Record rise in overseas IT workers

Increase in numbers of foreign IT staff obtaining work visas highlights skills gap, report says

As many as 22,000 foreign IT workers were issued with work permits for the UK last year, of whom 85 percent were from India, according to a report by the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCO), which extracted the figures from the Home Office.

Ann Swain, chief executive of ATSCO, said the UK is not only outsourcing low level IT jobs to India but is also receiving high level expertise from the region. "The transfer of jobs between the UK and India is now very much two way traffic.

"The irony is that while low-skilled IT jobs continue to be shipped to India, highly skilled Indian IT professionals are coming to the UK to take up managerial roles," she said.

According to Swain, the UK's dependence on foreign IT skills is likely to increase if the number of IT graduates choosing technology careers continues to fall.

"Demand for IT staff is rising but the number of technology graduates entering the sector is critically low. In future the UK may become a less attractive destination for foreign IT professionals and more dependent on the domestic market for the skills we need," Swain believes.

But a UK IT services company took issue with conclusion. "Access to skills is an attraction, however this does not signal any long-term IT skills gap in the UK," said Mahesh Desai, outsourcing strategy director at LogicaCMG. "Rather it is a natural consequence of a globalised and maturing marketplace and one which will ultimately allow UK companies such as ourselves, and the UK as a whole, to become more competitive."

PayScale, which claims to be the largest database of employee salary information in the world, said a seasoned software programmer in India is currently paid $11,423 (£6,649) a year, roughly one fifth of a UK equivalent.

However, according to ATSCO, a survey by the Association of Chambers of Commerce of India has found that wage inflation in Indian IT services is currently running at 36 percent per annum, and that India's pool of IT professionals may run dry by 2007.

The Home Office work permit data lists the most popular types of Indian IT professionals coming to the UK as software engineers and systems analysts.

ATSCO said software engineers and systems analysts are currently two of the most sought after roles in IT, both of which require a high standard in mathematics.

Swain said these are the qualifications currently lacking in the UK but are more easily available in India. "The kinds of IT people coming from India are highly proficient in mathematics. While Indian mathematicians and computer scientists can earn a lot of money in IT here, for their UK counterparts other careers can be more highly paid," she added.

A shortage of students studying IT seems to lie at the heart of the problem, according to ATSCO, and until this is resolved the problem will perpetuate, Swain said. "Getting more students to study IT is crucial if we are to reduce our dependence on foreign skills, particularly now that those skills, like our own, are in increasingly short supply. Fail in this and UK plc will suffer," she warned.