With immigration a hot topic around the world today, it is worth noting that the UK technology start-up sector is highly reliant on foreign labour. The country’s most successful start-ups have been nurtured and matured by foreign programmers, developers and marketers. The international make-up of the domestic tech market is key to the future of UK innovation, especially in intelligence hubs such as Cambridge and Bristol corporate finance. London already sucks up much of the UK’s top talent, so surrounding regions are often left more reliant on immigrant specialists.
Much has been said about the UK’s poor track record in harnessing technology and science talent. This is now being addressed – Britain recently became the first country in the world to make coding lessons mandatory. But the effects of these changes will not be felt for another 15 years. This is why immigration does and will continue to play a crucial role in supporting UK high-growth small businesses in accessing the tech talent they need.
The good news is that the UK is an attractive destination for international tech talent – immigration plays, and will continue to play, a crucial role in helping many UK start-ups manage the technology skills shortage. In a typical start-up, anywhere between 50% and 90% of the tech team is not from the UK, with the vast majority coming from within the EU. In 2000, tech talent was predominantly coming in from India. The UK remains attractive for these skilled workers, thanks to the country’s economic health and cosmopolitan attitudes.
Yet immigration processes continue to hamper entrepreneurs seeking to hire overseas talent. For a start-up, hiring is half the problem – hiring talent quickly and efficiently is just as important. Visa processes need to be sped up, and programmes like the Tier 1 Visa – with which people possessing technical degrees could stay for two years – even reinstated, to encourage greater tech talent to come to the UK from outside the EU.
Start-ups move quickly, but public bodies move slowly. More effort needs to go into addressing cumbersome visa procedures if we are to open the door for much-needed technology experts. Linked to this is a need to reduce the current media and political party rhetoric vilifying immigration – it needs to be more overt about the benefits of attracting talented individuals to the UK.
The UK has all the tools to be a global technology player – maybe even a rival to Silicon Valley – but it still has work to do in ensuring access to the best global talent.
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