UK will issue fewer than 200 Tier 1 Exceptional Talent tech visas per year

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In December 2013, the UK's prime minister, David Cameron, announced a new visa route for IT workers in the UK. He announced that, as of April 2014, the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa stream would be amended to allow some IT workers of exceptional talent to apply for UK visas.

It has now emerged that there will be a cap of 200 on the number of IT workers who will be able to get these visas each year. However, it is likely that the real number will be far lower than that because it is extremely hard to qualify for the visa. In 2011, seven people qualified for Exceptional Talent visas.

Sanwar Ali of said 'This new visa is all very well for the small number of people each year who will benefit but it will not solve the skills crisis in London's IT sector.

Tier 2 (General) visa

'There are about 100,000 IT firms in London and many of them are experiencing difficulty in recruiting skilled workers because of the government's restrictive immigration policies. If the government wants to help, it should make it easier for IT professionals to qualify for Tier 2 (General) visas'.

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa allows up to 1,000 foreign nationals of 'exceptional talent' to come to the UK each year. They do not have to have a job offer before they come nor do they need a sponsor. However, they must obtain the endorsement of a 'Designated Competent Body' (DCB).

Until now, there have been only four DCBs; The British Academy, The Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering and Arts Council England. Each of these was allowed to endorse the applications of either 200 or 300 people each year. In practice, as hardly anyone meets the requirements for this visa they have only endorsed a very small number of people.

Tech City

Now, the government has designated a fifth DCB; Tech City, the organisation founded by the government in 2010 to support and foster London tech businesses.

Tech City is credited with considerable success in growing the IT sector in London. It is headed by CEO Joanna Shields who was previously Chief Technology Officer at Facebook.

Tech City will be allowed to endorse up to 200 Exceptional Talent visas each year. Even if it approves all 200 each year, this is unlikely to make much of a difference to London's IT recruitment crisis. Ms Shields told journalists in 2013 'every tech company that we talk to says that hiring is a problem'.

'The category is very restrictive'

One immigration lawyer told Computer Weekly magazine that the new visa 'may benefit a handful of highly skilled entrepreneurs who want to move to the UK or relocate their companies, but the category is still very restrictive'.

And Alastair Paterson, the CEO of Digital Shadows, an internet security management company, told Computer Weekly that the criteria for qualifying for the Exceptional Talent visa made it a poor choice for the tech sector in any event.

He said that Exceptional Talent applicants must have a PhD or equivalent research experience. Most successful tech entrepreneurs do not meet these requirements. Some do not have even a bachelor's degree. Tech entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Steve jobs were "college dropouts".

'The people we are trying to hire from overseas will not be eligible'

He said 'How many of the founders, CEOs and CTOs of the top Silicon Valley tech firms have PhDs? Not many…As such the new measures make no difference to us as a start-up since the people we are trying to hire from overseas will not be eligible for this new arrangement'.

Sanwar Ali said 'the government must make it easier for tech firms to get Tier 2 sponsorship licences and to sponsor international talent for Tier 2 (General) visas. Making a few small changes to the exceptional talent visa is a silly PR exercise'.

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