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Fortress IT: foreign contractors swamp UK fears

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The government is planning to relax work permit restrictions, allowing agencies to apply for fast track visas for skilled workers from overseas. Currently, only employers can ask for permits for staff, which is a little anomalous in the day of short-term, temporary IT projects.

So, good news, one would have thought. Especially, when there is a structural IT skills shortage in the UK, which will manifest itself again as early as next year.

Err, no, British computer contractor groups in the are up in arms - times are tough right now - between 30 and 50 per cent of contractors are "between contracts"- the Professional Contractors' Group claims. So this is the wrong time to relax laws on work permits for overseas IT workers.

Worse, the system is open to abuse, or so the PCG argues.

Philip Ross, PCG Policy Advisor, says: "There are many things we want changed within the current work permits scheme, but this isn't one of them. We want the scheme to be tightened up to stop firms displacing UK contractors and dismantling projects and taking them offshore.

"... To now consider relaxing one part of the scheme while tightening up on another is contradictory. We have clearly demonstrated that the scheme is already being abused and misused – this proposal to extend it further will result in more abuses of the system. There is little point plugging one hole if you are going to open up a bigger one."

Are 30 or 50 per cent of contractors really not working right now? According to ContractorUK "tens of thousands of overseas IT specialists have been granted entry to the UK", under the fast track visa scheme. Where are they all?

As it happens, it's not particularly difficult for companies to obtain work permits for overseas visitors, as Reg Reader Satish S., currently living in Dunfermline, explains.

I was a wee bit disappointed about your recent Reg Recruitment: your feedback article, particularly the statement: "Unless you have a very rare skill, it is unlikely that UK companies will go through the rigmarole of sponsoring you through immigration."

I possess what are today virtually commodity server-side Java skills, which definitely didn't stop my company from picking me for my current position(not too long ago), and sponsoring a Work Permit to boot. I strongly believe it is how finely honed your skills are and your individual capability as a software developer that count even in today's tougher job market, rather than possession of some arcane skill.

And quite far from being a rigmarole, the process of sponsoring a Work Permit through the Immigration is actually is a very straightforward process, as anyone who has actually done it knows. There is this wide-spread feeling, especially amongst the recruitment agencies that the process is convoluted, and this is not true at all.

I would have expected the Vulture to have been better informed on this issues...

It's fast too, the UK processes work permits faster than any other country in Europe, according to the Home Office. ®

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