Byline: James Slack Home Affairs Editor
IMMIGRANT workers will be forced to have private healthcare, it emerged yesterday.
The surprise measure is designed to prevent them placing further strain on the Health Service.
It was included in yesterday's announcement that - for the first time - there will be a cap on the number of non-EU workers allowed into the UK.
Firms employing a migrant worker from outside the EU will have to pay for health cover for the duration of their contract - at a cost of hundreds of pounds.
It means that migrants will not be competing with local people for NHS appointments and surgery.
Ministers are concerned that immigration is placing enormous strain on the Health Service, as well as on schools and housing. Last year, for example, research published by the think-tank Migrationwatch showed that in 2007-08 alone, more than 600,000 migrants registered with a GP.
Under the new proposals, non-EU migrants would still receive accident and emergency treatment on the NHS but would have to pay through private insurance for other services, including GP visits and most operations.
Those who already have work permits will be exempt, but when the permit runs out and they have to re-apply, they will be expected to take out medical cover.
However, the system cannot be imposed on either asylum seekers, or on migrants from within the EU because of existing reciprocal arrangements between member countries.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the 'social' consequences of migration would be considered when the level of the cap on numbers is decided.
She added: 'We all recognise some of the social issues about pressure on public services, pressure on schools and hospitals and also pressure on housing.'
The figure will be decided later this year, with the help of the Migration Advisory Com-mittee. In the meantime, an interim cap is being imposed to prevent a rush of visa applications by those trying to beat the crackdown.
The total number of permits issued will be five per cent lower than last year, which means 1,300 fewer arrivals.
The interim cap does not include the transfer of workers into the UK by multinational companies - a tactic which allowed 30,000 to relocate here last year. …