Brown promises stricter limits on migrants

Prime minister will seek to address rising public concern

Gordon Brown will announce plans to tighten immigration rules today and will accept that it is an issue "at the heart of our politics".

In his first major speech on the subject since becoming prime minister, Brown will promise that migrant workers will only be used to fill jobs temporarily in those sectors where there are labour shortages.

The speech will be seen as a tacit acknowledgment that Labour's failure to address the issue has allowed fringe parties such as the British National Party to gain ground.

Brown will announce that hospital consultants, aircraft engineers, civil engineers and ship's officers will be removed from a list of in-demand skills which Britain needs to recruit from abroad due to domestic labour shortages.

In words that may unsettle the left of his party, Brown will say: "I have never agreed with the lazy elitism that dismisses immigration as an issue, or portrays anyone who has concerns about immigration as a racist.

"Immigration is not an issue for fringe parties nor a taboo subject - it is a question at the heart of our politics, a question about what it means to be British; about the values we hold dear and the responsibilities we expect of those coming into our country; about how we secure the skills we need to compete in the global economy; about how we preserve and strengthen our communities."

He will also announce a stricter version of the "labour market test" that allows employers to recruit migrant workers if no suitably qualified domestic workers can fill the post. Employers are currently required to advertise a job for two weeks before a migrant can be recruited but this will be raised to a month.

In an attempt to distinguish Labour's policy on migration from the Conservatives, Brown will reject Tory calls for an annual cap on migrants, arguing that the policy would be unworkable and would breach European Union law.