Highly skilled immigrant lawyers should not have to hold a master’s degree to work for the UK’s top law firms, the government’s migration adviser recommended last week.

In its report on Tier 1 immigrants, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said that such immigrants should be allowed to work in the UK if they hold an appropriate bachelor’s degree or professional qualification. Under rules implemented in February by Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, immigrants must hold a master’s degree.

In addition, immigrants who previously earned a salary of more than £150,000 should not need to hold any academic qualifications, the MAC said.

The proposals follow lobbying of the MAC by City firms Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, CMS Cameron McKenna, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Kingsley Napley, Linklaters, Norton Rose, Slaughter and May, Speechly Bircham and Taylor Wessing, as well as other professional and business organisations. The Law Society made a formal submission to the consultation.

The Law Society argued that, since master’s degrees are not typical in the legal sector, the need for highly skilled immigrants to hold a master’s degree risked excluding many highly experienced lawyers who could potentially generate large revenues for UK firms.

Society president Robert Heslett said: ‘Any perception that the domestic legal market is becoming more closed to overseas lawyers and law firms might result in further restrictions on the ability of UK lawyers to do business abroad. There is little doubt that the current system needs to be less restrictive to ensure Britain remains the jurisdiction of choice.’

He added: ‘Recruitment of the very best talent from the global market underpins the success of leading international law firms that focus on developing talent to take advantage of opportunities in key emerging markets such as China and India.

‘This strategic imperative means that non-European economic area recruits, with foreign language skills and experience, are a vital component of a firm’s ability to remain competitive. The MAC proposals reflect the importance of allowing professionals with such skills to work for British law firms and in turn make a valuable contribution to our economy.’

The MAC report said that ‘any arbitrary restrictions [on immigration] could prove detrimental to ensuring that the UK is best placed to emerge ­successfully from recession.’