US extends welcome to foreign IT workers

US President Bill Clinton has unveiled plans to almost double the number of temporary visas available for foreign IT staff from October, putting further strain on the evaporating IT skills base in the UK.

The proposals are to raise the number of H-1B temporary visas from 115,000 to 200,000. Around five per cent of H-1B visas go to workers in the UK, so the increased number of visas could see around 5000 UK workers cross the Atlantic.

H-1B visas let US companies hire skilled technical staff that they cannot find in the domestic market for up to six years, with applicants eligible to apply for a green card after three years.

The news comes at a bad time for a UK industry struggling to fill both existing vacancies and those being created by the high level of industry growth.

Disillusionment is also rife among IT contractors who face an increased tax burden under the government’s IR35 tax proposals.

Tim Conway, policy director at the Computing Services and Software Association, said: ‘We’re seeing a globally competitive market where some governments are being very aggressive and UK employers feel that they’re at a competitive disadvantage.’

‘As we don’t have quotas on immigration we have the potential in the UK to solve the skills shortage, but not until the UK government addresses the non-immigration issues of IR35 and national insurance contributions. Until the government acts on these, UK employers won’t to be able to compete in attracting talented IT workers in the global market,’ added Conway.

Research published earlier this month by accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that 70 per cent of European technology companies had difficulties recruiting skilled staff, especially those with ebusiness skills.

The UK government announced plans earlier this month to accelerate the work permit renewals procedure to encourage more foreign IT workers to move to the UK. The processing time for these renewals will be cut by up to three months, to around one week.

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