Demand for Tier 1 tech visas climbs by 45%

Spike in applications are from US and Indian workers in AI and cloud, but a cap of 2,000 mean many still miss out

An immigration visa stamp

The number of Tier 1 visa applications the UK received for tech workers in 2018/19 was almost one-and-a-half times greater than the previous year.

The majority of the 45% increase in applications for the exceptional talent visa is being attributed to a rise in the number of applicants from the US and India across a range of sectors, according to research from Tech Nation.

These areas include software development, fintech, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, as well as cloud computing.

Figures also show the number of applications for these tech visas has sustained a fifth year-on-year growth against previous figures. Meanwhile, almost half of the applications (44%) for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa in 2018/19, were from the tech sector during 2018/19.

"The UK continues to attract talent from all around the world. This is thanks to our world-leading academic institutions, strong access to finance and long-standing reputation for innovation," said digital minister Margot James.

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"Making sure we have the talent and skills so the tech sector can continue its incredible growth, is a priority of our modern Industrial Strategy.

"Following the publication of the Immigration White Paper, Home Office have also launched the new Startup and Innovator routes as part of Tier 1 to attract the brightest tech entrepreneurs," she added. "We are determined to ensure the tech sector has access to the talent that it needs."

The visa was launched in 2014 to offer a route for skilled workers in the tech sector to live and work in the UK without friction. There are five designated competent bodies (DCB), including the authors of the research, Tech Nation, that can endorse workers who apply for a visa through this avenue.

Each of these five organisations can endorse up to 200 applications, with the Home Office providing a contingency pot of an additional 1,000 places should they exceed this limit. This means there are only 2,000 places on the Tier 1 scheme per year.

According to Tech Nation, the total number of applications grew this year to 650, from 450 the year before, representing a 45% rise. Workers from Nigeria, Russia, Canada, Australia, China and South Africa also ranked in as countries from which there were a large number of applications.

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"The UK tech sector is an incredibly attractive place to work, with its unparalleled connectivity, access to exceptional talent, and significant levels of innovation and investment," said Tech Nation's head of visas Matt Jeffs-Watts.

"This view is evidenced by the overwhelming enthusiasm from Tier 1 Exceptional Talent applicants wishing to enter the UK tech sector. It is this level of talent and skill that will help in the UK keeping its position at the forefront of the global digital economy."

Although the research makes for good news, IT Pro investigations have found that an arbitrary annual visa cap imposed on accepting applications means these DCBs regularly hit their allowance in the first few months of a year, leading to a great many talented employees are being turned away.

Jose Alberto Esquivel, for example, is a talented data scientist from Mexico who studied at the University of Essex from 2015. His application was turned down in 2017 due to the cap for Tier 2 visas, and he was forced to leave. After spending a year in London he then applied to stay under the Tier 2 work visa but was turned down because the UK government had already hit its annual cap.

For a sense of perspective, this cap of 20,700 applications was it within the first seven months of 2018. The concern is that with rising demand, the shortage of available spaces will likely worsen.

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