UK’s Global Talent visa for tech workers plunged into uncertainty

Tech Nation, a non-profit that has helped connect thousands of talented tech workers to the UK and get 5,000 start-ups off the ground, has had its government funding pulled.

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The move – announced earlier this week after its £12mn funding was awarded Barclay’s Eagle Labs – will see Tech Nation scale down and cease operations on 31 March 2023.Uncertainty now surrounds who will take over Tech Nation’s digitech Global Talent visa endorsement role, which is not part of Eagle Labs’ future remit.

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Tech Nation ‘Helped to develop dynamic part of the economy’

Set up in 2011 by the coalition government to serve the UK scale-up tech ecosystem, Tech Nation has helped the sector grow by 7% and attracted some of the world’s best IT talent to the country. Tech Nation’s accelerator programmes designed to help UK start-ups and scaleups grow and expand internationally included many of the UK’s most successful, including Monzo, Revolut, Depop, Darktrace, Ocado, Skyscanner and Deliveroo.Announcing the closure, Tech Nation chief executive Gerard Grech, said, “We have helped champion and support innovators in everything from AI to FinTech to Climate tech and more. We have helped spread digital growth and jobs nationwide. For every pound invested in Tech Nation, we have returned £15.”Responding to the news, Martha Lane Fox CBE, President of the British Chambers of Commerce, said, “As an entrepreneur and digital champion, I’ve witnessed first-hand the impact that Tech Nation has had in creating one of the most exciting and dynamic parts of our economy. The skills they’ve equipped entrepreneurs with and [the] opportunities they’ve created have been second to none. They will be missed.”Daniel Korski, CEO of government-focused technology company PUBLIC added: “Tech Nation – and before it, Tech City – has been so critical to building the UK’s rocketship of a digital economy, supporting fast-growing firms but also diverse founders and championing the digital economy across the country. It’s hard to imagine where we would be today had Tech Nation not existed.”

Uncertainty surrounds future of digitech Global Talent visas

The news of Tech Nation’s closure could potentially overshadow the UK government’s plans for tech superpower status in an ever-tightening global race for tech talent.A Home Office spokesperson told news website City AM the future governance of the Global Talent visas programme had yet to be decided.“We are working closely with Tech Nation to ensure continuity of the digitech strand of the Global Talent visa in the short term, whilst we explore the long-term changes necessary in light of Tech Nation’s planned closure,” the spokesperson said.“We will also take every available step to ensure that applicants already part of the Global Talent route are not disadvantaged by the closure, so the UK can continue to benefit from the brightest and best living and working here.”While the Home Office is looking at options, “There is currently very little information available about what the future of the Digital Technology Global Talent category, often referred to as the ‘Tech Nation visa’, is going to look like,” said Elli Graves of international law firm Kingsley Napley.“At present it looks like Tech Nation will continue to accept applications up until they cease operations, confirming that the visa programme will continue in the ‘immediate term’.“However, given that assessors have normally been allowed up to eight weeks to decide applications, it is not clear whether an earlier cut-off date will be introduced to allow Tech Nation assessors sufficient time to decide pending applications prior to 31st March.”

Impact on the UK’s claim for tech super status ?

Tech Nation’s wind-down has therefore been met with concern from both the immigration and tech sectors, with the move being seen as a blow to the UK’s ambitions to compete globally for tech talent. As David Sapsted writes for Think Global People magazine, this is already a significant challenge in the increasingly important fintech sector.The UK government published its Digital Strategy 2022, with a mission to strengthen the country’s position as a “global science and tech superpower”, and to encourage investment and innovation so that the UK can continue to compete on a global stage.And just last Friday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also said he wanted “the world’s tech entrepreneurs, life science innovators and green tech companies to come to the UK because it offers the best possible place to make their visions happen.”Yet without an accessible visa process, it is unclear how these ambitions can continue to be realised in the short term. Tech Nation has processed over 6,000 Global Talent Visa applications since its inception and endorsed more than 3,000.“Launched in February 2020, the Global Talent visa is a bespoke immigration route designed to attract the ‘brightest and best talent from around the world,” commented immigration practice Smith Stone Walters. “The route reformed and replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route, with the aim of improving the UK’s appeal to highly skilled individuals with specialist skills that will enrich the UK’s knowledge, economy and society.“Unlike many other work immigration routes, the Global Talent visa does not require the applicant to have a job offer in order to apply. It also leads to settlement in the UK after three or five years, depending on the applicant’s circumstances.”

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