IT contractors are up in arms over a proposed relaxation of the rules that allow skilled workers from developing countries to work in the European Union (EU).
At the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations to be held next month in Cancun, Mexico, the EU will offer to extend the length of work permits offered to foreign providers of computer services, including foreign self-employed IT consultants.
If ratified, the move means that IT experts from outside the EU will be allowed to work for up to six months on IT contracts, as long as those projects only run for up to 12 months.
Current concessions allow IT consultants to work for just three months in the EU under temporary visas.
But lobby group the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) is seeking reassurance from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Home Office that the system will not be open to abuse.
Ian Durrant (pictured), external affairs director at the PCG, told vnunet.com that the proposal could be used as a means for companies to replace staff with cheap labour from overseas.
"On the surface this doesn't seem like a dramatic change, but, given the experiences of fast-track visas, there are people willing and looking to find loopholes. And this looks like a scheme that is easily abusable," he said.
In June, government agency Work Permits (UK) and the National Audit Office said they both planned separately to launch investigations following claims by the PCG of abuse of the fast track visa scheme.
"Allowing people to come over for six months makes this attractive to use as a body-shopping arrangement," said Durrant.
"And because the proposals are so vague, what's to say someone couldn't go home for three weeks then come back to the UK for another six months?"
The PCG is seeking clarification and reassurance from both the Home Office and the DTI that the proposed scheme will not be used for job replacement purposes.
"PCG members are very concerned about it. The biggest fear is that, in an attempt to make the IT industry competitive, it will actually drive down rates so far that we have no industry left," said Durrant.
In response the DTI said in a statement: "The European Commission's offer is part of a broader negotiation within the WTO to liberalise trade in services.
"We are also seeking to lower trade barriers in other countries and increase overseas business opportunities for British industry."
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago