More than 35,000 IT workers from outside the EU were granted work permits in 2008 despite the economic downturn, it has emerged.
The influx of foreign workers has led to thousands of UK software engineers and systems analysts being laid off, according to the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).
APSCo said data obtained from the Home Office under the Freedom of Information Act showed 35,430 non-EU IT workers were granted work permits in 2008.
The figure is down 8 per cent from a high point of 38,450 in 2007. But the number of foreign IT workers who entered the country was three times as many as during the dot com boom. In 2000, 12,726 work permits were granted.
APSCo said the Government should force companies to advertise vacancies in the UK before being allowed to transfer workers from overseas offices.
Chief executive Ann Swain said: “It seems crazy that with the economy in a severe downturn and thousands of IT workers having already lost their jobs we are still bringing three times as many foreign IT workers to the UK than during the dot com boom when we had a chronic skills shortage.
“The economic slowdown and supposedly ‘tougher’ new points-based immigration system seem to have had very little effect on slowing the influx of foreign IT staff into the UK.
“A few years ago this may have been overlooked, but with IT jobs much scarcer, this is now a contentious issue.”
She said 80 per cent of non-EU IT workers coming to the UK were on intra-company transfers, adding: “Most of these foreign IT workers are software engineers and systems analysts. They are not coming here to answer phones on help desks, but are taking highly skilled and well paid jobs.”
Ms Swain said the money-saving practice of relocating IT jobs overseas, known as “off-shoring”, was likely to accelerate during the downturn.
“Off-shoring has eaten away at the bottom rungs of the skills ladder, making it much harder to get the experience needed for the mid-level jobs which foreign companies are bringing workers into the UK to fill,” she said.
“If anything we are going to see more entry-level IT jobs sent offshore in 2009 as recession bites.
“Is it any wonder that 7 per cent fewer students leave British universities with IT qualifications than five years ago when so many jobs are going offshore?”
India was the country from which the most people were granted work permits, with 29,400 issued in 2008.
This was followed by the United States (1,635), China (510), Australia (475), South Africa (430), Pakistan (280), Canada (230), Malaysia (215), Japan (165) and Russia (165).
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We introduced our flexible points based system to allow the British government to manage the number of people coming to the UK from outside Europe, adjusting the bar to ensure that the right people and the people we need can come.
“We want the UK to remain open to business and an attractive place for multinational businesses.”