The latest reforms in Britain's immigration system are designed to make it much harder for foreign workers to come to the United Kingdom.

It is important immediately to point out that "foreign" means people from outside the European Union. In practice, citizens of EU countries (except Romania and Bulgaria) have the same rights as British passport holders.

Nonetheless, these reforms do matter. Despite all the fuss about Polish plumbers, a majority of immigrants to the UK still come from beyond the EU.

Under the Government's plans, non-skilled workers will simply be barred from entry.

Skilled workers, as Mr Byrne announced yesterday, will need to jump through a number of hurdles to get in.

If they work in an occupation where there is a labour shortage, as defined by Ministers on the advice of an independent panel, they may be able to come to Britain and look for work.

However, they will first need to prove they can speak reasonable English, and gain a minimum number of points in an application system which awards marks based partly on their qualifications.

If they have any other occupation, it becomes more complicated. They will only be able to apply for a visa if they have secured the job already.

Furthermore, employers will need to advertise a position in the UK, in most cases for two weeks, before they are allowed to look abroad for labour.

The Government long ago realised that it's not good enough simply to say that immigration is always good because it benefits the economy.

Businesses naturally want to recruit staff as easily and economically as possible. A larger labour force is therefore a bonus.

However, high levels of immigration in a short period of time can lead to pressure on public services, social tensions and, in the short term, a tendency to push down wages. Ministers are attempting to strike the right balance between dealing with legitimate concerns about immigration and satisfying industry's need for staff.

The principles behind their policy are to be welcomed. Where there may be room for improvement is in the burden the proposals place on employers.

It seems that industry will be expected to pay the cost of ensuring it is employing people with a right to work in Britain - with potential fines of £10,000 if firms make mistakes. Businesses may also find themselves paying the cost of advertising posts overseas, as workers in most occupations will no longer be able to come to Britain to look for jobs.