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Tech Nation visa requirements relaxed in response to skills shortage

Tech City UK, the Government-funded body which aims to support UK digital start-ups, has announced new measures aimed at boosting the popularity of the Tech Nation Visa Scheme, the process by which individuals can be endorsed for the purposes of gaining a Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa.

What are Tier 1 visas?

Tier 1 visas are available to migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are highly skilled in fields such as science, digital technology, medicine and engineering. In order to apply for the visa, potential migrants must first be endorsed by a relevant body (such as Tech City UK for those looking to work in digital technology). Once endorsed, an application is made to the Home Office for the visa itself.

How does the Tech Nation visa scheme work?

Under the scheme, Tech City has the power to endorse visas for up to 200 skilled tech workers per year. However, since the scheme’s inception in 2014, there have reportedly been an extremely low number of applications. Following a series of consultations with executives of UK technology firms, four new qualifying criteria for endorsement under the scheme are to be added. These include:

  • Building UK scale-ups: a fast-track route to application to endorsement will be offered to firms seeking to rapidly expand towards an IPO and aiming to recruit skilled workers from abroad in order to do so.
  • Recognising ‘exceptional promise’: concerns had been raised that the standards expected to met by applicants were too high, and had the effect of excluding talented individuals without a proven track record. Tech City UK has announced it will start considering applications from individuals who show ‘exceptional promise’.
  • Enhancing the Northern Powerhouse: the updated scheme will include a fast-track application procedure for applicants joining digital businesses under the Tech North remit (Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Hull and Sunderland).
  • Recruiting teams from overseas: teams of talented foreign technology specialists will also be able to apply for visas as a group, raising the possibility of a wider net for the “acquire-hire” deals start-ups often use to accelerate their growth. This will enable UK firms to recruit entire teams from rivals in hubs such as Silicon Valley or Bangalore.

Ed Vaizey, Government Minister for the digital economy, said: “This new visa scheme will support fast growth digital businesses in their quest to bring the best and brightest to British shores as we continue to stake our claim as a tech nation on the global stage.”

What does this mean for me?

In the technology sector, the ability of the best global talent to move quickly and freely is crucial to helping businesses grow and for the UK to maintain its elevated position in the global digital economy.

The popularity of the Tech Nation scheme has been extremely low over the past two years, probably due to a combination of under-promotion and overly restrictive criteria. The Government, in agreeing to a slight relaxation of the qualifying criteria, appears to have recognised the skills shortage that many fast-growing UK technology companies face.

It is worth noting, however, that there will still only be a maximum of 200 Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas available per year. In the current political climate, the Government has been attempting to meet its target of restricting net migration to the UK and has been steadily tightening the rules around Tier 2 visas for skilled non-EU nationals, meaning it will still not be easy for companies to recruit freely from outside the EEA.

However, many fast-growing technology companies – particularly those located across the North – may view these measures as at least a step in the right direction, as it slightly increases the ways in which highly skilled non-EU nationals can be recruited into the technology sector.

The full criteria and details on the application process will go live on 12 November 2015.

How can Ward Hadaway help?

For more information on how we can help your business comply with immigration, and guide you through sponsoring and obtaining visas for prospective employees, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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