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How will ICT cap for non EU workers affect IT?

Conservative plans to cap the number of non-EU overseas workers entering the UK have survived the coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats, and businesses might soon have to change their cost-cutting strategies as a result.

The Tories 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 move could mean thousands fewer overseas IT professionals will be able to work in the UK.

Limit needed

Responding to questions put to him by Computer Weekly in February, then shadow immigration minister Damian Green, said: "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."

"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."

The limit was not defined, however, and the Tories plan one that can be moved up or down to an appropriate level.

Indian influence

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.

One IT worker believes the problem only exists because companies get away with paying overseas workers less. This is against the current rules, and businesses are using the intra company transfer (ICT) rule to overcome this to bring workers to their UK operations.

Fair wages

One campaigner against abuses of ICTs doesn't think caps are a good idea. "It is more important that guest workers on tier 2 visas are paid fairly in the UK, and at least the average a UK worker would be paid if their skills are in demand."

He says the Liberal Democrat work permit surcharge idea, which would go to training UK workers, is interesting. He also thinks Liberal plans to introduce regional policies would make it more difficult to bring in workers into over-populated areas.

A senior IT professional at a large UK company, who is from overseas, said the UK could lose high-level IT skills as a result of the Tory policy.

"Cameron will now go ahead with his plans to put a cap on immigration, but I'm not intimidated. There are many immigrants in my department and even though we are paid less money, we bring a significant contribution. Speaking for myself, I am a lot more skilled and produce a lot more compared to colleagues of about the same age."

Mark Lewis, partner and head of outsourcing at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, says there needs to be a limit on the numbers of migrant workers, but warns that the cap should not be set too low.

"I see no reason to have a totally open-ended number of IT visas granted every year. Limiting the number at a sensible level for UK businesses is fine.

"But the government would be crazy to restrict the inflow of highly skilled migrants," he warned.


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