The government is to relax the rules on visa for non-EU citizens with specialist tech skills, due to ongoing complaints from companies big and small, that they were struggling to recruit the right staff.
There will be a set of new ways to meet the criteria introduced from next month, after an acknowledgement that the original scheme David Cameron announced two years ago, had failed to meet the needs of fast-growing technology companies. Tech City has the capacity for 200 applications for its Exceptional Talent Visa scheme, but had only received 19, approving 17.
The primary purpose of the visa was to “attract applicants from outside the EU that demonstrate world-class aptitude in turn ensuring the UK digital economy remains a globally competitive powerhouse”.
Though Tech City had claimed the 200 figure was a threshold rather than a target, its process was criticised as being too bureaucratic for small firms.
Tech City said it had listened to direct feedback from the digital business community and would do more to guide applicants through the process too.
Four new ways for foreign tech specialists to meet the criteria are being brought into effect. A new fast-track route will be introduced for workers moving to assist companies trying to scale up – whether it’s expertise in taking a company IPO or individuals with specific technical knowledge like cyber security.
Tech City this should prove “a vital tool for companies that want to secure the high calibre people they need”.
Teams of talented foreign tech specialists will also be able to apply as a group from November 12 2015. Tech City said the aim was to appeal to “high calibre and high-performing teams that have a proven track record of creativity, collaboration and commercial vision”. This could increase the likelihood of creating a wider net for the acquire-hire deals startups sometimes use to help accelerate growth. Teams of up to five can apply for consideration.
While there have been frequent calls for more software coders across the UK, the organisation established to help prosper the UK’s digital sector had received less applications than other bodies given similar authority to endorse Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas.
Tech City’s CEO, Gerard Grech, said: “Fast-growing digital technology businesses play a central role in ensuring the UK stays at the forefront of digital innovation and economic growth on the world stage.”
Ed Vaizey, the culture and communications minister, said the visa shake up should help “bring the best and brightest to British shores as we continue to stake our claim as a Tech Nation on the global stage.”
Another route to meet the visa criteria will recognise those with “exceptional promise” and target gaps in highly specialised skills areas. Any applications to work at tech companies based in any of the seven cities in the government’s “Northern Powerhouse” that fall under the Tech North remit – Hull, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Sunderland or Newcastle – will also be fast-tracked.
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