29 February 2012

Companies bypass UK visa restrictions

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An official report published by the Home Office has revealed that British companies are bypassing UK visa restrictions by bringing in international workers through the 'intra-company transfer' (ICT) scheme rather than the prescribed route.

UK visa

UK visa restrictions have done little to combat high levels of foreign workers entering Britain.

In an effort to reduce net migration and bring UK immigration under better control, the Home Secretary Theresa May stipulated that UK visa grants would be limited to 21,700 yet the report has revealed that fewer than 10,000 visas have been granted in the last 12 months, compared to almost 30,000 entrants via the ICT route.

The ICT route was exempted from the immigration cap by the prime minister after lobbying from Business Secretary Vince Cable and representatives from the Indian government, one of the largest contributors of skilled foreign labour.

The immigration cap was introduced in order to bring net migration down from current levels, around 250,000, to the 'tens of thousands' by the next general election, a pledge the Coalition Government made upon taking Parliament.

However, these recent revelations have undermined the Government's efforts and while migration advisers haven't recommended any changes to the ICT scheme, they claim the policy should be kept under review.

"The Tier 2 [UK visa for skilled migration] limit system is set up to prevent the displacement of UK workers but intra-company transfers are not part of that limit and account for the lion's share of visas," said Professor David Metcalf, chairperson of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

"The Government has put a cap in but it is not biting, so pro tem it is not relevant."

Professor Metcalf said that if the Government wanted to limit the use of ICT, they should raise the wage threshold from £24,000 a year to £40,000, increase the qualification level and limit the number of ICT permits a company can have.

However, some have pointed out that limiting this route can damage the UK's reputation as a place to do business and Professor Metcalf was quick to point out that some entrants via ICT are important and should be protected.

"Some of these transfers are vital, such as the Japanese auto engineer testing cylinder heads made in Japan and training British workers to do such testing.

"Other types of intra-company transfers have evolved over time, particularly those used for third-party contracting in the information technology sector where it is possible that the UK economy is benefitting in aggregate terms."

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said the report revealed the "ever widening gap between this Government's rhetoric on immigration and the reality of their policies."


The UK Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.

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