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Interest in UK digital talent visa surges despite pandemic

Tech Nation, the endorsing body for the digital technology route of the UK’s Global Talent Visa, has seen a 48% increase in applications over the past year

Applications for digital Global Talent visas in the UK increased by 48% in the past year, according to Tech Nation, the official endorsing body for top-tier technology skills immigration.

“A visa is not just a piece of paper or a document, it enables global citizens, communities and companies to convene, to collaborate and to flourish,” said Stephen Kelly, chair of Tech Nation.

“There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a very turbulent year, but among all the disruption and uncertainty we and our companies alike have endured, I for one couldn’t be prouder to see the UK tech industry remain a beacon of light for global talent.”

The UK’s Global Talent visa scheme began in February 2020 with the aim of making it easier for skilled talent to come to the UK, and is a reformed version of the Tier 1 (exceptional talent) route for skilled applicants applying to work in the UK without a job offer.

According to Kelly, over the past two years, Tech Nation has received more than 1,975 applications to work in digital in the UK, and has endorsed 920 visas for skilled workers.

Despite the coronavirus outbreak causing global uncertainty, and Brexit causing a potential threat to external talent choosing to work in the UK, interest in the UK’s Global Talent visa has grown, with the number of people searching the internet for terms related to the UK’s digital visa route more than tripling in September 2020 compared with the previous year.

Tech job vacancies

The hiring landscape has been precarious during the coronavirus outbreak, and while Tech Nation found available jobs in the digital sector dropped in March, when the pandemic first hit, tech job vacancies grew by 36% between June and August 2020.

Tech Nation has seen a 111% increase in demand for artificial intelligence (AI) skills in the UK between 2017 and 2019, with the greatest demand for AI jobs seen in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Cyber skills have also grown in importance, especially during the pandemic, where there has been a rise in cyber attacks, with Tech Nation claiming an increase in employer demand for cyber skills across the UK in the past three years.

In some regions the need for cyber skills has seen a significant increase, with demand for cyber talent increasing by 251% in Wales, 306% in the East Midlands, and 292% in the West Midlands over the past three years.

When it comes to the skills of those who have been successfully endorsed through Tech Nation’s digital technology Global Talent visa route, the most common skills of applicants are in AI and machine learning, followed by academia or research, product management, data science, and software engineering.

Endorsement rates

Endorsement rates were highest for people with software engineering and business development skills, followed by skills in product management and data science.

Some of the least endorsed skills include quality assurance engineer, which has an endorsement rate of 0.01, and networking engineer or video game designer, which had an endorsement rate of zero.

Some regions will have different popular skill sets, for example, Tech Nation found successful applicants from Asia are most likely to have skills in AI and machine learning, while successful applicants from Europe are more likely to have app and software development skills.

Most applicants from Africa have worked in software development, AI, machine learning or fintech, while most applicants from South Africa have software development skills.

Successful applicants from India tend to have worked in software engineering, AI, cloud computing and fintech, while in the US, successful applicants have most commonly worked in apps, software, cloud, and digital advertising and marketing, and successful applicants from Russia have most commonly worked in fintech.

A majority of successful applicants who have come to work in digital in the UK have been from India, the US and Russia.

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This year, the route saw 897 applications from India, 350 of which were endorsed, 410 applications from the US, 303 of which were endorsed, and 168 applications from Russia, 105 of which were endorsed.

Half of applicants for the Global Talent visa were from Asia, but Asian applicants had a lower endorsement rate than other places – in 2020, there were 1,400 applications, of which only 670 were endorsed.

While other regions have a lower volume of applications, they are more likely to be endorsed – in 2020 there were 546 applicants from North America, 405 of which were endorsed, 415 applicants from Africa, 154 of which were endorsed, and 236 from Europe, 162 of which were endorsed.

In 2020, 86% of applicants from China were accepted for the visa, but applications from the country were low, at only 77.

Global Talent visa

Many are concerned that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will cause an even greater tech talent shortage, something the new Global Talent visa scheme hopes to tackle.

More than half of those who come to the UK on a Global Talent visa come to work in a tech firm, mostly as employees in roles such as app or software development, AI, and machine learning.

But 28% of successful applicants come to the UK to head up startups as founders since the visa route was launched, with 421 endorsed applications setting up businesses, most in sectors such as app or software development, AI, machine learning, and fintech.

A large majority of founder applications are from Europe, Africa or Oceania as opposed to a low number from Asia, North America or South America.

There has also been a small number of successful applicants who have come to the UK as executives in ecommerce, fintech and AI, and 70 endorsed applications have come to the UK as academics or researchers, many of whom are in AI or machine learning.

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