Tony Blair told the House of Commons that there are increasing employment opportunities in the UK IT industry, despite the problems many skilled professionals face in finding work.
"Unemployment has fallen dramatically over the past few years and there are increasing employment opportunities for people in IT and other sectors as well," Blair said during this week's Prime Ministers' questions in the House of Commons.
The prime minister was responding to Conservative MP Andrew Selous who had expressed his concern that 21,000 IT work permits are granted each year, while 56,000 British IT professionals are out of work.
Blair said that increased activity in the economy was partly behind the growing number of work permits being issued.
"Those who get work permits are specifically audited for their ability to get work in this country - people want them to work for them - and I do not think that it is right to set those people against those who are looking for work," he said.
The Professional Contractors' Group, which represents the interests of freelance IT professionals in the UK, expressed surprise at the prime minister's remarks.
Newly elected PCG chairman Simon Griffiths said, "It is alarming if the prime minister is unaware of the fact that so many highly skilled IT freelancers are currently without work and we believe the long-term consequences of this will blunt the UK's competitive edge."
The PCG has been at the forefront of a campaign to get IT taken off the Work Permits UK skills sector shortage list and has previously raised the issue with Home Office minister Beverley Hughes.
Following the prime minister's comments, the PCG is asking all UK contractors that are out of work to e-mail them, with the responses being forwarded to No 10.
Details can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.