Tag Archive | "ICT visas"

Four words that seem to have passed by St Vince of Cable

I see St Vince of Cable is back in the news, challenging Mr Cameron’s views on immigration. What a shame that he is continuing to confuse two entirely different issues, which is most unlike a Liberal Democrat.

I offer no comment on immigration in general. I tend to side with the Cameronian view that controlled immigration is a good thing while uncontrolled immigration is not, but that’s as far as I go on that subject.

However, the importing of foreign labour to do jobs that used to be done by UK workers? That, I’m afraid, is a different issue entirely.

Sadly it is a distinction that Cable seems determined not to make. He remains wedded to the view that UK PLC is in such dire straits that it absolutely has to import a range of technical and engineering workers to maintain its position in the world economy. Furthermore he is supporting this contention by pointing out that it allows us access to markets that would otherwise be closed to our industries. This has a degree of merit, if you allow that we have something that market wants to buy.

But it is interesting to note that I don’t see a great influx of Chinese workers on ICTs coming in to the country to do a range of fairly low level technical jobs. After all, China has a rapidly growing economy and probably the biggest untapped market anywhere in the world. And we seem to be pretty good at selling into it, without reciprocal trade deals – at least, none that I’ve seen reported. I could be wrong but I also don’t see us paying for China’s growing nuclear industry, nor its education system.

Funny that, isn’t it?

It doesn’t help that the people charged with supervising the new ICT rules on salary banding and the like don’t seem to have much of a clue what’s going on either. The transcript of a discussion at the Public Accounts Select Committee makes for depressing reading. Not that they aren’t concerned about the issue, they clearly are, but that they are so vague about the rules themselves and vague about how compliance is going to be measured. At one point they are saying that the number of request for salary information to enforce the rules is too high for the system to cope. In other words, the rules are in place but there’s no effective way to apply them. They are even rather vague about the local resident working test, which is intended to stop an existing worker being booted out by an incoming ICT one.

And Cable and friends still fail to grasp the fundamental point here. If we give all the entry-level jobs away, how are those 20,000 IT graduates, to take one example, ever going to get their first step into their chosen career? And in a few more years’ time, where will we find the middle managers and technical experts who actually get this somewhat overrated ICT workforce to deliver to the required standard?

This is something that needs decisive and effective action. Four words that seem to have passed by the honourable Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills without leaving a visible imprint.

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

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited

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Will new visa stop skilled accountants for contractors coming to the UK?

John Hayes, from the law firm Irwin Mitchell, has suggested that UK employers may find it more difficult to attract top talent once the government’s cap on Tier 1 migrant workers comes into force.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, announced earlier this month that a new points based system for Tier 1 visas will come into operation on April 6th. 1,000 visas will be made available to exceptionally talented migrant workers in the fields of art, science and humanities. People who are awarded the visas will be allowed to stay in the UK for a period of three years and four months and will be given the option to apply for an extension to remain for an additional two years. After five years in the UK, the visa holder would be entitled to settle here.

Employers are already predicting that the 1,000 cap will cause practical problems, Hayes said. Although we do not know the full details of how these new visas will work, we do know that an accredited competent organisation will have to endorse that an applicant possesses an exceptional skill. Furthermore, people who obtain these exceptional skill visas will be exempt from the maintenance and English language restrictions, which will make them more attractive.

Any foreign nationals who are currently in the UK on a skilled worker visa and want to change to a highly skilled visa should be aware that the deadline for applications is April the 5th.

The new regulations could encourage more transatlantic start-ups to set up in the UK. People coming to Britain from non-EU countries will be granted faster settlement rights if are investing in excess of £5 million in a British based enterprise.

In April, the government is introducing a new visitor visa for prospective entrepreneurs. This will allow them to come to the UK in order to secure funding and start up their venture in advance of obtaining the full tier 1 visa.

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Intra Company Transfers – a BIG step in the right direction

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

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited<

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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.

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