Applications for Special Tech Visas on the Rise in the UK

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Last November regulators in the United Kingdom relaxed the rules to allow talented IT workers from companies to apply for visas as a group. Many individuals who are non-EU immigrant technology workers with ‘exceptional IT talent’ have applied for these new special visas as a result of the decision. According to the agency that processes these applications, Tech City UK, more than 200 applications have been received since April. That’s ten times the amount received over the same period the year prior for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa for Digital Technology.

This visa allows overseas tech workers to move to the UK. Roughly one-quarter of the applications are received from the United States. While almost 50% of applications have originated from the Asian Pacific (APAC) region. This region includes countries such as India and Australia. Although Tech City UK has stated the visa is most popular amongst workers from India, the US and Nigeria.

A recent survey by ManpowerGroup’s Experis found that 28% of IT leaders indicate that they are seeking employees who can demonstrate communication and collaboration as a skill. Organizations continue to be challenged by the high demand for information technology (IT) professionals and the widening talent shortage for these crucial positions. Adding to this concern is the need to hire IT professionals with not only hard technical skills but also the soft skills they need to be effective.

The Softer Side of IT: Cultivating hard-to-find soft skills in today’s IT workforce explores the impact of the IT soft skill deficit, provides insights into the issue and offers guidance on how to assess and develop these critical skills, particularly as it relates to communicating effectively and partnering with others. Tech City is tasked with qualifying individuals hard technical skills but must also consider the in-demand soft skills for the IT workforce and the impact of those soft skills on business in the UK today.

While Tech City is optimistic and seeking to increase the cap on these visas in the future, there is still uncertainty for thousands of current European tech workers who are facing the post-Brexit UK sometime in the near future. Many may be forced to return home or apply for new work permits. This poses a significant threat to many industry sectors given the severity of the information technology skills gap in the UK presently. The Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons recently issued a report estimating the economic impact of this skills gap as £63bn ($89bn) a year in lost additional GDP.

A recent survey of UK companies, who seek advanced technological profiles, found that 78% consider a skills shortage in the digital expertise as one of their main growth inhibitors. Visas such as this one will grow even more valuable if access to EU migrants is decreased after Brexit. While the program with Tech City which allowed them to endorse 200 special “Tech Nation” visas per year, began in 2014, it was only in November 2015 that the guidelines were relaxed in order to allow individuals to apply for visas as a group.

The ability to apply as a group may affect the skills levels of those who are granted this type of visa, making it easier for candidates with ‘exceptional promise’ receive the same visas as those with ‘exceptional talent.' Applications have certainly increased in number this year as a result of the group application allowance. However, only 28% of the applicants are female, and only 70% of all applicants are endorsed by Tech City and have their applications sent to the Home Office for processing of their visa. It’s expected that the cap on this visa will be reached sometime in April which may prompt talks to increase the cap on applications for these visas as soon as the first quarter of 2017.