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Russ Shaw

Founder, Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates

The new startup visa shows the UK is still open to entrepreneurs

As Britain’s (planned) departure from the EU nears, numerous questions continue to hang over the UK – but could the government have just answered a major one on accessing international talent?

On Thursday the Home Office announced it will be bringing forward the creation of two new visa routes, purpose-built to attract leading business talent to British shores. Both the startup and innovator visa will now come into effect as on 29 March 2019, with no cap on the number of applicants.

It’s certainly welcome news for a sector which has long been grappling with a prevailing shortage of talent – a critical issue that has only intensified as the tech community thrives and demand for digital workers heightens. Accordingly, Tech London Advocates has launched the ‘Road to One Million’ campaign, a major initiative to secure one million tech jobs by 2023.

This is all contrary to the early commentators that were relentless in their chants that UK tech would not attract globally significant funds and produce billion-dollar valuations. How wrong they were, we now have the financial capital, just not the human.

A prosperous tech ecosystem relies on two critical pools of talent: homegrown and overseas. It is essential that Britain commits to effectively equipping the workforce with the skills fitting of the digital age, working within the education system but also implementing a strategic approach to retraining and upskilling those facing unemployment. But in the here and now, businesses require international talent to supplement and boost the workforce.

Since the Brexit referendum, there has been a nervousness surrounding Britain’s ability to attract foreign entrepreneurs to settle in the UK and found companies. There was a real reputational risk, as much as an economic one. With both Paris and Berlin on the rise and committing heavily to digital infrastructure and attracting growing levels of investment, how could Britain compete under the Brexit rhetoric.

The new startup visa sends exactly the sort of message that as a nation, we need to be projecting across the globe. The UK is open and welcoming to the brightest and best to set up shop and build the tech companies that will come to define tomorrow. Bringing the route forwards is a timely and pragmatic step in the right direction, helping to identify the UK tech sector as the ecosystem to seed and scale in – despite the conversations in Brussels.

It is vital for the success of the digital economy that we continue to see entrepreneurs landing in Britain – generating innovation, investment, employment and growth.

The second measure is to create the innovator visa – a route for experienced business leaders with capital to invest in their ventures. It’s another positive and diligent move from the Home Office that should provide effective entry for high level talent, who have the requisite skills to scale a tech firm.

UK tech is evolving, and we are now seeing businesses go on to attract significant levels of funding and achieve extraordinary growth. Experienced entrepreneurs are an important element of a burgeoning tech ecosystem and bring the knowledge transfer, the depth of skills and the international connections that will elevate Britain on the global stage.

In a similar vein to the role universities played in assessing Graduate Entrepreneur visas, both routes will use external bodies and private sector experts, as opposed to the Home Office assessing applicants’ ventures.

Tech London Advocates has long been campaigning to enable third party sponsorship (TPS) of visas in the UK, to help alleviate a proportion of the administrative burden from the public sector and provide a commercial understanding of on the ground talent requirements. Again, it would appear that the government is listening and putting the appropriate measures in place to ensure the UK welcomes innovative businesses with real potential – under plans to create new endorsement bodies.

Whilst there are certainly still measures to be taken, and we continue to campaign for the recommendations given by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to lift the ban on Tier 2 visas – both the startup and innovator route demonstrate that the message is being heard in Westminster and access to talent is high on the agenda.