Over three times as many foreign IT workers were employed in the UK last year than during the dotcom boom despite the economic downturn, it has been revealed.
Some 35,430 IT workers from outside the European Union were granted work permits, in a year when thousands of British workers lost their jobs, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) said.
Most were staff from outsourcing companies who had been relocated by their firms to work in Britain.
Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo, said, “It seems crazy that with the economy in a severe downturn and thousands of IT workers having already lost their jobs, we are still bringing three times as many foreign IT workers to the UK than during the dot com boom when we had a chronic skills shortage.”
In 2000, at the peak of the dotcom boom when there was a “massive IT skills shortage”, some 12,276 foreign IT workers entered the country, APSCo said.
According to Swain, “Offshoring has eaten away at the bottom rungs of the skills ladder, making it much harder to get the experience needed for the mid-level jobs which foreign companies are bringing workers into the UK to fill.”
She went on to highlight the potential impact this could have on the UK’s IT skills base. “If anything we are going to see more entry-level IT jobs sent offshore in 2009 as recession bites. Is it any wonder that 7% fewer students leave British universities with IT qualifications than five years ago when so many jobs are going offshore?”
The vast majority of IT workers entering Britain came from India - some 29,400 - with others coming from the US, China, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, Canada, Malaysia, Japan and Russia.
Nevertheless, the number of foreign IT workers entering the UK fell eight percent from a peak of 38,450 in 2007, according to APSCo. The figures were obtained from the Home Office under a Freedom of Information request.
APSCo said the tighter points-based immigration system introduced last year had “barely dented” the number of IT workers entering Britain. Businesses were using cost cutting as a justification for heavy IT job cuts, it said.
“There is currently no requirement for companies to advertise vacancies in the UK before bringing workers in on intra-company transfers,” she continued. “In view of the significant increase in unemployment in the IT sector in the UK the government should review this rule and consider making companies tap the UK labour market first.”
The news comes as the British Chambers of Commerce said overall unemployment levels in the UK would reach 3.2 million by the second half of next year.
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