The number of foreign IT workers entering the UK has increased by a factor of 10 over the past 10 years, driven by demand from large public sector projects. Figures from the Home Office show the number of visas issued for IT staff has increased from 1,827 to 20,000 since 2000.
Some 85% of the visas this year were granted to Indian IT workers. Software engineers and systems analysts head the list of Indian visa applications. US IT workers, the next highest category, received only 5% of the work permits.
The influx has raised concerns among recruitment consultants, who fear the supply of overseas IT staff is damaging demand for UK-based IT workers.
"Skills shortages continue to be a major pull factor in bringing foreign IT workers to the UK, but the concern is that some organisations may be taking advantage of the visa system to import cheap labour from abroad," said Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco).
According to Payscale, a database of employee salary information around the world, the average salary for a programmer in India is currently £6,675 a year - roughly one-fifth of what a seasoned UK programmer would earn.
The number of IT workers coming to the UK on intra-company transfers has risen in recent years, as more Indian firms open offices in the UK, Atsco said.
"My concern is what effect these intra-company transfers are having on job creation in the UK and whether multinational companies could do more to attract local talent," said Swain.
Atsco said the UK is a magnet for Indian IT professionals looking for more highly-paid, highly-skilled work than is available in India.
A decline in the number of graduates going in to IT in the UK is likely to increase the UK's dependence on foreign IT skills, it said.
However, a survey by the Association of Chambers of Commerce of India has found that wage inflation in Indian IT services is running at 36% a year. The survey also suggested that India's pool of IT workers could run dry by 2007.