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- Conservative government to charge companies £2,000 a year for non-EU skilled migrant workers.
- May publishes her manifesto plans to slash immigration to the tens of thousands a year.
- Businesses and senior figures in the government have urged her to drop the pledge.
- May will rule out removing foreign students from immigration numbers.
LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to charge companies £2,000 a year for every skilled non-EU migrant they employ as she sets out plans to slash immigration to the tens of thousands a year.
May introduced the Immigration Skills Charge last month and it is currently set at £1,000 a year. Under the policy, companies are forced to pay a yearly charge for every non-EU migrant they employ, with the fees going towards training British nationals.
The doubling of the charge is laid out in the Conservative party manifesto, published on Thursday morning.
"Skilled immigration should not be a way for government or business to avoid their obligations to improve the skills of the British workforce," it reads.
"So we will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK."
The manifesto also promises to reduce net migration to the UK to the tens of thousands a year.
"Uncontrolled immigration has an impact on public services and on the lower end of the income scale in suppressing wages and job," May said during a press conference following the manifeto launch.
It is not clear how the prime minister plans to meet this pledge, originally made by former prime minister David Cameron when the Conservatives were in opposition. Net migration in the year to September 2016 was 273,000. It has not fallen below 100,000 a year for twenty years and continues to exceed that number even among non-EU migrants.
May has been under pressure from business leaders and senior figures in her own government to drop the pledge. In a scathing editorial published on Wednesday, former Conservative chancellor and the current editor of the Evening Standard, George Osborne, called the pledge "politically rash and economically illiterate."
"She knows better than almost anyone that net migration — the number of people arriving, minus the number leaving — is not in the gift of government, subject as it is to the vagaries of the world economy," Osborne wrote.
"Moreover, this target has a perverse incentive, in that the more people you persuade to emigrate from the UK, the more likely you are to hit it.
"So you would assume that Mrs May would jump at the chance to bury the pledge. That’s what her Cabinet assumed; none of its senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief. "
Senior figures in the government, including foreign secretary Boris Johnson, have privately urged May to strip the number of foreign students coming to the UK from immigration numbers in order to make it easier to meet the pledge, while protecting what is a highly lucrative industry in the UK.
"It's a great compliment to this country that, as Theresa and I have found virtually everywhere you go, the number one question people ask is 'How can I make sure my kids are going to be able to come to the UK and come to university here?'" Johnson told ITV last year.
"Let me give you one statistic – of all the kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers in the world today, one in seven were educated in Britain.
"And there's no reason now – when you look at the talent coming to our universities – to think that that ratio will go down."
However, May today ruled out removing students from the target.
"Overseas students will remain in the immigration statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration," the manifesto states.
The prime minister published her full manifesto at an event in Halifax, North West England.
Gove in a twist
Former Conservative Justice Secretary Michael Gove today defended May's proposed doubling of the charge for companies employing non-EU workers despite not knowing what the current charge is.
Gove, who is tipped for a return to May's Cabinet after the general election told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "I think that at the moment the current figure is going to be doubled. I'm just looking at my notes here. I don't have the exact figure of what it costs at the moment."
Pushed again on what the current charge is, Gove replied: "I think it's £2,000 a year... yes I think that's right." He then falsely insisted that it would double to £4,000 a year. The current charge is just £1,000.
Gove also falsely identified net current immigration levels as being over 200,000 a year.
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