UK work permits issued to foreign IT staff rose 14% in 2007 on the previous year with Indian applications making up approximately 83% of all approved permits, according to the Home Office.
The figures have prompted fears from experts that foreign IT workers are taking mid-level roles in the UK over skilled UK IT professionals.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Border and Immigration Agency showed the total number of foreign (non-EU) approved work permits for UK-based IT roles rose from 33,756 in 2006 to 38,450 in 2007.
Indian IT workers filled roles including analyst programmers, software engineers and system analysts numbered 31,765 (83%) of all approved applications in 2007 and 26,835 (79%) in 2006. Applications from the USA were the next largest where 1,555 (4%) of all approved work permits were issued in 2007.
Under Home Office rules, companies recruiting staff from abroad must prove that there are no suitably qualified or experienced resident workers available in the UK first to get a permit. However. critics argue that this system is open to abuse using a process called intra-company transfers.
"Intra-company transfers are open to abuse: they are not thoroughly scrutinised and can be used to bring workers in from abroad to do work that is not company-specific, or even necessarily related to offshoring, at a lower cost than resident workers," said John Kell, policy officer at the Professional Contractors Group.
Using an intra-company transfer, a business can argue that a foreign IT worker has specialist company knowledge required for the role, which circumvents the need to advertise the role in the UK. Kell said PCG's main concern is that there is no consideration given to the impact of offshoring on the UK labour market or skills base.
"The IT skills shortage issue is nowhere near as acute as during the dot.com boom. Our concern is that the British IT workforce is being bypassed and that this is damaging the long-term competitiveness of the UK IT industry," said Ann Swain, chief executive of IT skills group ATSCo.