Tech Nation Visas: A stride forward in the UK’s march to digital leadership?

Revisions to the visa scheme have made it easier to attract non-EU talent. Tech London Advocates' Russ Shaw looks at this "new phase" for UK tech

Talent has fuelled the extraordinary growth of London’s digital sector. But growth is outstripping supply, and the capital’s digital sector constantly cites the talent shortage as its biggest threat.

The introduction of the Tech Nation Visa aims to open the UK to the global workforce.

Other countries have attempted such a move before, with ‘Chilecon Valley’ in Chile a notable example of attempts to benefit from challenging US immigration policies. Canada and Italy have also been developing interesting immigration policies for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Earlier this month, Tech City UK; the government funded organisation, announced the Tech Nation Visa Scheme. The scheme aims to make it easier for tech firms to harness talent from outside the EU, creating four new qualifying criteria to ensure the UK digital powerhouse remains globally competitive.

The capital has already made a name for itself by attracting Facebook and Google to set up European bases here. However, these tech giants need a constant stream of highly specialised staff to manage their operations. The new accommodation of ‘exceptional promise’ in the visa framework is a nod to this.

Whilst anti-immigration activists might argue that someone from the UK could easily do the same job well, this perspective fails to appreciate the need for a highly competitive pool of applicants to maintain the levels of growth that we have recently enjoyed. The new facilities of the visa scheme will be attractive to global businesses and applicants alike.

And it is not only the giants that will benefit from the latest developments; London’s scaling businesses will also profit. London & Partners revealed that the capital’s tech sector has brought in a record £1.6bn from investors already in 2015, a statement of the potential for growth in London’s digital industries. However, a potential for growth will not translate into tangible product without talented staff.

The emphasis put on building scale-ups in the new scheme is encouraging evidence of the public sector listening to digital business. As we transition into the next phase of the UK’s digital revolution, there is an ever-greater need for skilled migrants to power the move from start-up to scale-up.

This will in turn lead to greater investment as UK scale-ups demonstrate to the latest investors their genuine capacity for growth. Tech London Advocates, alongside the founders of TransferWise, Unruly, Citymapper and Lastminute.com, have condemned the government’s plan to further restrict skilled migration in an open letter prepared by COADEC and published recently by the Telegraph.

Throw in the space granted to the Northern Powerhouse in the new visa scheme and this truly does seem like the start of a new phase for UK tech. London has always led and will likely continue to lead the country’s digital industry. However, the accommodation of northern tech into the new framework shows the need to provide an increasingly diverse offering to global business.

The new scheme is, then, a welcome stride forward in the UK’s march to digital leadership. It is also encouraging evidence of a receptive audience in the public sector.

Russ Shaw is an angel and venture investor and founder of Tech London Advocates.

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