Majority of Indians among those exploiting lax UK visa norms

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London, Mar 17 (UNI) While Britain is tightening its immigration rules, a new report claims foreign technology workers, a huge percentage of whom are Indians, are exploiting lax UK visa requirements and threatening British jobs.

According to the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (ATSCo), the number of non EU information technology workers entering the UK has jumped by 14 per cent in the past year.

In total, 38,450 UK work permits were issued to foreign IT workers in the past 12 months, compared to 33,756 a year earlier, while 82 per cent of the applications originated from India, the principal offshore destination for British IT jobs.

Ann Swain, the body's chief executive, said ''Organisations have been 'offshoring' UK IT jobs in order to cut costs, but now they are exploiting the leaky visa system to import cheap labour from abroad.'' There was a fear that support functions will be the thin edge of the wedge and that mid-level IT roles will go offshore next, but what is happening is quite different. Foreign IT workers are actually coming to the UK to take these mid-level roles, she added.

''The IT skills shortage issue is nowhere near as acute as during the dotcom boom, so why is it that more than 10 times more foreign IT workers are entering the country now than then?'' she pointed out.

But India has warned that the new points-based immigration system will make it harder for India and other developing countries to export information technology systems to the UK.

Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath told the 'Financial Times' that the new regime could make it harder for software and other IT executives to travel back and forth between India and the UK, imperilling their ability to fulfil service contracts.

''We are not asking for more permanent immigration,'' Mr Nath said adding ''We are talking about people coming in for a month or so to integrate software systems.'' An Indian software company that could not send executives or technical experts into the UK for short periods will be unable to service warranties or sell new systems that will require on-the-spot maintenance in the future, he said.

Mr Nath said that New Delhi was still studying the new system, but that it risked becoming a 'retrograde step'. Under the old immigration regime, there was special provision for the temporary movement of workers to fulfil commitments under international trade deals.

Such liberalisation is one of India's key demands in international trade talks, such as the bilateral deal it is negotiating with the European Union.

Liam Byrne, the UK immigration minister, said ''Our points system is a big change and we are determined to get it right. I am listening intensively to communities all over the country to help understand where in our economy we need skills from abroad.'' The UK Home Office will create a special immigration category for temporary workers, details of which it said, will be released shortly.

India's software and business processing exports are valued at about 40 billion dollars a year.

Mr Nath said the new restrictions did not square with the UK's claims to be in favour of promoting free trade in services.

''In the liberalisation of services, the temporary movement of people is an important thing,'' he added.

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