A lobbying group, which pushes for greater curbs on Britain's immigration regime, has accused multinational IT companies, "typically based in India", of exploiting a "gaping" loophole in Britain's immigration system, and has called for the system to be overhauled.
In a report published on August 14, Migration Watch said a small number of multinational IT companies were exploiting a system intended to post senior executives to and from the U.K. to bring "thousands of migrant workers to fulfil contracts with private and public sector organisations".
"This is known as third-party contracting and usually involves an international IT company, typically based in India, obtaining a contract to deliver a project or support services to a U.K. entity and then staffing it with workers form the company's home country," Migration Watch said.
Though part of the Tier 2 visa category, intra-company transfers (ICTs) are not subject to a cap, and have over time represented an increasing share of the Tier 2 work visas, the lobby group said. About 58,000 of 94,000 Tier 2 work permits issued in 2017 were via the ICT route, the group said. It accused the companies of undercutting British competitors and "reducing" opportunities for British IT professionals to work and develop skills.
Britain's immigration regime has become an increasingly contentious area: while those on the Right have pressed for tougher restrictions, industry and others have expressed concerns that even the existing system could threaten Britain's ability to remain open to business and talent at a time when it is particularly important for the country. Last week, the Confederation of British Industry published a report calling for the government to scrap immigration targets, to help encourage investment and help foster better trade relations. "Intra-company transfers hugely benefit the U.K. boosting investment by international companies and creating jobs in the U.K.," said Matthew Percival, the confederation's head of employment.
Trade body TechUK rejected the suggestion that international talent was cutting U.K. domestic skills. "Last year, there were more unfilled vacancies in IT than any other sector," said Antony Walker, deputy CEO of TechUK. "The U.K. is a world leader in tech because it is open and attractive to the best international talent. While it is right that the industry continues to build our domestic skills pipeline, maintaining routes that allow businesses to get the workers they need, where and when they need them, is critical to the tech sector and to our economy."
The government has given no indication that it would push for a tightening of the ICT regime. On August 14, it pointed to changes brought in in 2017 that included increasing the minimum salary requirement, and ensuring workers left the U.K. after five years unless they earned more than £120,000, which it said were made to ensure that workers domestic workers would not be undercut. "The Tier 2 (intra-company transfers) is a temporary visa route which supports inward investment to the UK," said a Home Office spokesperson.