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What does the UK Government’s post-Brexit immigration policy mean for the tech sector?

Posted: 21/02/2020

The UK Government has set out its globally focused post-Brexit immigration policy. Pat Saini, the firm’s head of immigration and Chair of Tech London Advocates immigration working group, looks at the impact on the tech sector.

Key points on the future of immigration for tech

  • tech companies without a sponsor licence may need to consider obtaining a licence. From 2021 all new EU and non-EU citizens who want to work in the UK’s tech sector will most likely need to meet the requirements of Tier 2 and be sponsored;
  • Tier 2 salary threshold will be lowered and the cap suspended;
  • the Resident Labour Market requirement, often considered a barrier to the fast-moving hiring requirements of the tech sector, is to be removed;
  • the Graduate visa route, which will open from summer 2021, will enable universities to continue to attract the best students to the UK;
  • there will be no provision for low skilled workers under the new system which could have a longer term impact on tech infrastructure.

Why is the tech sector important?

The UK is a global leader in technology and has one of the world’s largest technology ecosystems built around a strong entrepreneurial culture. Digital jobs and skills are underpinning the growth of the UK's thriving tech sector, which in turn is creating high-productivity jobs at scale. While the sector continues to play its role in upskilling, a fit for purpose immigration policy is crucial to the future of tech in the UK.

What about entrepreneurs?

What is clearly absent from the policy document is the Government’s lack of innovative thinking around entrepreneurship and attracting global entrepreneurs to the UK. Last year, what was commonly referred to as a ‘broken’ visa category – the entrepreneur visa –was closed and replaced by the Start-up and Innovator visa categories. The tech sector advocated for the Start-up visa and its leaders were encouraged to see that universities and other approved bodies were able to endorse young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, allowing those ideas to flourish in the UK. Unfortunately, the Innovator visa requires experienced, established global entrepreneurs to apply for endorsement through an endorsing body, many of which run accelerator programmes and/or take equity in the businesses they endorse. This means that the route continues to fail to attract global entrepreneurs and thought leaders to the UK. It is critical that the Government reviews its policy on attracting experienced tech entrepreneurs who are needed to build the post- Brexit economy.

Making sure tech’s needs are met

The lowering of the salary threshold, the suspension of the cap and the scrapping of the Resident Labour Market test are welcome steps. The tech sector will continue to gather evidence from the tech sector and lobby for:

  • tech roles on the shortage occupation list to remain under review and reflect the sector’s need;
  • the highly skilled route be fit for purpose and meet the needs of the tech sector;
  • a simplified Tier 2 sponsor licencing system for tech start-ups;
  • accelerated settlement after three years for all those endorsed by tech nation under the Global Talent visa;
  • an immediate re-think of the Innovator visa.

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