How Migrant and International Talent Can Save the Tech Industry from Brexit

Despite industry-wide fears over the Brexit referendum, reports show the UK’s technology sector is booming. According to the Tech Nation Report 2018, the UK’s digital tech sector rose 4.5% in revenue and is responsible for almost £184bn to the economy. The UK is ranked third in the world behind the U.S. and China for total capital invested in digital tech companies, with London alone ranked as the second-most connected technology hub after Silicon Valley.

However, Britain’s success in the tech industry owes a great debt to its migrant workforce. According to the Administrative Data Research Network, the 500,000 international students in the UK are more likely to study STEM subjects than British students, meaning sponsorship licence applications are common in science and tech companies reliant on overseas talent.

London paves the way as the fourth most international workforce in the world, with 54% of its employees in the tech industry being from overseas and 180,000 jobs belonging to just European migrants, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) found. Without access to the international and European talent pool – as Brexit poses risk to – there could be a huge skills gap in the industry, ultimately jeopardising science, technology and the UK economy. 

The Impact of Brexit

With Brexit negotiations looming over us with just under a year until the deadline, industry professionals have warned that there are currently more digital vacancies in the UK than there are skilled people to fill them. This skills gap will only be exacerbated by Brexit as a third of tech founders reported they had already lost out on international hires, a survey by Tech London Advocates found. Similarly, the Tech Nation Report found that 83% of the UK’s tech hub professionals expressed they had difficulty accessing talent, and large companies such as Fintech have expressed their concerns over passport rights and their global mobility. This is only expected to escalate: around 800,000 IT jobs face a skills shortage by 2020 according to a Computer Weekly Survey.

Unsurprisingly, UK tech businesses fear for the future. Prospective EU applicants may push the UK aside when considering their employment options. However, tech industry professionals do not need to fear a complete loss of EU talent. The latest information is that there will be a new immigration system put in place for EU citizens similar to free movement. During the implementation period, EU nationals can apply for temporary documentation which permits them to stay until they reach the five-year requirements. Then, they can apply for Settled Status or Indefinite Leave to Remain.

The Shortage Occupation List

The Home Office has since tried to overcome Brexit fears by increasing the number of Tier 1 Visas, yet UK businesses have found it difficult to hire talented tech workers as caps on monthly visas are quickly being reached. However, applying for a job on the Shortage Occupation List may result in an application being approved, even if the cap has already been reached.

Usually, IT jobs in the UK are subject to the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) – a process which takes at least 28 days in which jobs are advertised to local UK communities. Only after the RLMT do the vacancies extend to overseas workers, meaning that exceptionally talented workers are missing out on jobs while they wait, or turning elsewhere. Yet jobs outlined on the UK Shortage Occupation List side-step this process and are openly available for immediate applicants. Anybody anywhere in the world can apply for these positions at the same time and will be viewed on a level playing field with UK applicants.

Some jobs currently on the list are:

  • Software developers
  • Shader writers
  • Games designers
  • Driver developers
  • Embedded communications engineers

Secondary school computer science teachers are also needed, alongside cyber security specialists. International expertise could be responsible for not only teaching the UK’s next generation of technological computer whizzes, but for keeping the nation safe.

Sponsoring Overseas Workers

For a company to hire international talent, they will need a Tier 2 Sponsor License as this will allow them to provide their employees with a Certificate of Sponsorship. This contributes towards their Tier 2 Visa application which is the most common route of entering the UK to work in a skilled position for five years. A sponsor licence has very few requirements yet obtaining the licence will encourage applicants from further afield to apply. This will limit the skill shortage the UK tech industry currently faces.

What Tech Professionals are Missing

The UK tech industry is in desperate need of more higher-level workers than beginners, as some of the jobs on the Occupation Shortage List require applicants who have at least five years’ experience.

These include:

  • IT specialist managers
  • IT business analysts
  • Systems engineers in visual effects (2D/3D computer animation for film, TV, or video games)
  • Senior developers
  • Data scientists

Industry experts have also highlighted their desire for applicants to demonstrate leadership experience, confident speaking abilities, and presenting in front of a group – all of which, they say, are factors crucially missing in UK applicants. This means that migrants could have an edge over UK hopefuls if they can demonstrate as having any of these additional soft skills.

The UK’s tech sector is heavily dependent on migrant expertise, so knowing what skills and relevant degrees employers are looking for will put the UK, EU and international applicants on a mutually level playing field. This will close the skills gap that is predicted, saving the UK tech sector from falling behind competitors and damaging its well-earnt valuable reputation.

This article was written by Olivia Bridge, a specialist content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, leading immigration advisors in the UK.