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Tories pledge to cap IT worker immigration

Karl Flinders

The Conservatives would introduce a limit on the number of overseas IT workers allowed into the UK on intra-company transfers (ICTs) if they win the election.

The move could mean thousands fewer Indian IT professionals would be working in the UK.

"The one big gap in the points-based system is that there is no overall limit on how many permits can be issued in any one year," said shadow immigration minister Damian Green.

"This is why the public has a lack of confidence in the immigration system, which people regard as being out of control. This is why a Conservative government would introduce an annual limit, so that Britain can continue to attract those who will help our economy without putting too much pressure on our essential public services."

Seven Indian companies accounted for 43% of the IT workers entering the UK on ICTs last year, according to figures obtained by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (Apsco) The total number of IT workers coming in on ICTs was 29,240, with 12,573 working for the Indian firms.

"It seems extraordinary that when British workers can't find jobs we are bringing foreign workers from halfway round the world. This is another sign that Gordon Brown's 'British jobs for British workers' was a meaningless sound bite," said Green.

The Conservatives plan to keep the existing points-based system, which allows IT professionals into the UK, if they score highly enough on a range of measures. But the numbers will be capped.

The limit would take into consideration the effect of a rising population public services, transport infrastructure and local communities.

"The ability to move the limit up and down would be a visible sign that the immigration system is sensitive to the needs of British workers in a recession. This would enable us to react directly to fluctuations in the labour market," said a party spokesman.

One IT worker recently displaced as part of an offshoring agreement said: "It looks good, but the term 'migrants' is a worry. This suggests a long-term stay, when in fact the problem is due to ICTs on a short stay, perhaps a year or so. But it is better than Labour's approach by a mile."

Mark Lewis, of commercial law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said a quota might be the fairest way forward for offshore IT suppliers and UK business.

"Apparently there were about 30,000 ICT visas granted to Indians in 2008, from a total of about 35,000. It is suggested that most if not all were IT workers. Do we really need that many in the UK, or even close to that number? My point is that there is no reason to have an infinite number - or even such a high number - of ICTs issued."

Ann Swain, CEO at Apsco, said there was nothing wrong with the current system but it was being abused. "There seems to be no appetite to police it," she said.


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