earning over £150,000 a year will not be subject to the limit.

The new restrictions follow years of debate and controversy. The cap was initially introduced as an interim measure last summer by Home Secretary Theresa May. However a legal challenge to it was upheld, with the High Court ruling that it was introduced “unlawfully”, and that ministers had “sidestepped” Parliamentary scrutiny.

Some experts have argued that immigration provides a net profit to the UK economy, and that the UK’s aging population cannot afford to discourage young, skilled immigrants from contributing to the country’s fragile economy. In addition to that, a study conducted last month by specialist recruiting firm Poolia suggested that the cap will be bad for UK business, increasing costs and leading to more gaps in the labour market. Poolia’s Managing Director Shaun Greenfield said: “The message from clients seems clear: many don’t feel the proposed cap on skilled migrants will have a great deal of impact [unemployment] and it could cause employers severe problems.”

Immigration Minsiter Damian Green has said: “We have made clear that as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country. We are overhauling all routes of entry to tackle abuses, make the system more effective and bring net migration back down to the tens of thousands."

Critics question the effectiveness of the cap, given the majority of the UK’s migrant intake comes from within the European Union, for whom the cap does not apply.