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Government must avoid post-Brexit ‘tech talent cliff edge’, says techUK

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, techUK calls on the government to ensure the tech industry will not lose vital access to digital skills

Technology industry body techUK has called on the government to recognise the need for international talent in the UK tech industry.

In its report, Global tech talent powering Britain, the organisation highlights the need for businesses to still have access to digital talent from both inside and outside the European Union (EU).

“The government should urgently commit to avoiding a ‘tech talent cliff edge’ if no deal is reached with the EU in exit negotiations, so that there are guarantees that UK firms will have continued access to the European tech talent they need to grow,” the report said.

“An abrupt termination to ongoing access to EU digital talent will be devastating to UK tech.”

Earlier this week, prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, officially notifying the EU of the UK’s intention to leave, causing uncertainty across the tech industry.  

TechUK has called on the government to “confirm that EEA nationals residing in the UK prior to 23 June 2016 have the unequivocal right to remain” as well as clarifying migration rules for workers hired between now and Brexit.

However, techUK pointed out in its report that “while Brexit potentially disrupts access to skills by disrupting a vital talent pipeline from the EU, it is just one part of a talent triple hit facing UK tech”.

It added: “Recent and incoming changes on skilled migration from outside the EEA, alongside longstanding and growing shortages in domestic digital skills, present tech companies with an ever-tightening squeeze on accessing the talent they need to grow.”

Last year, a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee found that the UK’s digital skills gap costs the economy £63bn a year, and called for a review of the requirements for “shortage occupation” IT jobs under the Tier 2 visa, to make it easier for companies – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – to recruit talent.

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TechUK said the government should reform  non-EEA migration in order to “alleviate existing tech talent shortages” and look at increasing the monthly cap currently in place on Tier 2 visas, which it said would “send a positive message” to businesses.

Charlotte Holloway, policy director at techUK, said the UK tech industry’s success “has been built on global tech talent”.

“UK tech must continue to be underpinned by talent that is attracted to, and able to work in, the UK,” she said.

“The government has repeatedly voiced support for tech in its recent industrial strategy and digital strategy. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, it is time to back up that approach with concrete details on how the sector will be able to access the talent it needs.”

The report also called on the government to undertake a review of how “new technologies can be deployed to ensure frictionless migration systems, including visa applications and movement of people across borders”.

It said a smart migration working group should be established to create and evolve a “data-driven, real-time smart migration system”.

“The government must give urgent consideration to how it can instigate better data and information sharing across government to expedite the high volume of right-to-remain applications the Home Office will need to process,” it added.

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