It seems there has been a major step forward in the battle to bring a little sanity to the importing of non-EU workers under the Intra Company Transfer  visa rules. This has long been a bone of contention, most notably in the IT contractor  market, but also in some other areas such as engineering. Today’s change in the rules marks a step change that should benefit UK PLC
Firstly let’s be very clear that there is nothing wrong with the concept of ICTs . Given the multinational nature of many big companies these days, it would be foolish to put artificial barriers in the way of being able to move key staff around to where they are needed. And listening to the screams of protest from some corners – most notably, that of St Vince of Cable who, you might think, ought to know better – limiting ICTs will only spell doom and disaster for the UK economy.
Or will it?
Well, no, to be honest. If you look at the numbers carefully, it is clear that there is a baseline of ICTs that has remained pretty much constant for some time. This, we can assume, represents the number of key people that are moving in and out for good reason. However, the overall number of ICTs has been growing, and growing at an increasing rate, for some time. This coincides very closely with the increasing use of off-shoring work  to save money. That is something that started in the mid 80s but which has been steadily accelerating ever since and is now something of an epidemic. But, and it’s a big but, in recent years the growth exceeds the amount of work to be done; especially in a time of recession  and business slowdown. Which puts good people out of work.
OK, so businesses need to optimise their bottom line, and going to the cheapest supplier is a way to do it. Provided, of course, the quality is comparable which, to be blunt, it quite often isn’t.
But where it’s really gone wrong is in the use of ICTs. These are meant to be used to bring in specialists for short term purposes. With the greatest will in the world, a specialist is not someone you would expect to be taken into a training regime to learn how to do the job they are supposed to be a specialist in. And that is what has been happening. ICT visas  have been used to bring in technical staff that, while technically qualified, can’t do the job. They are here to learn how to do it and then take their new skills back home. The only reason that can work, economically, is if the cost of transport, accommodation and salary is low enough to produce a viable profit. Which it is, but only if the wages in question are really low; on a par, for the sake of an example, with what a well qualified coder will get in, say, Mumbai.
So what has changed then?
Basically, HMG  has responded to a long and hard fought campaign by the likes of the PCG that tried to demonstrate that ICTs were being abused in order to keep the economies of importing staff viable. As a result they’ve made a very simple change: if your ICT is for a year or less, you must be paid £24,000, if it’s any longer, you must be paid £40,000. Which are still a bit less than the going market rate for the skills in question, but a lot more than what has been the norm. And, of course, totally irrelevant if you are bringing in an established, skilled employee who will no doubt already be on a market rate salary.
It’s early days to see what impact this will have: there are several ways the new rules can be neutralised. Indeed, one of the issues in proving abuse of ICTs exists has been the total lack of any documentary proof about how much people were being paid in salary and expenses  and there’s no reason to believe the suppliers will willingly give up a very lucrative market. But it is a big step in the right direction.
PCG  – and one or two very dedicated individuals – are to be congratulated for achieving a major success. Not least by the several thousand UK-based contractors whose jobs are now an awful lot safer.
About the author: Alan Watts
Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.
Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services 
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