The number of immigrants allowed into Britain each year would be slashed under radical plans unveiled by the Conservatives
An annual quota would be used to limit the number of people who enter the country from outside the European Union.
And the social impact immigrants are having on communities would be taken into account by the Government for the first time, in a fundamental overhaul of policy.
The announcement trumps John Reid's offer last month to consider social costs as way of controlling an immigration free-for-all.
For nearly a decade Labour has made little attempt to control numbers, claiming immigrants are needed to keep the economy afloat. As a result the UK's population has risen by 1.5m since 1997.
A policy Green Paper published by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis sets out an ambitious plan for reducing "substantially" the estimated 250,000 people a year who come to Britain looking for work and benefits.
Applicants would be vetted according to their ability to contribute to the economy, with potential scroungers barred from entry
An annual assessment of the ability of the country's schools, hospitals and housing stock to absorb new arrivals would allow the Government to limit further the number who get in.
And a new, separate border police force would be given additional powers to track down illegal immigrants and deport them.
The announcement will delight grassroots activists who complain David Cameron is not doing enough to give voters an idea of what Tory policies will look like.
The Tory leader has agreed to keep a central element of policy championed at the last general election, amid growing public unease about the impact migrants are having on society.
It also goes further than the Home Secretary's admission last month that "it isn't fair or sensible" to ignore the impact immigration has on schools, hospitals and housing.
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