Plans to cut the number of skilled workers with job offers coming to the UK as part of a general immigration crackdown are likely to have a major impact on digital startups.
Fears over the move have seen more than 230 founders working in the tech industry, including our chairman Julian Ranger, sign an open letter to the Prime Minister, published in today’s Daily Telegraph, asking him to look again at plans to redesign the Tier 2 system, which gives visas to skilled nationals from outside the EEA who have an offer of employment.
Julian said: “Small businesses are the high growth engines of the UK and skills are needed to maintain pace of growth.
“Whilst internal training, and supporting STEM initiatives in the UK are all required, there are times when there is no one of the requisite skills available in the UK and to maintain growth skilled people from outside the UK are required.
“If we want to maintain the UK as a centre of excellence in STEM areas then we need to be able to bring in the best to support our businesses – and cross-pollinate their knowledge and experience here too.”
As The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), the tech non-profit behind the letter, explains in a blog: “The bar is already pretty high – would-be migrants need to have a degree level qualification and a definite job offer, and the company that wants to hire them need to become accredited as sponsors, advertise (non-shortage) roles for 28 days in the UK first, and meet salary thresholds for the role.”
The full text of the letter, which has also been signed by Martha Lane Fox as well as the founders of TransferWise, Zopa, Unruly, Crowdcube, Nutmeg and Shazam, reads:
Dear Prime Minister,
We represent a cross-section of the UK’s digital startup and scale-up ecosystem, including the founders of Citymapper, DeepMind and SwiftKey. The UK has the largest and fastest growing digital economy in the G20, worth over 10% of GDP.
During the election campaign you argued that the UK should be ‘the startup nation in Europe, and one of the great startup nations in the world.’ We share this ambition and applaud your government’s long-standing support for the UK’s tech community. From SEIS to support for FinTech and the sharing economy, you have championed entrepreneurs and innovators in the interest of securing our country’s long-term economic growth.
However, 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 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 Migration Advisory Committee is currently examining proposals aiming to further restrict the Tier 2 system of skilled work visas and to reform the Entrepreneur Visa. 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.
It is of course also vital that we continue to support the growth of digital skills within the UK, and we stand ready to do our part.