Announcements of job cuts in the technology sector from some of the world’s largest companies have come as an unwelcome start to 2023, with many worried they are indicative of a challenging year ahead and a potential global recession.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech sector was propelled into a period of extraordinary growth where online businesses boomed as the population at large were left with little option but to conduct many of their day-to-day activities online, such as working, studying and socialising.
This led to over-hiring in the tech sector, and as life returns to normal it seems an inevitable correction is now starting to bite.
However, health tech businesses, including smaller organisations and start-ups, could stand to gain by scooping up some of the top talent which has now been released into the job market by tech giants.
Employers should be aware of the work visas available to facilitate this hiring.
In addition to UK and Irish nationals who have an automatic right to work in the UK (from an immigration perspective), the labour market in the UK also comprises a significant number of individuals from overseas that require a visa to work.
Individuals that have chosen to relocate to the UK to develop their careers sponsored by their employers may now face not only losing their job, but also their right to remain in the UK.
However, the government’s commitment to strengthening the UK’s position as a ‘global science and tech superpower’ has created a variety of different visa routes that may allow tech talent to remain in the UK and continue building their careers.
Fragomen, a leading firm dedicated to immigration services worldwide, and the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), an independent not-for-profit advocacy group in the UK, have partnered to create a guide to aid those in the tech sector.
It provides an overview of the visa routes that may be available to tech companies and the individuals they wish to recruit.
Frances Lasok, Head of Talent and Skills at Coadec, said:
“For rapidly scaling start-ups, experienced staff are gold dust.
“They can bring both the technical and managerial skills that a growing start-up needs.
“Sometimes the right person and the right company might be in different countries. And that’s why start-ups are increasingly making hiring work across the globe.”
Many international employees are sponsored by their employers, and their right to stay and work in the UK is directly linked to their current job.
For those employers wishing to hire someone currently on a sponsored visa, new sponsorship must be offered, and a new visa applied for.
A sponsor licence issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) must be sought first if not already held.
Sponsorship comes with significant cost to the business.
A typical three-year visa for a small business will be almost £4,000 in application fees and charges alone. For a medium or large business, these costs will increase to almost £5,800.
Whilst a sponsored worker visa is a straightforward application, the costs along with the associated compliance obligations placed on the sponsor can be prohibitive.
There are, however, other routes to consider.
Following are five visa routes that might be useful to consider.
Global Talent is a flexible visa route for individuals who can show they have exceptional talent or promise in their chosen field of expertise.
A Global Talent visa holder can live and work in the UK without restriction, and their visa is not contingent on working for a specific company, although they must work within their endorsed field to qualify for settlement.
Tech Nation is currently the endorsing body for applicants with technical and business skills in the field of digital technology.
Although Tech Nation will close in Spring 2023, the Home Office have committed that no one who is already a part of the global talent scheme will be disadvantaged or required to obtain an additional endorsement.
A new endorsing body is expected to be appointed in the coming months.
The High Potential Individual visa allows individuals who have graduated from the top 50 non-UK universities in the past five years to work in the UK on an employed or self-employed basis.
The visa route was created with the aim of bringing the ‘best and brightest’ from around the world and to act as a means of addressing a shortage of highly skilled labour in the UK.
The government publishes its list of the top 50 universities every year here.
Those who would like to set up their own business may wish to explore the Start-up or Innovator visa categories.
The Start-Up visa is aimed at entrepreneurs starting their first UK business. There is no requirement for initial capital investment, however, the visa is only granted for a maximum period of two years.
Therefore, individuals would need to switch to another visa category at the end of this period.
The Innovator visa is intended for established entrepreneurs looking to set up a business in the UK.
While this visa comes with a requirement of at least £50,000 investment funds, it provides an accelerated route to permanent residency in the UK after only three years.
A key requirement to qualify for these visas is that applicants must obtain an endorsement from an approved endorsing body confirming that their business idea is innovative, viable and scalable.
Individuals should also explore whether they can switch to a non-sponsored visa category by family connections.
Visa routes may open if a partner or spouse is working in the UK and is sponsored by their employer, or if there is a subsisting relationship with a British citizen or someone settled in the UK.
Whilst times may be uncertain, this may represent an opportunity for employers to hire top-tier talent that is usually hard to find.
Kelly Chua is a Director and Solicitor at Fragomen, the world’s leading provider of immigration services.
The firm has nearly 6,000 immigration-focused professionals and staff spanning 60 offices and offers support in more than 170 countries.