Changes to the points-based immigration system amount to "exploitation" of migrant workers and could lead to a future skills exodus in the UK, experts have warned.
The adjustments, which came into effect this week, mean skilled migrants seeking to transfer between countries and work at their company's British offices will no longer be able to accrue time in the UK to contribute towards their right to stay here permanently.
Industry experts warned the change to the intra-company transfer route (ICT) could put migrants off applying to work in the UK, as time spent here will not count towards the five years required to apply for permanent residence. It will also mean those that do come may have to leave after five years, according to Samar Shams, an immigration associate at law firm Lewis Silkin.
She told Personnel Today: "In five years' time we could be losing a lot of really highly skilled useful workers that have spent five years here increasing in seniority and developing their careers. Skilled workers that the UK economy relies on could move back to their home countries whereas otherwise they might have stayed and contributed."
Amit Kapadia, executive director of campaign group the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme Forum, said the changes amounted to "exploitation" of migrants, and would be a "drawback for employers" bringing in overseas staff.
According to the Professional Contractors' Group (PCG) there are about 30,000 IT workers, mainly from India, who have entered the UK on ICT permits, but staff in professional services and law firms also rely on the transfer system.
Gerwyn Davies, public policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said the changes "should not undermine our ability to attract the brightest and best talent from abroad", as most ICT workers did not intend to stay in the UK indefinitely.
However, Karen Macpherson, an employment partner at law firm DLA Piper, said the move could encourage employers to recruit more British workers for available jobs. "[Employers] will need to think more carefully about how they fill long-term labour needs and whether that's a question of looking more locally," she said.
The Home Office was unavailable for comment.