The number of work permits issued to overseas IT professionals has soared to an all-time high over the past 12 months, highlighting the growing dependence of UK IT departments on overseas labour.
The number of IT workers entering the UK in 2006 jumped by 45% from 22,000 to 32,251, more than double the number at the height of the dotcom boom, Home Office figures obtained by the Association of Technology Staffing companies revealed.
The trend has prompted claims from several UK bodies that employers are turning to lower cost overseas IT workers rather than investing in training and developing IT staff in the UK.
"Unless we take skills and ensuring jobs in the UK seriously, we are in danger of becoming an IT backwater," said Philip Virgo, strategic adviser at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems.
The number of IT work permits issued to Indian IT professionals rose by 40% from 18,248 to 25,600 during 2006, the figures revealed. Most were issued under the inter-company transfer scheme, which allows companies with offices in the UK and overseas to fly in IT staff from abroad to work on IT projects.
Jim Norton, senior policy adviser for e-business at the Institute of Directors, said, "If overseas professionals are simply being sucked in because we are not training enough of our own then their presence is desirable as a short-term fix to get the jobs done and stop costs going through the roof until we can resolve our own training issues.
"If we are fundamentally uncompetitive in our training and tax breaks and doing nothing to resolve them, then we have a really serious problem."
Elizabeth Sparrow, chair of the British Computer Society working party on offshoring, said the growth in outsourcing meant that UK IT professionals would need to develop business skills, rather than relying on purely technical skills.
The Home Office defended the work permit system, saying, "Skills shortages are not a consideration under the inter-company transfer scheme. Permits are issued subject to an employee having essential knowledge specific to that company."
Related article: Firms 'abuse work permits', says union
Comment on this article: firstname.lastname@example.org