Seven firms claim half of all IT work permits

Almost half of the 30,000 foreign IT workers who last year entered the UK on intra company transfers came from just seven companies headquartered in India.

Figures from the Home Office show that of the 29, 240 non-European IT workers who came to the UK in 2008, 43% of them were sponsored by firms on the sub-continent.

The three lead users of the ICT scheme were Tata, Infosys and Wipro, who placed 13%, 9% and 7%, respectively, of the 12,573 IT staff that the Indian firms imported.

The remaining four outfits, who between them sponsored 15% of the total, were Cognizant, Tech Mahindra, Satyam and HCL, show the figures obtained by APSCo.

Released under freedom of information rules, the figures show that most Indian ICTs were for entry or mid-level IT roles, for which the UK has no shortage of skills for.

In fact, there are no IT occupations on the UK's shortage occupation list, indicating that the Indian firms could recruit all of their roles in the UK if they were forced to.

APSCo also pointed out that each of the seven firms were capable of doing so, having grown rapidly from the offshoring of thousands of IT jobs from Britain to India.

More recently, the firms set up subsidiaries in the UK to tap its outsourcing market, and staffed them with Indian workers, who are cheaper to employ than British or EU workers.

"These figures show just how easy it is for foreign companies to bypass the UK labour market," said Ann Swain, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies' chief executive.

"The majority of companies relocating non-EU IT workers to the UK aren't British companies looking to plug skills shortages, but foreign companies with their headquarters abroad moving staff to UK subsidiaries.

"Foreign companies are supposed to pay workers brought in on intra-company transfers UK market rates, but you have to wonder whether there is some economic benefit to transferring Indian workers from a low wage economy to the UK? If there is no cost-saving, then why do they do it?"

Under the intra company transfer regime, firms should bring across workers to the UK from their overseas headquarters when they need company-specific knowledge or senior skills.

"But these figures show that they [ICTs] are being used to fill entry to mid-level roles in which the [IT] skills used are largely standardised," said Ms Swain.

"There is no requirement for companies to tap the UK labour market before transferring workers from overseas. This is a major loophole which the government has failed to close, despite intra-company transfers accounting for about 80% of all work permits issued in the IT sector."

The IT recruitment body has repeatedly called for tougher checks to prevent ICTs from being exploited, but said the necessary steps have still not been taken, in spite of the government's recent tightening of the rules.

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