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October 16, 2015updated 25 Aug 2016 12:00pm

Britain gets overseas talent with tech visa rule changes

News: Firms looking for data science, dev ops, AI, and cyber security skills can bring in whole teams.

By Charlotte Henry

UK tech visas are to be relaxed in an attempt to fill a digital skills gap in the UK and to help tech firms to grow.

The Tech Nation Visa Scheme (Tier 1 Exceptional Talent) will now allow firms to more easily bring in specialist technology talent from outside the EU.

From November 12 there will be a fast track application process for when start-ups are expanding quickly, allowing them to bring in people with specific skills such as DevOps, AI, cyber security, or taking firms to IPO.

The system will now also recognise "exceptional promise" of potential hires.

There will be a fast track application system for firms in Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland, the cities combined under the umbrella of Northern Powerhouse. Tech North will also provide a visa support service to help firms in those cities bringing in overseas talent.

Teams of up to 5 will also be able apply for visas at the same time, so firms can bring in entire teams that they need.

Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy told CBR: "We have Silicon Valley in the UK, whether that’s in Oxford, Cambridge, London or in the clusters around the UK including the northern powerhouse initiative so that we can have a northern Silicon Valley.

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"The policy changes we can make by helping tech companies with visas will attract talent and drive investment in tech skills to support growing tech companies.

Government funded Tech City UK says that it responded directly to feedback from firms when designing the evolved visa system.

CEO Gerard Grech said: "Based on the feedback from the tech community, the new Tech Nation Visa Scheme will prove to be a vital tool for companies that want to secure the high calibre people they need to quickly scale their product, service and operations."

Eileen Burbidge, Chair of Tech City UK said: "Engaging with the digital business community to ensure the Government is offering practical support to accelerate company growth is what Tech City UK is about, and these revisions to the visa programme address the highest priority for all company founders ."

Charlotte Holloway, head of policy at Tech UK, said: "It’s good news that the Government and Tech City UK have listened to tech community, and the changes to the Tier 1 exceptional talent are a positive step. Tech companies need a smart migration policy which helps scaling companies access the talent they need to grow. The tech community will be pleased at this development, but wider questions remain on the Government’s current proposals to reform the Tier 2 visa scheme for skilled workers on which many tech companies depend."

Firms have reacted positively to the move, although some warned there is further to go. Founder and CEO of Gibbs S3m, Farida Gibbs, said: "This will help boost innovation and productivity for small and big business alike, but there is still a lot further to go.

"With only 19 applications received and 17 approved it is clear that this visa programme is not going to be a panacea."

Gibbs wants to see a greater number apprenticeships and coding academies introduced too.

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