Time running out for foreign IT skills

Time running out for foreign IT skills

Migration Advisory Committee wants evidence of skills shortages by end of April

Business leaders face an end-of-April deadline to convince immigration authorities that there is a shortage of IT skills in the UK. The Migration Advisory Committee is currently asking for evidence of IT skills shortages, as it looks to nail down the categories of foreign workers who will fall into the second tier of its new foreign worker allocation system.

Groups including the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco) are concerned that currently no IT skills fall into the tier two criteria, which covers overseas workers with a job offer. That could make it more difficult for firms to get permission to hire foreign IT workers to plug any existing UK skills gaps.

“The new points system only applies where there is a proven skills shortage for businesses,” said Atsco director Marilyn Davidson, who is participating in the consultation process. “Without concrete evidence of a lack of IT skills, it is unlikely they will meet the criteria,” she added.

The government has already signalled that it sees home-grown talent as the solution to any IT skills shortage. In last week’s Budget, the chancellor, Alistair Darling, promised that an extra £60m will be spent on apprenticeships and programmes to help tackle skills shortages over the next three years.

But a new study from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation has revealed that employers are already reporting difficulties in finding staff with software development and testing skills. Apprenticeship programmes will not help fill that gap in the short term.

Atsco believes that greater clarity on areas of IT skills shortages is needed urgently to ensure that real gaps can be filled while also preventing permits from being awarded for skills already available in the UK. It has tracked an increase in the number of foreign IT workers entering the UK, and believes some employers are exploiting the paucity of information about skills shortages.

Of the 38,450 work permits handed to non-EU IT workers last year, 82 per cent went to applicants from India. Atsco found that the number of foreign IT workers coming to the UK has increased by 209 per cent over the past five years.