Migration Advisory Committee not doing UK IT workers any favours

IT recruitment expert criticises government pay thresholds for overseas IT workers in the UK

An IT recruitment expert has criticised government pay thresholds for overseas IT workers in the UK, claiming it groups vastly different jobs together and sets salaries too low, presuming an IT director in the UK can earn as little as £25,000.

The Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) latest recommendations on the salaries set for immigrant IT workers to obtain UK visas are flawed, meaningless and don’t do UK IT professionals any favours, according to George Molyneaux from Salary Services/jobadswatch.

Writing in response to the publication of MAC's recommendations, Molyneaux criticised some of the conclusions and warned that the time has come to stop companies bringing in low-cost IT staff from overseas if it is to protect the UK skills base.

The Migration Advisory Committee published the report on 17 October 2012, setting out the threshold salaries that must be paid to non-EEA migrant workers, and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) current codes of practice are being changed to reflect them.

Molyneaux’s statement reads: “In the view of Salary Services Ltd/jobadswatch, the changes being implemented do not reflect the structure and salary levels of personnel working in IT and effectively mean the criteria being applied to grant visas to non EEA-IT workers is flawed.”

He said changes including reducing the number of job titles currently listed and grouping together a wide range of job functions into newly defined job groups would result in a “meaningless set of salary figures being applied by UKBA”.

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Molyneaux said the MAC has made no allowance for differences in job function, region, business sector or skill sets. “To state that a programmer on a current pay threshold of £26,000 equates to a senior developer on a threshold of £37,400 seems odd. If they had broadly similar responsibilities, why such a large difference in pay?”

The MAC states that some recruiters said programmer, analyst programmer, software engineer and developer roles were similar, he said. “In that case, why do employers advertise all these roles under the different job titles? The answer is that the job functions are not the same.”

Damaging job prospects for UK IT workers

Perhaps Molyneaux’s strongest indictment of the report is of the reference to an entry-level IT director, which sets the pay threshold at £25,300: “What on earth does that mean? Does the MAC really believe there are IT directors at any level earning just £25,300?”

He went on to describe the damaging effect that the use of low-cost labour is having on the UK IT skills base, with UK IT job advertisements now 68.9% down on pre-2008 levels. 

“Despite this, there is no evidence that the number of non-EEA migrant workers has declined," said Molyneaux. "The rush for companies to outsource IT operations and development over the past 10 years has had a major impact on opportunities for IT workers in the UK. The fallout from the financial crisis seen during 2008 should mean there is a pool of experienced IT personnel available.”

The MAC changes will do no favours for home-grown IT professionals

George Molyneaux, Salary Services

But figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that Computer Science graduates are the largest group of unemployed graduates in the UK.

“These factors mean that non-EEA recruitment should be kept to a minimum,” said Molyneaux. “The overall impact of the MAC changes will certainly do no favours for home-grown IT professionals, whether experienced or newly qualified.”

He said that during the 25 years that Salary Services/jobadswatch has been producing reports on IT recruitment trends and salaries, it has constantly highlighted the dangers of outsourcing to foreign companies and the likely effect on UK-based IT employment. 

"What started as a trickle of outsourcing computer operations rapidly expanded to incorporate development,” said Molyneaux. “Since year 2000 the UK has become more and more reliant on foreign-based companies, all requiring their own imported staff to be based in the UK to support their operations. The time has come to start to curtail this.”

In a recent interview with Computer Weekly, John Harris, chair of The Corporate IT Forum and chief architect and head of IT strategy at pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said that years of outsourcing commodity IT skills meant young people were not being given a chance to come into the industry. 

Read George Molyneaux's statement in full

"Yes, it may be more economical to outsource to India, but such a job may be the type of work that gives an apprentice a real grounding [in IT],” he said.

A survey carried out by Computer Weekly’s Inside Outsourcing blog, which received more than 200 responses, found that 82% believed outsourcing had contributed to the UK IT skills gap, 16% said it had not, and 2% said they did not know.

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