Employers will find it no harder to get the IT skills they need when new immigration rules come into force in November, despite IT skills not being included on a new list of "shortage skills", say immigration lawyers and industry bodies.
"IT skills are not on the current list either," points out James Dunlop, an immigration lawyer and partner with immigration services consultancy Workpermit.com, "so the same people who qualified before will still qualify."
Philip Virgo, a strategic advisor to the Institute for Management of Information Systems, argues that any "shortages" being experienced by employers are the result of their failure to cross-train existing staff or candidates who meet the EU residency requirements, not over-restrictive immigration laws.
"There are a lot of British people who are unable to get jobs in the industry because companies have being unwilling to cross-train them to do tasks they are perfectly capable of doing," he says. "Instead, they have sought to hire new, cheap recruits from overseas, many of whom have turned out not to have the skills claimed, let alone the practical experience."
Dunlop says the main impact of the new points-based rules system will be to tighten up on procedures, with companies wishing to bring in non-EU workers having to apply for a licence in advance. "There will be a lot more checking up on companies initially, there will be periodic audits checking that staff are doing the job they were brought in for, and if they leave the company, the employer will have to notify the immigration authorities speedily. Most large companies are already doing this smaller companies may have to beef up their reporting to meet the deadlines."
Under the new rules, skilled workers coming to the UK from outside the European Union must achieve a minimum points threshold before they are allowed to work in the UK. Workers with skills on the list are allocated more points than those not on the list for criteria relating to the candidate's skills and the job being offered.
However, says Peter Skyte, a national officer with union Unite, "If a company is unable to fulfil a vacancy and can genuinely demonstrate that they have advertised and cannot attract an EU national, they can still bring people in from overseas provided they meet the overall criteria for the relevant number of points."
In fact, any offer for a job paying over £24,000 will provide a candidate with sufficient points. Candidates must also demonstrate competency in English and that they have enough money to support themselves in the first month.
Intra-company transfers, which Skyte says account for around 60% of IT staff entering the UK from outside the EEA, are also not significantly affected by the rule change.
Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCo), which was involved in helping draw up the list for the Home Office's Borders Agency, said that "a large number of those in-house transfers are from software companies who set up here and bring over cheap labour, and it will still be very easy for them to bring over those people without advertising the skillset in the UK first."