Britain has raised the stakes in the worldwide scramble for skilled IT staff.
After announcing plans to fast-track work permit applications for certain IT and hi-tech workers, its government is now looking at introducing a Green Card systrem.
The UK's Home Office minister Barbara Roche floated the proposal this week amid calls for a debate on relaxing immigration rules to help the country ease its skills shortages.
Surveys show that the IT sector alone will need 250,000 people over the next decade; and by 2003, there will be 80,000 vacancies in the IT sector.
Other areas facing staffing shortages include engineering, healthcare, teaching, catering and agriculture.
In IT, the most sought-after staff are those with Internet skills, such as software engineers for Java and Java script, DHTML, and Visual Basic. One firm is even offering bounties of $3,250 to employees who can find extra co-workers.
Announcing the immigration review, Roche warns that Britain faces a demographic timebomb, with a quarter of the population expected to be over 65 by 2050.
She says other counties such as the US, Canada and Australia have used immigration as an economic tool. And she highlights the US, where officials cite immigration as a key factor underpinning its long economic boom.
There, key workers granted a Green Card can stay for life and bring a family, though they do not receive citizenship and voting rights.
Roche says Britain is a global economy "where skilled people are at a premium," but she dismisses reports that 100,000 such cards would be issues each year.
The opposition Conservatives attacked her move and are calling for work permit requirements to be made more flexible. More effort should also be made in upskilling the existing British workforce, they say.