The Home Office has announced a 21,700 annual cap on the number of skilled immigrants from outside the EU allowed into the UK, in a move that will disappoint those in the legal profession concerned that the limit will prevent them from employing the foreign lawyers needed to service clients.

The annual limit is part of a coalition government pledge to reduce annual immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. The government said the cap will allow Britain to remain competitive in the international jobs market, while ensuring that migrant labour does not prevent UK job seekers from finding work. The Law Society has lobbied against the cap, which it says will damage the legal sector.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the independent body that advises the Home Office on immigration, warned in a report published last week that a cap would cut income tax revenue and damage key public services, while failing to address ‘the real areas of public concern about migration’.

The MAC report had suggested an annual quota of 37,400- 43,700 for non-EU skilled migrants. However, this week the Home Office announced a lower limit comprising 20,700 under the ‘skilled’ route, and 1,000 under the former ‘highly skilled’ route, intended for new ‘entrepreneurs, investors and exceptionally talented’ applicants.

Employees entering through the intra-company transfer route, whereby companies can bring in existing staff from overseas, must now earn more than £40,000 if they wish to stay longer than a year. The maximum stay will be five years. Other changes include a requirement for skilled migrants to be educated to degree level.

The government said a consultation will be launched ‘before the end of the year’ focusing on the student route, which currently accounts for two-thirds of migrants entering the UK each year.