HR · 28 October 2015

Martha Lane Fox among leading entrepreneurs warning prime minister to rethink immigration proposals

Lane Fox stood down from her position as the UK digital champion in 2013
Lane Fox stood down from her position as the UK digital champion in 2013

Leading entrepreneurs including Lastminute.com founder and chairman of the sharing economy trade body SEUK and Love Home Swap co-founder Debbie Wosskow have warned the prime minister his planned immigration restrictions could hurt UK startups.

In an open letter, numerous leading business people including the founders of Crowdcube, JustPark TransferWise, Lasminute.com, Zopa, Citymapper and Shazam, have said curbing the number of skilled workers entering the UK will hinder their growth and have a knock-on effect on the economy.

Some 230 technology startups and investors have put their names to the letter, saying they represent “a cross-section of the UK’s digital startup and scale-up ecosystem” and ask David Cameron to reconsider plans to bring in more restrictions on skilled migration, stating it would “hurt the UK’s digital economy”.

The UK’s digital economy is currently the largest and fastest-growing of the G20, expected to represent 12 per cent of the UK’s GDP in 2016.

The letter, which The Telegraph has in full, pointed out the UK had become a “global tech hub thanks in aprt to startup founders, investors and employees from across the globe, including many of us who were not born in Britain but choose to invest our time and talents here”.

After the general election Cameron outlined plans to “significantly reduce” the number of skilled workers coming to Britain from outside Europe. He proposed new restrictions on work visas, as well as a higher salary threshold before people were allowed into the UK.

Home secretary Theresa May had asked the government’s Migration Advisory Committee to come up with firm proposals by the end of 2015.

David Cameron pm

Total net migration for 2014 reached 318,000, nearing its 2005 peak, though the government claimed it still wanted to get numbers below 100,000.

Cameron said: “In the past it has been frankly too easy for some businesses to bring in workers from overseas rather than to take the long term decision to train our workforce here at home.”

Wosskow though, raised concerns about the idea of raising the minimum salary threshold – so the Tier 2 system of skilled work visas, used by numerous tech startups to bring in overseas talent, could only apply to higher-level positions.

She said raising it would “significantly reduce the talent pool for UK based startups putting us at a disadvantage on the global stage”.

“We’re seeing more and more British startups compete effectively with Silicon Valley. A move like this could not only hinder the growth of these individual businesses, but could also be a setback to the progression and growth of Tech City,” she added.

The letter went on to ask the government to “ensure that any future changes to the immigration system make it easier, not harder, for qualified digital entrepreneurs to come to the UK to start their business, and growing startups to hire top international talent”.

The government recently agreed to relax rules surrounding the Tier 1 visa to make it easier for tech businesses to recruit talent from abroad, though the role of Tier 2 visas is arguably more crucial. While 200 Tier 1 visas were granted last year, some 50,000 Tier 2 visas were for the same period.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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