Fast-track visas: UK contractors hail 'victory'

A cheap labour loophole is closed as the government removes IT jobs from the list of sectors affected by the 'skills crisis'

UK IT contractors are celebrating the successful conclusion of a long battle to change the government's position over the controversial fast-track visa programme. The scheme was originally brought in by the Home Office to plug a perceived skills gap in the country by making it easy for overseas workers to fill specific kinds of post in the UK -- but its opponents have long claimed it actually only served to put UK contractors out of work. The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) yesterday hailed the government's decision to remove IT jobs from the list of sectors affected by the so-called 'skills crisis' -- a status which had previously enabled companies to apply for the fast-track visas to bring in foreign workers. The major concerns expressed by UK contractors related to abuses of the system. Some cited cases where UK workers had had their contracts terminated, only to be replaced by cheaper overseas staff performing the same task. One of the most high-profile instances of such a situation was British Airways, which was widely criticised last year after exposed the company's plans to replace UK contractors with Indian workers. The decision by the Home Office to remove IT jobs from the 'skills shortage' list means such abuse of the system will now be outlawed. A statement issued by contractors Web site NamesFacesPlaces said: "This is sensationally good news for contractors and all IT folk. This is a major success for the PCG." In order to secure its victory, the PCG had presented evidence to the Home Office which it claimed showed contractor positions were at such a premium that it was no longer realistic to say there was a skills shortage. Jane Akshar, chair of the PCG, said in a statement: "This demonstrates how we have been able to work with the government and the other members of the Skills Sector Panel to show clearly that these skills were not in short supply in the UK." In addition to the removal of IT jobs from the skills shortage list, all work permit applications being made by companies looking to import overseas workers must show they have unsuccessfully advertised the position extensively in trade journals and national newspapers within the UK. The next Home Office review of the IT job market will take place in three months time.

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