Work permit fears doused

Still smouldering

Work Permits UK (WPUK) has quelled industry fears that British IT workers are being undercut by immigrants employed on work permits on lower salaries.

The ITCE Sector Advisory Panel, which guides WPUK in its administration of the work permits system, has long disagreed with the way the agency calculates the going market rate to be used by WPUK officers to vet work permit applicants.

IT union Amicus, and the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCo) complained last month that the system was unreliable and said firms were blagging work permits for cheap IT workers from overseas instead of employing local staff.

But at Tuesday's meeting of the advisory panel, members settled the matter.

ATSCo director Marilyn Davidson said: "What we agreed yesterday was the rates are right, so there shouldn't be a problem. If we agree the rates we use, then people should not be placed below the market rate," she said.

WPUK has based its market rates on recruitment advertisements placed in Computer Weekly.

Even before Amicus started complaining that one in six work permits were awarded below the going rate, the panel was questioning the quality of the data and the competence of WPUK. But both the data and WPUK were vindicated at Tuesday's meeting, according to those panel members that have spoken with The Register.

The panel was not able to find any better data source than Computer Weekly, and has accepted that WPUK cannot be blamed if the system is not 99.99 per cent accurate.

Speaking before the meeting, Matthew Dixon, who sits on the panel on behalf of the British Computer Society, said WPUK had been feeling the strain because it was under-resourced: "Those guys are generally trying to do the right thing."

However, he said: "The quality of the data is deeply challenging, so our ability to say what the going rate is, is quite tough."

Even if WPUK officers could be certain of the market rate, they had to assess work permit applications against a list of 60 IT occupations, while having knowledge of over 100 software platforms. The Register understands that the same officers assess applications across all five sectors that have advisory panels. In order to make just decisions, they need to intimately understand the different roles in the sector, but WPUK has been asking for better guidance from the panel since 2005. It asked again this week.

"The sector panel is there to help Work Permits UK make the right decisions, because Work Permits UK aren't experts," said one source.

"Work Permits get a lot of flack," said Davidson, "It's not until you sit on the panel that you realise the difficulty they face - they do the best job with the resources they've got."

The Home Office has still to report detailed figures on the approvals made by WPUK. ®

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