“We want overseas students,” Cable said to the parliamentary magazine The House.

“They are good for us; they are not bad for us. They bring in lots of money. We want to have lots of visitors from all over the world coming here without hassle, an easy flexible visa system … we have lots of highly specialised people – in engineers, top managers who we need in our companies – and they’ve got to be able to come and go freely otherwise we are not going to be able to compete internationally.”

The statement comes just hours before party leader Nick Clegg is due to call for tougher measures on visa abuse.

Click here to sign the TNT petition demanding improvements to the shambolic UK Border Agency

In his address, the deputy prime minister will formally announce the coalition’s plan to issue cash bonds to discourage people from overstaying on their visas and to double fines for employers who intentionally hire illegal workers.

In his other statements to the magazine Cable said, “It isn’t government policy, it is Conservative policy. And it’s also not true, because that policy purely relates to non-EU people.

“We have obviously no control over the European Union, and that is actually where much of the movement comes. And a lot of the public anxiety which is experienced in by-elections and elsewhere has actually been about people from eastern Europe”.

The Lib Dem business secretary has been the most outspoken and high-profile critic of the policy. He went on to further ridicule it by saying: “When you think about the logic of it, net immigration means reducing the number of people coming in or increasing the number of British people emigrating. Is that the policy objective? I don’t know.”

Passages from Clegg’s speech that were released Thursday night reveal that he wants Britain to remain “open and tolerant”, but that he believes the immigration system is abused because it is not effectively enforced.

“The coalition’s priority continues to be growth and building a stronger economy”, he says. “I’m clear that well-managed immingration is a key part of that”.

Prime minister David Cameron will make a keynote speech on immigration on Monday, which is expected to focus more on restricting immigrant access to public services.

It comes as TNT Magazine launches its campaign demanding improvements to the UKBA visa services.

To read more and sign the petition, click here.

Image via Getty