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March 2, 2023updated 05 Apr 2023 9:11am

UK-India Young Professionals visa scheme could boost IT workforce

The partnership could help the UK plug its IT skills gap and create a new generation of ethical IT workers.

By Sophia Waterfield

The UK has partnered with India to create a new visa which will see up to 3,000 young professionals from the subcontinent come to live and work in the UK. A tech envoy role for Indo-Pacific will also be appointed, and the move has been dubbed a “great opportunity” by the CEO of industry body the BCS.

28/02/2023. New Delhi, India. The Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly has met with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar for a Bilateral meeting. Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street
Foreign secretary, James Cleverly met with the Indian minister of external affairs, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to launch the Young Professionals Scheme and the creation of a UK tech envoy to the Indo-Pacific region. (Photo by Rory Arnold/No 10 Downing Street)

The foreign secretary James Cleverly visited the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, India, on Wednesday to announce the Young Professionals scheme. Up to 3,000 young professionals aged 18-30 from India can apply to live and work in the UK for up to two years, to help bolster ties between the two countries in defence and security, trade and investment.

The UK’s first tech envoy to the Indo-Pacific region, also announced alongside the scheme, will be tasked with boosting ties with India as a priority and heighten the UK’s status as a “science and tech superpower”. They will also work with partners in the Indo-Pacific region on topics such as setting global technology standards and helping solve economic challenges through innovation.

India is a ‘hugely important’ IT partner to the UK

The partnership could be a fruitful one for the UK IT sector – India has the world’s third-highest number of technology unicorns and start-ups, with 108 start-ups valued at more than $1bn. The country also has about 10% of the global IT workforce compared to the UK, which has around 3%.

“India is a hugely important partner to the UK and the deeper ties we are forging now will help grow the UK economy and boost our industries for the future,” said Cleverly. “India is also an emerging global leader in technology and there are immense opportunities for better collaboration between us in this sector.”

In 2021, former prime minister Boris Johnson and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi agreed a vision of a new strategic partnership between the two countries. They launched the India-UK Roadmap to 2030, which covered healthcare and global health security, clean energy and transport, climate change and increased cooperation between British and Indian universities around research on emerging technologies.

According to the Foreign Office, the UK-India trading relationship is already worth £34bn, growing by £10bn in the past year. A free trade agreement is being worked through with India, which could have a direct impact on the technology and IT sector.

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Overseas workers could narrow the UK’s IT skills gap

This further collaboration between the UK and India means that there is an opportunity for creating a model different from Silicon Valley‘s “break it and see” approach, says Rashik Parmar MBE, group CEO of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. He also says that the 3,000 young professionals from India could help plug the IT skills gap in the UK.

“In the last 20 years, we started to use labour arbitrage as a way of offshoring IT roles to India,” he explains. “And so we’re at a point where a lot of the junior roles [in IT and technology] don’t exist in the UK.

“So the question is how do we plug that gap? Do we always have to go offshore to get those skills or is there a better model for creating affordable onshore junior roles?”

The Young Professionals Scheme could be a way for IT workers in the UK to gain experience overseas in larger organisations that offshore entry-level jobs. Parmar explains that start-ups in the UK could benefit from the scheme, leveraging skills such as data capturing for machine learning and offering a modern way for professionals overseas to boost their skills, too.

An opportunity to make IT good for society says BCS

Parmar also cites India’s wealth of knowledge and experience in reaching the “unbanked” – people without bank accounts – and digitally transforming farming, which could be massively beneficial to UK start-ups.

“If you look at how India provided a bank account to the unbanked, it is at a scale which was just eye-watering,” says Parmer. “If you look at what’s been going on in terms of information for farming and improving the yield, using very simple sets of information to allow the farmer to get the latest insights… we don’t have that [in the UK].” He adds that India can help the UK with its carbon emission reduction.

All these things are what Parmar calls making “IT good for society”. This, however, also requires a new generation of IT workers.

“How do we build a culture of professionalism in the next era of our next generation of IT workforce?” he put to Tech Monitor. He hopes to see the rise of “responsible computing”, which not only means that someone has the skills and expertise to be able to build a solution, but is also ethical, accountable and cares about outcomes and being inclusive.

Read more: India’s semiconductor ambitions are grand. Fulfilling them will take a lot of work

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