Employers abuse visa scheme to import overseas workers

The Home Office has set up a special unit to crack down on unscrupulous
employers falsifying applications under the fast track visa scheme to save on
IT skills costs.

There is increasing concern that some organisations are sacking UK IT
workers and replacing them with cheaper contractors from overseas.

According to the Professional Contractors Group, which represents the
interests of IT and engineering contractors, these employers are abusing the
Fast Track Work Permit scheme, which was set up by the Home Office as Work
Permits (UK) to tackle a perceived skills shortage in the IT sector.

Julia Onslow Cole, an immigration partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, said:
"The Home Office recognises that there are a minority of unscrupulous
employers who are abusing the system and has determined to crack down on fraud
by setting up a special unit to deal with this issue."

Currently there is little being done to discourage companies from falsifying
applications. "There are no onerous penalties being meted out to
employers, but once the Home Office takes action it is hoped that penalties
will be imposed, including being blacklisted," said Onslow Cole.

When the Fast Track Work Permit scheme was introduced 18 months ago there
was a national shortage of qualified IT staff. Since then there has been a
recession in the IT industry and an estimated third of contractors are now out
of work. Yet some employers are continuing to claim they cannot find anyone
from the UK to fill vacant posts.

Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing
Companies, said: "There are some areas of IT where there is a continuing
skills shortage, for example in the areas of e-commerce and intranet building,
but with a third of IT contractors unemployed, we should not be importing
skills we don’t need."

A skills sector panel for Work Permits (UK) constantly reviews developments
in the IT industry to ensure that those being hired from abroad meet the skills
shortage criteria. ATSCO and the PCG suggest IT contractors and their
representative bodies keep the panel informed about the latest developments in
IT skills and technology.

By Sara Bean

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