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Britain will make it easier for wealthy individuals to immigrate, the home secretary has said, in a policy that aims to promote the UK as the destination of choice for rich foreigners seeking a new home.

Theresa May said on Tuesday that she would exempt “high-net-worth investors” and entrepreneurs from the government’s new cap on non-European migration, to be introduced in April. “I will not limit the number of these wealth creators who can come to Britain,” she said.

The plan has the backing of David Cameron, the prime minister, who wants Britain to catch up with countries such as Canada, which attracts about 3,000 migrants who qualify on the grounds of wealth, 10 times as many as the UK.

Ms May’s comments were made as she unveiled the UK’s first annual limit on migration, which caps at 21,700 the number of skilled workers from outside the European Union that business can import next year, 20 per cent fewer than in 2009.

Critics say the cap will damage the economy while making a minimal contribution to Mr Cameron’s promise of cutting net yearly migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.

In parliament, Ms May pointedly declined to reaffirm the government’s commitment to that target when pressed by opposition politicians. Allies of Nick Clegg, Mr Cameron’s deputy, said the Liberal Democrat leader was insisting the target remained an “aspiration”.

The new policy also cuts from 14,000 to 1,000 the number of highly skilled people who will be allowed to migrate to the UK without a job offer.

At the same time, the UK is clearing the way for wealthy foreigners to migrate, with the Home Office saying that they would only need to live here part of the year.

Kamal Rahman, a lawyer working with the Home Office, said people investing more than £5m in the UK would be promised residency within two or three years and full citizenship within five.

Ms Rahman, a partner at Mishcon de Reya, said such investors would need to live in the UK for only six months a year, down from nine at present, aligning Britain more closely with Canada and Australia, which have pursued wealthy migrants for years.

“This is a way to attract high-net-worth individuals in a time of austerity,” Ms Rahman said, adding that those looking to invest in areas such as academia, schools and healthcare could receive preferential treatment.

Opponents of the “tens of thousands” promise in the cabinet say it will cause problems if EU migration starts to rise again, leaving Ms May with little choice but to crack down harder on non-EU migrants,

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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