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The British government's proposed immigration controls could restrict international trade, India's IT trade lobby has warned.

Indian IT firms have led an economic revival on the back of business done for European and American firms. Much of it has involved the use of relatively cheap, but well-educated computer geeks and a fairly free flow of workers along East and West flight routes.

However, India's National Association of Software and Service Companies said in a statement today that the proposals may make it more difficult or expensive to bring workers into the UK and that will make it harder for them to do the work they have been contracted to do by British companies.

The government immigration paper, Making Migration Work for Britain, proposes putting immigration under the control of bureaucrats in a Skills Advisory Board who will decide where British labour market shortages warrant the relaxation of border controls.

Immigrants will have to submit applications endorsed by sponsoring employers - in other words they will have to successfully apply for a job before they get a visa.

The government proposes that "highly skilled" people - scientists or businessmen - will have the easiest time getting across the British border. Key workers such as nurses, teachers or engineers will also have a fairly easy time at immigration.

But low-skilled workers will only be able to stay for as long as they are needed to work on a particular project, such as an agricultural worker for the duration of the harvest.

The proposals have been compared with similar schemes in Australia and the US, where immigration restrictions are a farce. The US economy is propped up by millions of Mexicans who are technically illegal immigrants.

Much the same role is adopted by both skilled and unskilled immigrants that come to the UK from, say, Africa to work as, say, late night cab drivers or cleaners.

But the proposals may concentrate the resources of immigration officials in a way that will upset international development campaigners.

It will assist the brain drain and the flow of key workers from the less developed countries where they are most needed, while keeping out those people with less to show and more to prove who might make something of their stay in a country that offers more opportunities.

But with the US and Australia being more desirable destinations, the British have had their own brain drain to worry about. A Premier League system of destinations for migrant workers is forming, with all the middling players heading for the likes of the UK, and the Sunday leaguers kept out by fortress Europe's border patrol. ®

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