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London Tech week 2019 - Let’s take a look at UK immigration options

Posted: 14/06/2019

London Tech Week (LTW) 2019 launched at HereEast, the Stratford innovation hub this week. The festival of events, which is in its sixth year, is once again supported by London and Partners and Tech London Advocates (TLA), amongst others.

At the launch, talent was one of the hot topics of discussion with many speakers referring to the diverse talent pool available across the UK - not just in London!

The closing speaker, Prime Minister Theresa May, drew upon the immigration White Paper which sets out the Government’s proposals for a 2021 immigration system. She explained that the paper “committed to looking at how ambitious start-ups can bring in skilled workers, taking into account the particular needs and circumstances of the tech industry” and, as expected, she used her now famous line on talent: “we want the brightest and the best to come to the UK.”

During LTW international entrepreneurs and global tech companies looking to set up a business in the UK or expand operations here, will inevitably be looking at the UK’s current immigration options. Below are some of the key routes to consider.

Tech Nation visa

Introduced in November 2015, the Tech Nation visa scheme is an evolution of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa. Under this route, Tech Nation can endorse suitable candidates from around the world to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector. Those applying will have a track record in digital tech, which can be either technical expertise or digital marketing and business development experience. Recognised leaders in tech can expect to be endorsed under ‘Talent’ whilst emerging leaders can expect to be endorsed under ‘Promise’.

Demand for the scheme continues to rise with over 850 applicants receiving endorsements from over 50 different countries. More information on the eligibility criteria for this 'fit for purpose visa' can be found here.

Pat Saini, who heads the immigration team at Penningtons Manches and chairs TLA’s immigration and talent working party has been a strident champion of this visa category and has assisted many entrepreneurs to obtain an endorsement.

Start-up and innovator visas

These visa categories were first announced during London Tech week 2018 and were formally rolled out by the Home Office in March this year.

The start-up visa is for those seeking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. Applicants will have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea which is supported by an endorsing body. The start-up visa is an expanded version of the Tier 1 graduate entrepreneur visa, which allowed universities to endorse international students.

The innovator visa is for more experienced businesspeople seeking to establish a business in the UK. Applicants will have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea which is supported by an endorsing body. With some exceptions, applicants will also have funding to invest in their business.

The key requirement under both these categories is that individuals will need to obtain an endorsement from a relevant body. These bodies will include: UK higher education institutions which meet specific requirements, and organisations with a proven track record of supporting UK entrepreneurs. Such bodies will need to be approved by the Home Office. A list of the current endorsing bodies for the Innovator visa can be found here.

Pat Saini, on behalf of TLA, has lobbied the government for the start-up visa.

Tier 2 sponsor licensing and Tier 2 visas

Tech companies wishing to hire or transfer skilled migrants should consider Tier 2 sponsor licensing and Tier 2 visas.

Before a business which is established in the UK can sponsor (employ/transfer) foreign individuals into skilled jobs that it has been unable to fill from the resident workforce, the business will need to obtain a sponsor licence. A sponsor licence is valid for four years.

Tier 2 is broken into different subcategories:

Tier 2 (General) is for workers who have an offer of a skilled job from an employer in the UK that cannot be filled by a settled worker. Most roles under Tier 2 (General) require advertising. However, digital tech roles on the shortage occupation list and which meet certain criteria are exempt from this requirement and therefore sponsors can fill vacant positions quickly.

Following the Migration Advisory Committee's review of digital tech roles, a process with which the TLA and Penningtons Manches were heavily involved, the following four digital technology roles are currently on the shortage occupation list:

  • product managers
  • data scientists
  • senior developers
  • cyber security specialists

Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) is for an existing employee of a multinational employer who needs to be transferred by the overseas employer to a UK subsidiary or branch for training purposes or to fill a specific vacancy that cannot be filled by a settled or EEA worker either on a long term basis or for frequent short visits.

Further information on Tier 2 sponsorship can be found here.

There may be other immigration routes open to companies or individuals operating in the tech space. Legal advice should therefore be taken to understand all the relevant immigration options.

For further information, please contact Pat Saini, head of immigration at Penningtons Manches and chair of TLA’s immigration working party.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP