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IT contractors demand overhaul of company transfer visas

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The Professional Contractors Group has called on the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to overhaul the rules regarding "intra company transfers" amidst rising concern that the system is open to abuse.

The contractors' organisation is lobbying the MAC - a group of economists which advises the government on immigration policy - to tighten up the rules around intra company transfers as part of a review it is due to publish next month.

The 'importing' of cheap IT contractors has long been a bugbear for UK IT workers, and the perceived problem has gotten worse as the recession has bitten. Immigration authorities are apparently concerned at the high number of intra company transfer visas that have been granted for ICT workers from outside the EU.

BT was accused earlier this month of importing workers from TechMahindra and paying them £220 a day, compared to the £400 a UK contractor could expect to command. BT has rejected the claims, saying that while it is using TechMahindra on projects, BT itself is not employing or importing TechMahindra contractors. BT has a stake in TechMahindra, and is in the middle of a wide-ranging jobs cull, having already frozen wages for both staffers and contractors.

Other alleged abuses of the system include bringing staff over without company specific skills, who are then trained up by UK contractors, only to return to their companies of origin to set up an offshored operation.

It has also been suggested that some companies have been paying below market rates and using byzantine pay structures to obscure the rates they pay non-EU staff.

PCG spokesman George Anastasi said that the organisation wanted companies to be required to jump through the same hoops for intra-company transfers as they would for securing work permits on other non-EU workers. These include first making sure there aren't suitable candidates in the UK, including advertising the role for at least two weeks, and paying the going rate for jobs.

He added that the organisation is broadly happy with the way the system for non-intra company transfer workers was working, though it would like to see more "robust" monitoring of the scheme.

The MAC is expected to report next month. Anastasi said he was hopeful that the MAC would take the organisation's representations on board: "They listen to the view on the ground."

The PCG may be encouraged by MAC's “list of occupations for which there is a shortage of skilled workers in the UK and Scotland” published last year as the backbone for a points-based immigration system. This pinpointed shortages of ballet dancers, fish-gutters and sheep shearers in the UK, but concluded that we already had adequate numbers of IT staff.

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