The collapse of the systems which British Airways outsourced to India after making a thousand or so UK IT staff redundant helps put the debate over freedom of movement into context.
India accounted for 55% of the 56,000 Tier 2 visas issued in the year to March 2016 and ICT for 42%. Delving into the tables behind the charts it is apparent that over 7,000 companies are registered to sponsor visas for intra-company transfers. The size of the immigration “industry” appears rather greater than UK demand for those being imported. Hence the tension between those wanting to import “talent” from “the rest of the EU” and those wanting to import from “the rest of world” (i.e. India) which lies behind the confused arguments over “freedom of movement”. Hence also the anger of those ICT consultants, often members of IPSE, who voted leave because uncontrolled immigration was depressing their contract rates. But they are even more angry about the tax advantages (particularly with regard to expenses) enjoyed by contractors from India.
None of the manifestos even attempts to address the latter – but GMB’s criticism last year of the British Airways outsourcing deal with Tata Consulting Services helped lead to the Conservative manifesto promise to double the skills levy on the Tier 2 visas which had been used to support the outsource deal. Players like Tech UK who have criticised that levy should, instead, look at how their members can work with and through, for example, the Tech Partnership, (the voice of digital employers) to ensure that the funding pledged for improving UK technician (including graduate and post graduate technicians) skills is well spent. The skills issues do, however, go rather wide than current definitions of “digital” – hence the time I am spending on the DPA regional skills pilots – to demonstrate the value to participants of joining up their activities at the operational level – bypassing the politics (departmental, professional and trade association, not just Parliamentary) of London.