Keeping top tech talent through immigration compliance
Wed 21 Feb 2018 | Naomi Hanrahan-Soar
Naomi Hanrahan-Soar, Senior Associate at Lewis Silkin and Vice Chair Skills, Talent & Migration Group at techUK, speaks on the importance of foreign talent to bridge the tech skills gaps, power innovation, and drive our digital economy
Like all parts of the tech sector, cloud and Big Data technologies have an ongoing shortage of skilled workers available to fill business need and rely heavily on foreign nationals to shore that need. Brexit, and the possibility of restricted access to that talent pool is, therefore, a serious concern.
Employers in the UK tend to rely on the Tier 2 work visa, which comes in two forms; Tier 2 General and Tier 2 ICT. These were once fairly simple frameworks. However, as the system has evolved and mainstream politics has focussed on reducing net migration, Tier 2 has become increasingly cumbersome for employers.
The idea is to ensure that employers’ first choice is to use ‘settled labour’ i.e. British, European or settled workers in the UK. In order to encourage employers to do so, the cost of employing foreign workers has more than quadrupled over recent years.
The Government charges £7,363 in immigration fees for just one skilled foreign worker to be brought to the UK for the five years it takes them to reach settlement. And that is before factoring in the practical cost of an international transfer, recruitment costs, or any family members that they may have with them.
Additionally, a legal professional would be required to assist and ensure that those fees aren’t wasted on a refused application and there’s no loss of ability to sponsor foreign employees through unintended (though easily incurred) non-compliance. Moreover, with increasingly serious and costly fines for non-compliance, it is surprising that employers still use the system at all.
Except that it isn’t. If you’re a tech employer, you simply need foreign workers. It is a global industry with specialist skills that develop too quickly to slowly upskill an unqualified local worker.
The employment market
But the good news is; in the tech arena, there is so much positivity around migration. The tech industry is at the forefront of the modern industrial strategy and the UK’s largest user of Tier 2 skilled worker visas. It is quite impossible to think of a business in the UK today that does not rely on technology to run its daily business operations and develop growth.
Whether it’s a local convenience store needing to accept card payments, or e-commerce retailers and no end of exciting companies looking to innovate with creative use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
In the UK one out of every five tech start-ups are founded by immigrants
Tech-based roles underpin the growth, or at the very least the management, of almost everything. Enabling the tech industry is therefore important to us all. Recently, this has been recognised by the doubling of quotas for Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visas, which is extremely popular for leaders in the tech space.
Technology, as an employment market, uses hardly any low skilled migration. Migrant workers are, for the majority, very highly skilled. Research from recent years also suggests that highly skilled migration slightly raises the salaries of settled workers.
If an AI tech company wanted to bring a star technician to London to work, they are going to have to pay her highly for the move. That then raises the bar for co-workers’ salaries in similar positions.
Finding the right skills
The tech industry is global, dynamic and aware of the importance of diversity in problem solving and creativity. Tech companies frequently voice the importance of diversity, talent and skills from around the world and the role these businesses play in the UK economy and business culture should not be underestimated.
In the U.S., most unicorn organisations have been founded by immigrants and in the UK one out of every five tech start-ups are founded by immigrants. While we don’t really know why this is the case, migration experts have written about how migrants are exceptionally motivated, having already taken a leap out of their comfort zone.
Tech is forever innovating new services and products in places all around the world. It may be the case that a UK business is unable to find someone domestically with the necessary skills to do the job, as there are only a select few candidates worldwide with the right skills or experience for the role.
Tech companies are likely to always need some foreign talent, not just to fill skills gaps but also to drive forward creativity
It would be sad for us all if the UK missed these opportunities for growth because of an fear that a certain number of migrants is more important than what benefit they bring.
Tech firms are fully aware that they face a talent shortage and they are doing everything in their power to attract more home-grown talent to the sector. Very few UK graduates choose to study maths at A Level, and even fewer attain IT qualifications.
In an effort to promote tech careers, companies are encouraging initiatives such as office tours for local school groups, flexible working arrangements to attract women returning to work and are actively upskilling and re-skilling their employees.
Despite such efforts, tech companies are likely to always need some foreign talent, not just to fill skills gaps but also to drive forward creativity, new solutions and ultimately our country’s economy and our personal lifestyles.