Earlier this week, following a meeting with the Professional Contractors’ Group, Work Permits UK, the government body responsible for administering work permits, agreed to launch a formal, independent investigation into the way foreign IT professionals are issued visas to work in the UK.
It is claimed that companies can circumvent safeguards built into the visa system by advertising jobs at low rates and when no-one applies bring in an overseas worker.
The NAO is conducting preliminary work as the result of correspondence it has received about Work Permits UK, and may investigate both the issuing of visas and Work Permits’ handling of the situation.
A NAO spokeswoman confirmed that the NAO was ‘looking into this with a view to finding out if there’s scope for an investigation’.
The three-month Work Permits UK inquiry is expected to launch within a matter of weeks. An independent team of academics is being formed, in consultation with the PCG, and the terms of the review are being drawn up.
If the review identifies problems with the way IT visas are issued, then it will introduce changes. According to the PCG, it has also agreed to immediately improve monitoring of how companies advertise IT positions in the UK prior to seeking a visa to bring in a foreign worker.
Ian Durrant, external affairs director at the PCG, was confident that if the inquiry suggested the system needed changes, this would happen. ‘Most of our members are on the ground and they know there is a problem – that they are being replaced [by overseas workers]. We also know that large numbers are out of work.’
IT jobs were removed from the fast track skills shortage list in September last year, officially marking an end to the IT skills shortage in the UK.
In the first quarter of this year 4,800 IT visas were issued, half the number in the first quarter of 2002. According to recruitment consultants The Skills Market, 26% of IT professionals were out of work in the first quarter. The PCG estimates that 30% of its members no longer have IT jobs.
Richard Allan, Liberal Democrats IT spokesman said: ‘A lot of the problems highlighted are frequently based on anecdotes and there’s a huge amount of suspicion about what is going on.
‘That needs to be addressed by real information and openness between government and those representing contractors. If there are companies abusing the system they need to be brought into the daylight.’
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