Home Secretary Sajid Javid has indicated the government has abandoned its pledge to reduce annual net migration to below 100,000.
The promise was a key part of Theresa May’s 2017 general election manifesto.
But speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, Javid said the immigration white paper published on Wednesday would not include a “specific target” for reducing numbers coming into the UK.
The home secretary repeatedly refused to repeat the 100,000 immigration target – frequently championed by the prime minister.
“There is no specific target. It will be a system that will bring net migration down to more sustainable levels,” he said.
“In the last two decades it has been in the hundreds of thousands. If you go back further than that it was much lower.”
Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, questioned whether that meant the target had been ditched.
“Is it still a government objective/target/ambition or not?” she said on Twitter.
Javid also said the government would be consulting further before deciding the minimum salary requirement for high skilled workers applying to come to the UK.
Reports emerged late on Tuesday that the UK will demand skilled migrants earn a considerable £30,000-a-year before they are granted a five-year visa.
Such a high minimum salary requirement risks seeing huge swathes of people denied entry to the UK and is likely to enrage businesses who rely on foreign talent to operate.
Labour has accused ministers of “crude anti-migrant rhetoric to try to cover up for their abject failure of managing the economy and the Brexit negotiations”.
The full immigration white paper will be put before the House of Commons later today.
It was initially due to be published more than a year ago, but it was held back while the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) carried out a detailed analysis.
The MAC’s report, published in September, concluded that the new system should make it easier for higher-skilled workers to come to the country.
Estimated net long-term international migration to the UK – the difference between the numbers arriving and leaving for at least 12 months – was 273,000 in the year to June.