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Insight: UK government scheme to attract overseas tech talent is struggling

Sam Shead | Sept. 22, 2014
A government scheme designed to attract some of the best global tech talent to the UK is understood to be struggling, Techworld can reveal.

A government scheme designed to attract some of the best global tech talent to the UK is understood to be struggling, Techworld can reveal.

The "Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa", which costs £874 to apply for, was introduced by the Home Office in June 2008 as a way of fast-tracking up to 1,000 migrants a year into UK companies across a variety of sectors.

As part of an effort to get more of the world's best tech entrepreneurs and software engineers to come to the UK, prime minister David Cameron announced last December that the government was going to allow Tech City UK to endorse 200 of the 1000 slots. At the time, Cameron said more overseas talent was needed if the UK wanted to overcome the skills gap that exists in the tech sector.

Tech City UK joined a list of prestigious institutions that the Home Office permits to endorse overseas talent, including: Arts Council England, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.

The Tech City UK pathway has been open since April this year but the organisation, funded with approximately £1.7 million of taxpayer's money each year, has refused to reveal how many tech workers the scheme has attracted, suggesting it may be having some initial teething problems.

Meanwhile, the Royal Academy of Engineering, which can't endorse as many migrants as Tech City UK, was quick to tell Techworld that it has endorsed 11 candidates of the 20 exceptional talent visa applications it has received since January.

The Home Office would not give Techworld figures on the number of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas issued and significantly, no mention was made of the visa in an otherwise comprehensive report on UK immigration statistics, published at the end of August.

Not enough overseas promotion

Russ Shaw, founder and CEO of Tech London Advocates (TLA), a private sector led coalition of individuals from the tech sector and broader community who aim to support startups, told Techworld: "The challenge here is how do we promote the exceptional talent visa because I don't think there's a big take up of it so far."

Shaw, whose organisation counts boats over 900 advocates from the likes of Google, Facebook and Cisco, said the visa needs to be promoted more overseas if it is to be successful.

"I don't think we should be actively promoting it here," he said. "If we're smart we'll take this out to some of those other places around the world, promote it, and that could be, I don't know yet, a good way to fill more of these exceptional talent visas."

The former Skype employee has been working with the Home Office on the issue of immigration for over a year.

 

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