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Exclusive: Proposed UK immigration policies will hurt tech sector

Sam Shead | July 6, 2015
The Migration Advisory Committee is conducting a review into the minimum salary thresholds for the Tier 2 visa route - something which is likely to deprive the UK's tech-driven organisations of vital talent at a time when homegrown training initiatives are falling short.

Ian Robinson, senior manager at Fragomen and a former employee at the Home Office, said: "At the moment, a software programmer needs to be paid at least around £30,000. It could go up to £50,000. If you're one of the large Indian or US companies who bring over large numbers of people a year you're looking at an extra £20,000 for every assignee - the cost could be astronomical and really hit their UK operations." Large Indian IT companies with a significant presence in the UK include Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro.

It's understood that technology firms in the UK obtain a considerable number of the 20,700 skilled work visas on offer every year. Robinson said that the impact of the proposed reforms on the sector could be "massive".

Josephine Goube, co-managing director at Migreat, a company that specialises in providing visa information, said the increase in the minimum salary requirements will hit startups hardest.

"By raising the annual minimum salary threshold of non-EU migrant workers to at least £30,000, the UK is putting a lot of pressure on small businesses and startups that do not pay such high salaries at entry level - even though they might be made of highly-skilled workers and talents," she said.

In 2014 the Office for National Statistics revealed, IT engineers, those responsible for building the apps and products themselves, earn £25,000 a year on average in the UK. IT specialist managers earn the most on average at £49,194, while IT project and programme managers are just behind with an average salary of £48,144.

In the worst case scenario, the changes could force technology giants to start turning their backs on the UK and sending staff to work on projects in the other offices they have around the world, according to Robinson. Google, for example, could start thinking about relocating its DeepMind artificial intelligence team from London to its international headquarters in Mountain View, California, if it was no longer able to send US-based AI experts to the UK.

"It might also mean that the big companies just recruit more British people for these jobs but it depends if that's economical and if the skills are out there," said Robinson, whose firm helps technology companies to get the visas they need.

A 2013 O2 report, The Future Digital Skills Needs of the UK Economy, estimated that 745,000 additional workers with digital skills would be needed to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017. Half way through that time frame there has been no let-up in the skills shortage.

While the proposed reforms could be painful across the UK tech sector, there are signs that the government is already making it harder for tech firms to bring in the talent they need.


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