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Number of non-EU IT professionals coming to UK reaches record high, data reveals

The number of non-EU IT professionals coming to the UK to fill skills shortages rose to a record high in 2016. This is according to data obtained by SJD Accountancy.

The official Home Office data shows that 36,015 non-EU IT professionals entered the UK in 2016, up from 23,960 in 2012. This is the fifth consecutive year that the number of work permits issued to non-EU IT professionals has risen and represents the highest level since the global financial crisis. 35,430 non-EU IT professionals were issued with work permits in 2008.

The numbers refer to work permits issued to non-EU IT professionals filling a diverse range of roles. The most in-demand roles include IT business analysts, architects and systems designers, web design and development specialists.

SJD Accountancy says that the number of work permits issued to IT professionals is a statistically important metric of demand for tech skills across the board, as well as for specific areas of shortage.

Derek Kelly, chief executive officer of SJD Accountancy, commented, “Despite Brexit uncertainty, the number of work permits issued to non-EU IT professionals rose for the fifth consecutive year in 2016 to reach a record high.

“The rate of increase slowed in 2016, which is possibly due to sponsors taking stock of the Brexit vote. Bringing in a non-EU worker entails a higher level of commitment and is something hirers are more likely to do when there is more certainty over future demand. Brexit uncertainty is likely to have persuaded some work permit sponsors to hold off and look to contractors to plug skills gaps.

“Despite attempts to rectify the UK’s historic underproduction of IT skills, we are more reliant on foreign talent than we were before the recession. These numbers show that the expansion of the UK tech sector is at risk if we are unable to keep up with demand for IT skills. Skill shortages can delay projects and push up costs for businesses.”

According to SJD Accountancy, with Brexit likely to severely restrict access to tech talent from EU countries, the UK will become more reliant on non-EU IT professionals unless it can drastically increase the number of computer science graduates and ICT apprenticeships.

SJD Accountancy points out that the number of people obtaining undergraduate and postgraduate computer science degrees has fallen by 14.2% since 2011/12, from 24,765 to 21,250 in 2015/16. The number of people starting ICT apprenticeships has started to rise again over the last few years, but is still 13.5% below the level in 2011/12 (there were 16,020 ICT apprenticeship starts in 2015/16 compared to 18,520 in 2011/12).

Kelly said, “Demand for IT skills has strengthened since the end of the financial crisis and is forecast to grow strongly in the years ahead. At the same time, the number of IT qualifications obtained at degree level or in the workplace is failing to grow at the same pace. We are becoming increasingly dependent on overseas talent to bridge the skills gap, which may not be sustainable in the years ahead as we leave the EU.

“The likelihood is that freedom of movement between the EU and the UK will be curtailed, which could exacerbate skills shortages in the tech sector. The Government is under political pressure to reduce net migration, and is exploring ways to financially penalise employers who bring in non-EU talent, so we need to do more to nurture homegrown skills.”

“Organisations which utilise IT skills are often highly mobile and an appropriately skilled workforce is usually a major factor in determining where they base themselves. Unless the UK can increase the number of people obtaining IT qualifications, these organisations will face tough choices about where in the world they operate from.”

According to a recent survey of IT contractors by SJD Accountancy, the proportion of IT contractors earning £500 per day or more has risen from 39.1% to 42.1% during the past 12 months as competition for skills drives up pay. Demand for IT contractors with cyber security skills is particularly strong, with growing numbers of organisations struggling to recruit and retain cyber security professionals with the right blend of technical and management skills.

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