Amber Rudd, the home secretary, said UK businesses hire too many immigrants.
Rudd said the government would make it harder for companies to give jobs to immigrants before recruiting British people.
“This will include examining whether we should tighten the test companies have to take before recruiting from abroad,” Rudd said at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday.
“The test should ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do,” said Rudd.
“But it’s become a tick box exercise, allowing some firms to get away with not training local people. We won’t win in the world if we don’t do more to upskill our own workforce. This is why I want to reduce net migration while continuing to ensure we attract the brightest and the best,” Rudd said.
The speech shows growing support within the ruling Conservative Party for a so-called Hard Brexit, where the UK leaves the European Union without signing any special trade agreements with the remaining 27 member states of the European single market in return for tougher controls on immigrants.
Immigration was the most pressing concern for Brits heading into the June referendum on EU membership. A Lord Ashcroft poll published last month said 79% of Brits believed Brexit means the UK cannot continue the free movement of people.
Rudd said the UK will progress with immigration reforms before it formally leaves the European Union in 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to trigger Article 50 in 2017, starting the two-year negotiation period.
In her speech, Rudd also echoed rhetoric from US Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, who has campaigned with the slogan “America First.”
“But I also come here today with a warning to those that simply oppose any steps to reduce net migration: this Government will not waver in its commitment to put the interests of the British people first,” said Rudd. “Reducing net migration back down to sustainable levels will not be easy. But I am committed to delivering it on behalf of the British people.”