Changes to the Immigration Rules: Enough to attract overseas talent to the UK tech sector?

A recent article published by HR Grapevine asserted that a shortage of talent coupled with stringent immigration policies is holding back London’s tech sector.  Interestingly, the article comes just over a month after the Home Office published changes to the Immigration Rules to support the UK digital technology sector in the UK.  So what are the changes and do they go far enough to ensure that the industry can continue to compete in a competitive global environment?

The changes, which came into effect from April 2014 relate to the opening up of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route to world-leading individuals in the digital technology sector by enabling Tech City UK to endorse visa applications.

The Home Office claims that “These changes to the Immigration Rules will help UK businesses employ skilled international workers as well as supporting the government’s long-term economic plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy.”

With Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire stating that:

    “These changes today will ensure that the UK remains competitive in attracting global talent to work for British businesses, so that we can succeed in the global race…… We are building an immigration system that works in the national interest as part of our long term economic plan. One that is fair to hard-working British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who break the rules or flout the law.”

Undoubtedly, expanding the Exceptional Talent route allows Tech City UK to endorse top innovators and professionals in their field so that they can then come to the UK without the need for a sponsoring employer.  Originally the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route was limited to leaders in the fields of Science, Engineering and Arts. Now after the recent changes, out of the 1000 visa quota for this category per year, 200 places have now been specifically allocated for applicants from the digital technology sector to enable them to set up business or work in the UK. 

However, in order to obtain endorsement from Tech City the following stringent criteria must be met:- 

1.       Evidence of authoritative contributions to the field, such as having won or been nominated for a nationally or internationally recognised Tech Award, having been a keynote speaker at a global digital technology conference or having authored a well reviewed book on digital technology;

2.       Evidence of experience in a digital technology business (i.e. Executive level employee, employee with distinguished reputations in their field or Founder with shares in a company);

3.       Proof of technical contributions, such as product or application development or design with distinguished reputations as shown by critical reviews etc. or evidence of contribution to patents;

4.       Details of any active digital technology businesses that the person has established outside the UK or businesses which have dissolved in the past 5 years; and

5.       An endorsement letter by a senior member of an established organisation in the digital technology sector.

 In practical terms therefore, the changes really only cater for the ‘crème de la crème’ of the industry globally. Indeed, Home Office statistics illustrate this starkly since to date only 10 visas in this category were issued in 2011 and only 25 in 2012 (and of course this is across all 3 endorsing bodies involved in the scheme at the time).  So how far this will go to alleviate the problems that the digital technology sector in the UK is experiencing remains to be seen.

For your not-so-average but not exceptional migrant then, the only real options continue to be either the Tier 1 Entrepreneur or Tier 1 Investors routes, or the Tier 2 Skilled Worker route.  With the substantial financial investment required for the Entrepreneur and Investor routes (£200k for Entrepreneurs and £1 million for Investors) migrants often shy away from these categories and of course they are really only designed for business owners. 

Otherwise, for talented migrants seeking to join developing tech companies here in the UK, they have to rely on the company holding a Tier 2 sponsor licence to sponsor skilled migrants and also being able to personally meet the points criteria for such a visa. Key problems that often arise in this respect are with meeting the requirements of the Resident Labour Market Test and meeting minimum salary requirements.

Ultimately, in order to really address the issues that the industry is facing it may be necessary for the UK Government to look to adding these IT and technical roles back onto the Shortage Occupation list, but this is unlikely to happen without intense and sustained lobbying from the industry.  In the meantime, Newland Chase are experienced at dealing with the problems that the industry face and are keen to assist in facilitating our growing digital technology sector in securing the talent they need to continue to be world leaders. 

If any of these issues discussed in this article resonate with you, then come and see us at one of our free immigration clinics that we are holding throughout London Technology Week (16th-20th June). Please email damian.mohammed@newlandchase.com or call 0207 0012134 to book your place.  

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