UK PM announces 'tech visa' to ease immigration for IT talent

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The UK's Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that a new 'tech visa' will be introduced in April 2014. There will, in fact, be no new visa stream but the rules of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa stream will be changed to allow exceptionally talented programmers and IT professionals to apply.

Mr Cameron said that he intended to make London 'the best place in the world in which to start and grow a business'. The Prime Minister also announced increased funding for the UK tech sector which is one of London's biggest employers. There are currently around 90,000 tech companies in London.

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa was introduced in 2011 by the UK's Coalition government as a partial replacement for the Tier 1 (General) visa which allowed 'highly skilled migrants' to come to live and work in the UK.

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa

The number of people able to come under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa is tiny. Whereas 50,000 Tier 1 (General) visas were issued in 2009, only 1,000 Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas can be issued annually. It is also extremely difficult to meet the requirements for Tier 1 Exceptional Talent.

But, because the qualification criteria are so stringent, far fewer people than that actually get exceptional talent visas. In 2011, the first year that the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa was available, only seven visas were granted. (To be fair, it was not a complete year because they were not introduced until April 2011). In the first full year, 51 exceptional talent visas were granted.

In order to qualify for an exceptional talent visa, an applicant must first be endorsed by a Designated Competent Body (DCB). Since 2011, there have been only four DSBs; The Royal Society, Arts Council England, The British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Fifth Designated Competent Body

Mr Cameron's plan is to introduce a fifth DCB which will be able to endorse the visa applications of exceptionally talented programmers. It is rumoured that that body will be the Tech City Investment Organisation, a non-governmental body which was founded to encourage growth of the tech sector in east London.

In order to qualify for the 'tech visa' therefore, exceptionally talented programmers will need the endorsement of Tech City. Tech City will not be able to endorse applications unless the applicant is internationally recognised and considered to be a world leading talent.

There is no news yet on how many tech visas will be available each year.

New visa 'unlikely to make much difference'

Sanwar Ali of said 'we welcome any increase in the number of visas for IT workers because London desperately needs them but, if the new visa is going to be part of the Exceptional Talent stream it is unlikely to make much difference'.

'Unless significant changes are made it will remain the case that very few people in the World meet the requirements for this particular visa category.'

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