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Despite recession

Despite recession three times as many foreign IT workers entering UK than during dot com boom

 35,430 non-EU IT workers granted work permits in 2008
 No obligation to recruit unemployed UK IT workers first

Nearly three times as many foreign (non-EU) IT workers entered the UK last year than during the dot com boom despite the economic downturn leading to thousands of UK IT workers being laid off, according to data obtained by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) under the Freedom of Information Act.

35,430 UK work permits were issued to foreign IT workers in 2008, compared to 12,726 in 2000 at the peak of the dot com boon when the UK was gripped by a massive IT skills shortage.

The data, obtained by APSCo under the Freedom of Information Act from the Home Office, shows that the number of foreign IT workers coming to the UK in 2008 fell by 8% from its high point of 38,450 in 2007.

APSCo says that the figures show that the severity of the economic downturn and the tougher new immigration system introduced in 2008 has barely dented the influx of non-EU foreign IT workers coming to the UK.

The vast majority of IT workers coming to the UK are classed as intra-company transfers, whereby companies relocate IT staff between offices in different countries.

Ann Swain, Chief Executive of APSCo, comments: It seems crazy that with the economy in a severe downturn and thousands of IT workers having already lost their jobs we are still bringing three times as many foreign IT workers to the UK than during the dot com boom when we had a chronic skills shortage.

The economic slowdown and supposedly tougher new points based immigration system seem to have had very little effect on slowing the influx of foreign IT staff into the UK. A few years ago this may have been overlooked, but with IT jobs much scarcer, this is now a contentious issue.

Over 80% of non-EU IT workers coming to the UK are on intra-company transfers. There is currently no requirement for companies to advertise vacancies in the UK before bringing workers in on intra-company transfers. In view of the significant increase in unemployment in the IT sector in the UK the Government should review this rule and consider making companies tap the UK labour market first.

She adds: Most of these foreign IT workers are software engineers and systems analysts. They are not coming here to answer phones on help desks, but are taking highly skilled and well paid jobs.

According to APSCo, offshoring IT jobs to low cost overseas locations, which is likely to accelerate during the downturn as organisations look to cut IT budgets, is eroding the IT skills base in the UK. This is making it easier for organizations to justify importing IT skills from abroad.

Ann Swain says: Offshoring has eaten away at the bottom rungs of the skills ladder, making it much harder to get the experience needed for the mid-level jobs which foreign companies are bringing workers into the UK to fill.

If anything we are going to see more entry-level IT jobs sent offshore in 2009 as recession bites. Is it any wonder that 7% fewer students leave British universities with IT qualifications than five years ago when so many jobs are going offshore?

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