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So near and yet, so far

So near and yet, so far

That was the immediate reaction to Theresa May’s pronouncement on how the Coalition will be handling work visas as part of its attempts to reduce immigration: a fair start but not nearly limiting enough. While it was good to see positive efforts to reduce the influx of non-EU workers, there was a sense of disappointment that the ICT visas, about which there has been so much debate, would not be included in the capped total.

Why this should be so is mostly down to two factors. Firstly the somewhat misguided belief of some Coalition members, apparently led by St Vince of Cable, that British business would flounder in a sea of amateurishness if we didn’t keep importing these vital skills from overseas in unlimited numbers. Well I’m sorry, St Vince, but I’ve worked with quite a few of these incoming experts and while the odd one or two are very good indeed, the average is rather closer to the other definition of “expert”; “ex” as in “has been” and “spurt” as in “drip under pressure”.

Joking aside (OK, it wasn’t much of a joke, I admit…), it is nevertheless a valid point. ICTs are for moving highly skilled experts around or for putting experts and trainees together. It seems a little perverse that the bulk of the ICT traffic seems to be bringing in the trainees rather than exporting the trainers.

The second pressure was from big business. Some very big businesses in fact, although oddly enough they aren’t primarily UK companies. UK businesses were involved of course, although reading between the lines a little it is horribly evident that the UK companies had a genuine fear that they would lose their ability to move modest numbers of staff freely in and out of Britain while the other guys, the predominantly non-UK ones, were clearly more worried about their bottom line. Although you have to ask exactly why non-UK companies think they should be able to redirect UK’s government policy in the first place.

Anyway, the deal has been struck, ICTs are not being capped. Gloom and despondency among the UK freelance workforce, joy unbounded from UK PLC (or should that be Elsewhere PLC?).

But wait. There is a glimmer in the gloom.

If you want an ICT visa and to be here more than a year, you have to be earning at least £40k per annum in real salary. Given the supposed qualities of the average ICT that is a not unreasonable figure for most companies.

Aim to stay less than a year and it falls to £25k. Which is a laughably low for a talented individual, of course, but still significant; many ICTs being body-shopped in the UK workforce are allegedly paid rather less than that already. But that one year cap makes all the difference. It blows a big hole in the budgeting, which has been designed to recover immigration expenses over two or three years.

The reactions to this from the big boys have been interesting. Briefly, they really do not like it. Which means basically we got it right. Shame…

And one quote is, I think, particularly revealing. One company is reported as saying that it will be difficult to pay different salaries to people depending on if they are staying more or less than a year. Well it shouldn’t anyway (perhaps they need a better IT system…), but surely you are paying these people a wage in their home location, aren’t you? Why do you want to pay them anything different for a temporary gig elsewhere?

So while at first glance it was less than we wanted, it’s actually a pretty damned good compromise. The guys who put this together were largely reacting to some solid, very high quality work by the PCG team who should be congratulated for a job very well done. That an organisation representing some 20,000 freelance members can persuade the Coalition to go against the wishes some multti-billion pound corporates is an astonishing achievement.

In fact the title of this blog is all wrong. It should have been “Nemo me impune lacessit”. Which, as I’m sure you all know, translates as “Don’t mess with me, Jimmy”.

Alan Watts can found at LinkedIn.
© 2010 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: David Vs. Goliath by miss_rogue

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