Looming skills shortages in Australia are fuelling the desire for overseas IT professionals, recruiters say.

IT recruitment firms say there is now a greater preparedness from companies to sponsor overseas IT professionals, particularly because if work starts on the National Broadband Network all available talent will be sucked up by the project.

The trend comes as the latest data from the Australian Immigration Department shows the top three occupations for 457 primary visa grants in November last year were developer programmer, management consultant and software and applications programmer.

The top three industries for 457 primary visa grants in November 2010 were construction (13 per cent), healthcare and social assistance (12 per cent) and information, media and telecommunications (10 per cent).

Currently only a small number of recruitment agencies can sponsor and on-hire overseas IT workers. Employers are also able to bring in IT workers through the 457 program, but recruiters have called the government to consider more flexibility to allow overseas IT professionals to work under contract rather than being employed permanently.

An Australian Immigration Department spokesperson has said the government was not currently considering an exception to this requirement for IT professionals. The spokesman said there were no caps on the 457 program, which was demand-driven.

Thanks to the folks from the Visa Bureau who contributed towards this article.