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IT entrepreneurs call for easing of immigration rules

The IT entrepreneur community is asking for the rules on skilled workers entering the UK to be relaxed because of the difficulty faced by startups in finding the right staff

More than 200 IT entrepreneurs have signed a letter to the prime minister calling for a relaxation of the immigration rules to make it easier for skilled migrants to get Tier 2 visas to work in the UK.

The call comes weeks after the government announced new rules to make it easier for certain companies, including IT startups, to bring in highly skilled workers on Tier 1 visas. The entrepreneurs, who include Martha Lane Fox, also want Tier 2 skilled workers to be able to enter the UK more easily.

The letter applauded the government’s efforts in building an environment for IT businesses to flourish, but warned that finding the right talent in the UK is difficult.

“Finding talent with the right skills and experience we need to grow our businesses remains one of the biggest barriers to achieving that ambition,” the letter explained. “The UK has become a global tech hub thanks in large part to startup founders, investors and employees from across the globe, including many of us who were not born in Britain but choose to invest our time and talents here. We are very concerned that changes to immigration policy will make it more difficult to attract and recruit the talent high-growth companies need to compete and succeed in a global marketplace.”

The government’s independent advisory body, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), is looking at ways of reducing the number of people entering the UK on Tier 2 skilled worker visas.

The Tier 2 route, which includes the intra-company transfers that allow IT suppliers with UK operations to bring in staff from overseas, is often criticised. Campaigners accuse big businesses, such as Indian IT suppliers, of using Tier 2 to bring in low-cost labour and make it impossible for local IT professionals to compete. Proposed changes to Tier 2 rules include an increase in the minimum salary paid to staff brought to the UK by overseas suppliers, which would make it a less attractive option.

Read more about intra-company transfers

But in their letter to the prime minister the entrepreneurs said: “Further restrictions on skilled migration could restrict the growth of our businesses and hurt the UK’s digital economy.

“We call on you to ensure that any future changes to the immigration system make it easier, not harder, for qualified digital entrepreneurs to come to the UK to start their business, and for growing startups to hire top international talent.”

If the UK is not prepared to try to attract skilled staff, other countries and cities are happy to capture them. In a recent interview with Computer Weekly about a startup programme in Amsterdam, the city’s deputy mayor Kajsa Ollongren, said: “If you need talent, we have it here; and if we don’t have it we will make it easy for the talent you need to come and live and work here.”

Tier 1 tweaking

Last month the government announced it is changing the rules for non-EU IT experts to get Tier 1 highly skilled visas to work in the UK to help meet the demand from UK IT startups and fast-growing companies.

The rules, part of the Tier 1 scheme for highly skilled workers, will make it easier for high-growth tech firms in the UK to recruit the skills they need. The Tech Nation Visa Scheme – part of the Tech City UK initiative – upgrades a scheme launched two years ago.

The Tier 1 changes include:

  • enabling companies that are growing fast to get the right staff
  • easing in candidates who show “exceptional promise”
  • introducing fast-track visas for businesses in more UK cities, such as those in the north of England
  • allowing businesses to recruit teams of professionals from overseas

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