London: An estimated 30,000 non-EU migrant workers in the technology sector, with a majority from India, entered UK under intra-company transfers last year, sparking fears that British workers are being denied job opportunities.
Most of the migrant workers came for low and mid-level IT jobs where there is no significant skill shortage among British-born workers, fuelling suspicion that British workers are losing out to foreigners who are being paid lower wages, a report in The Times said on Tuesday.
The Chief Executive of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, which represents recruitment firms, has said that such transfers were designed to allow specialists within a particular company to fill senior positions abroad.
Ann Swain, however, said 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.
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 in 1997. Almost 70 per cent of them were Indians, figures released by the Home Office indicated.
Figures released by the Border and Immigration Agency show that seven of the top ten companies in UK 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.
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 months rather than six, before being eligible for transfer and will no longer be able to apply to settle.
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.
Tata Consultancy Services, which builds and maintains IT systems for government departments and British-based firms, said 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," European marketing director at Tata, Keith Sharpe said.
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas defended the transfers saying that they made Britain an attractive place to do business.
"Workers that come in via this route most 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," he said.