The number of work permits allowing foreign IT workers to come to the UK has increased by a third in the last year, raising fears the scheme is being abused to import cheap labour.
Work Permits UK, the Home Office body responsible for visas, has revealed that 33,756 permits were issued to overseas IT workers in the last 12 months — up 32 percent on the 25,000 the previous year.
Most of the visas — 79 percent — were granted to Indian IT workers, and the number of techies coming to the UK from India increased by 47 percent to 26,835 in the past year.
The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco), which is concerned at the high level of intra-company transfers, where companies relocated their IT staff between offices in different countries.
Intra-company transfers accounted for three-quarters of all the work permits granted and Atsco claims some companies are using this to import cheap labour from overseas rather than use UK IT workers — a phenomenon dubbed "onshore offshoring".
Ann Swain, chief executive of Atsco, said in a statement: "This is being driven by cheap labour costs, not necessarily skills shortages within the UK. The Home Office should vet applications much more thoroughly but it needs additional resources."
Swain said the concern is that with the Home Office inundated with applications, some organisations are only "paying lip-service" to the legal requirement to thoroughly search for candidates within the UK.
She said: "The irony is that while low-skilled IT jobs are being shipped to India, highly skilled Indian IT professionals are coming to the UK to take up managerial roles."
Trade union Amicus also warned the IT work permit scheme is being abused to import cheap tech labour at the expense of resident UK IT professionals.
The figures obtained by Atsco also reveal the scale of the increase in IT work permits over the last decade, from just 1,827 in 1995.