Tens of thousands of foreign IT workers are being sent to work for their companies’ subsidiaries in Britain, sparking fears that British workers are being denied job opportunities.
Almost 30,000 non-EU technology workers entered the country under so-called intra-company transfers last year, with the overwhelming majority coming from India.
Most of those arriving came for low and mid-level IT jobs where there are not significant skills shortages among British-born workers, fuelling suspicion that British workers are losing out to foreign workers who are being paid lower wages.
Ann Swain, the chief executive of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, which represents recruitment companies, said that such transfers were designed to allow specialists within a particular company to fill senior positions abroad.
But he added that they were being abused to fill lower level roles in which the skills used are largely standardised.
“Intra-company transfers are being done on an almost industrial scale,” she said.
The system allows international companies to transfer their staff to Britain without having to advertise a job vacancy here. They are supposed to pay their employees an equivalent British salary.
Staff can stay in the country for three years with a possible extension of two years. From next year they will have to work for the company for twelve rather than six months before being eligible for transfer and will no longer be able to apply to settle.
A total of 45,000 non-EU foreign workers came to Britain under the scheme last year — up from 15,400 when Labour came to power. Almost 70 per cent of them were Indians, according to Home Office figures.
Damian Green, the Shadow Immigration Minister, said: “It seems extraordinary that when British workers can’t find jobs we are bringing foreign workers from halfway round the world.
“This is another sign that Gordon Brown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ was a meaningless soundbite.”
Figures released by the Border and Immigration Agency show that seven of the top ten companies bringing in IT workers were Indian. Topping the list is Tata Consultancy Services, which sponsored 4,465 intra-company transfers last year, followed by Infosys Technology with 3,030.
Many of the applications approved were in low-level jobs, including almost 18,000 in what were described as “other IT-related occupations”.
There were 7,430 approved applications for software engineers and 3,470 for analyst programmers.
Ms Swain said that many of the transfers were for jobs for which there were not shortages of British workers. She said: “These figures show how easy it is for foreign companies to bypass the UK labour market.”
She added: “Foreign companies are supposed to pay workers brought in on intra-company transfers UK market rates but you have to wonder whether there is some economic benefit to transferring Indian workers from a low-wage economy to Britain.”
Tata Consultancy Services, which builds and maintains IT systems for government departments and British-based firms, said that it needed to bring in additional staff to meet an increased demand for its services and expertise.
“Intra-company transfers are temporary, typically only lasting for around 17 months, when the employee will return to their home base.
“Where we can identify the need for a permanent UK-based role then it is our preference to have UK nationals doing that work,” Keith Sharpe, the European marketing director at Tata, said.
Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, defended the transfers, saying that they made Britain an attractive place in which to do business. He said: “Workers that come in via this route must display the appropriate level of earnings and qualifications and the numbers are strictly controlled by the points-based system, meaning only those the UK needs can come here.”
Peter Skyte, the national officer for IT at the trade union Unite, highlighted the “need to strike the right balance between enabling employers to recruit or transfer skilled people from abroad and providing fair access for UK workers”.
Infosys did not answer questions put to it by The Times, including whether it pays its Indian workers “broadly similar” wages to British-born staff as required under the rules.
A statement said: “As standard practice, we cannot disclose any information related to wages and employee payment in the UK.”