Tech City to offer new ways for foreign coders to work in UK after low take-up of scheme
The rules on visas for foreign technology specialists are to be radically overhauled after complaints from industry giants and start-ups that they were struggling to recruit enough staff to match their growth.
The Government is due to make it easier for non-EU citizens with specialist technology skills to enter the country for work by introducing a series of new ways to meet the criteria.
The relaxation, due to come into force next month, have been agreed in response to concerns that a scheme originally unveiled by the Prime Minister nearly two years ago has failed to meet the needs of fast-growing technology companies.
Tech City, the taxpayer-funded organisation created to champion Britain’s digital sector, and promote and administer the special visa route, said it had received a total of only 19 applications and approved just 17. It has capacity for 200 per year.
Although research consistently identifies a clamour for software coders in the UK and a fiercely competitive international market, Tech City got fewer applications than the other bodies given special powers to endorse Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas, including the Arts Council and the Royal Society. Critics claimed the process was too bureaucratic for small companies to navigate.
There will now be four new ways for foreign technology specialists to meet the criteria, which Tech City said “will prove to be a vital tool for companies that want to secure the high calibre people they need”.
There will be a new fast-track route for workers being brought into assist companies trying attempting to grow towards a stock market flotation, including software coding, finance and online security specialists.
It is designed to support Government and Tech City attempts to create the conditions for Britain to produce more home-grown public technology companies, which have so far met with limited success. For instance, a High Growth Segment on the London Stock Exchange has attracted only one flotation, of an Israeli company, and British start-ups such as the audio recognition app Shazam are looking to New York to make their stock market debut.
For the first time teams of talented foreign technology specialists will also be able to apply for visa as a group, raising the possibility of a wider net for the “acquire-hire” deals start-ups often use to accelerate their growth. Tech City said it would seek to attract “high calibre and high performing teams that have a proven track record of creativity, collaboration and commercial vision”.
A further new way to meet visa criteria will seek to recognise individuals with “exceptional promise”, targeting specific gaps in highly specialised skills areas. Finally applications to work at technology companies based in one of the six cities included in the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative will be fast-tracked.
The broader approach is “based on direct feedback from the digital business community”, Tech City said. The organisation said it would increase its efforts to guide applicants through the process.
Ben Medlock, co-founder of SwiftKey, a popular smartphone keyboard app that increased its staff numbers by three dozen last year to 140, said: “Cutting down on the processing time of visa applications, prioritising certain sets of skills and adding a new provision for UK scale-ups are improvements that will make a huge difference for fast-growing digital companies.”
Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, said the visa overhaul would help “bring the best and brightest to British shores as we continue to stake our claim as a Tech Nation on the global stage.”
This article was written by Christopher Williams Technology, MEDIA and telecoms editor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.