Tech City, the government-funded organisation that supports digital businesses in the UK, has created a new visa scheme to make it easier for fast-growing technology companies to hire talent from outside the European Union.
The Tech Nation Visa Scheme is an extension of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa stream, which is the dedicated route for UK businesses in certain sectors to recruit exceptionally talented leaders from non-EU countries.
The government amended the Tier 1 stream in April 2014 to make IT workers eligible and gave Tech City the power to oversee the applications and approve 200 visas.
However, its intention to help startups recruit talent from overseas ultimately failed when Tech City received only 19 applications, and approved just 17.
Throughout this year, Tech City has carried out a range of consultation workshops with founders, CEOs and senior management of the digital business community to assess the barriers they face when attracting such talent.
Based on this feedback, the government has allowed four new qualifying criteria to ensure the UK maintains its position as a globally competitive technology powerhouse.
The full criteria and application process for the new scheme will go live on 12 November 2015.
1. Building UK scale-ups
As scale-ups become ever more crucial to the growth of the UK digital economy, Tech City UK has included a specific provision to help companies get the talent they need to scale quickly.
Whether it’s expertise in taking a company to IPO or scaling a product internationally — or individuals with very specific technical knowledge, such as data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, developers operations or cyber security — the Tech Nation Visa Scheme will provide a scale-up, fast-track route that will enable rapidly growing companies to access the right talent at the right time to smoothen their path to success.
2. Recognising ‘exceptional promise’
The new Tech Nation Visa Scheme will now consider applications from individuals that demonstrate ‘exceptional promise’, a criterion that aims to open the route to a broader base of aspiring talent from outside the EU. This provision will facilitate companies in recruiting the highly skilled individuals needed to fill specific talent gaps.
3. Powering the ‘Northern powerhouse’
The 2015 Tech Nation report found that over 170,000 people work in digital technology businesses across the north of England. The Tech Nation Visa Scheme will now include a fast-track applications procedure for digital businesses in the seven cities under the Tech North remit: Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland.
Like Tech City UK, Tech North will now also provide a visa support service to offer guidance and advice to companies wanting to hire someone from overseas.
4. Recruiting teams from overseas
Recognising that digital businesses often seek to recruit entire teams of exceptional individuals from outside the EU who have demonstrated success, a new revision to the scheme will cater for this.
From November 12, groups of up to five will be able to apply at once for consideration, allowing UK digital businesses to attract high calibre and high-performing teams that have a proven track record of creativity, collaboration and commercial vision.
Commenting on the updated scheme, Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy, said, “The digital technology sector is a core building block of the government's plans to support an internationally competitive Northern powerhouse, as well as the UK’s leadership in digital innovation. Today's announcement furthers that strategy.
“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.”
Eileen Burbidge, chair of Tech City, added, “Engaging with the digital business community to ensure the government is offering practical support to accelerate company growth is what Tech City UK is about, and these revisions to the visa programme address the highest priority for all company founders — that of growing and scaling a business with the best talent from around the world.”