An exodus of immigrants from the UK could hit the IT sector with a recent outflow of 400,000 in the last couple of years.

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research showed that more and more highly skilled immigrants are staying for a short time and then leaving. The report found that more than 190,000 immigrants left the UK in 2007 and 85 per cent of migrants currently in the UK said they were only planning to stay short term.

Victoria Sharkey, partner at MediVisas UK LLP, claimed that the government is being ‘extremely short sighted when it comes to the migration of skilled professionals'.

Sharkey said: “We have an ageing population, and in order to keep the economy functioning in the long term we need to attract skilled migrants and their families to the UK and encourage them to stay. This is clearly not happening, as the IPPR report shows, and what is in fact happening is that skilled professionals, the migrants we want to keep the most, are leaving in droves.”

In the IT sector specifically, Sharkey claimed that it has been increasingly hard for employers to obtain work permits for non-EEA nationals in the past five years, with recent changes to the points system made to abolish the ‘work permit' and replace it with ‘Tier 2'.

Sharkey said: “The changes to the Tier 1 (Highly Skilled) programme also make it harder for IT professionals to stay, as the government now require that an applicant has a Masters Degree to qualify. This has resulted in a large pool of skilled foreign nationals who have been educated to degree level at UK universities and who have up to two years work experience being left with no option but to leave the UK.

“Many also find that, even if they can stay, they have no real incentive to do so. They may have secured excellent employment, and even qualify for a suitable visa, but the attitude of the government and the forthcoming further changes give the impression that they are no longer really wanted.

“We have clients who have spent thousands of pounds in the UK on studies, achieve excellent grades, have job offers from blue-chip companies, but who are now discovering that the goal posts are moving and that they are likely to not be eligible for permanent residency or citizenship, no matter how long they stay or how much they put back into the country and our economy.”

Sean Drury, international mobility partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, claimed that skilled migrants are more likely to be attracted to locations that meet their quality of life and personal wealth creation needs.

Drury said: “Countries which have low barriers to entry will attract these employees and, ultimately, their employers. There are clearly risks to the UK economy if it is not attractive for the super mobile. Increasingly, we are seeing foreign governments, especially within Europe, give specific tax breaks for such mobile employees, such as in France, Spain, Switzerland and Belgium.”

Sharkey agreed, claiming that migrants are looking at working in Australia and Canada as they see the benefits that skilled migrants have there.

“A few years ago the Government made it harder for UK employers to recruit non-EEA doctors and nurses. With the increase in staff turnover in the NHS, with the changes to minimum wage legislation and restriction on doctors' hours, it has been necessary for the NHS to change their training procedures and promote younger doctors sooner than they would have done otherwise,” said Sharkey.

“In a few years time it is likely that there will be a major shortage of medical staff, and overseas recruitment will have to begin again. We anticipate that the same thing is going to happen in the IT sector. The problem is that, unless the current proposals are reversed, and The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration 2009 is largely repealed, then these people are not going to consider coming to the UK, and industry is going to be in dire straights.”