The government is to shake up the system for the issuing of work permits for overseas IT workers in a bid to solve the growing skills crisis.
The new system, first signalled in Gordon Brown's Budget last week, will allow companies to self-certify the overseas staff they take on. They will be able to issue "season tickets" to workers who may need to work here, leave, then return again. In addition, overseas workers with in-demand skills could enter the UK without a job, and be matched to employers who need their skills.
Companies seeking to employ people from overseas will no longer need to advertise to prove there is no suitable UK or EU for the job. The measures, to be piloted with multinational companies, are expected to reduce the time it takes employers to obtain work permits for overseas workers.
The plan is the Government's first move towards creating an environment where it can get easy access to skilled overseas talent ahead of other countries with similar skills shortages.
Germany, for example, recently increased quotas of skilled IT staff it would accept from the Indian sub-continent. It follows predictions that 1.7 million IT jobs will remain unfilled across Europe by 2003.
Computing Services and Software Association director general John Higgins welcomed the Government's initiative. However, his colleague, the organisation's membership executive director Tony Lewis, warned that a long-term reliance on overseas workers was not enough. He said home-grown talent had to be found too, and this had implications for schools and universities.
"There is still a problem that many companies believe they are training staff up only to see them leave," he said.
"Although EDS gained a lot of criticism when it suggested employees should have to pay back their training costs when they leave, there is something in that sort of idea. There is a growing feeling that some degree of loyalty is necessary."
Occupations to be covered by the new UK regulations, which are being developed in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Overseas Labour Service as well as the Department for Employment and Education, include:
- IT managers (especially project managers);
- Business analysts;
- Analyst programmers;
- Software engineers;
- Database specialists.