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Home Office to offer startup visas to foreign tech entrepreneurs

But trade body warns that the move won't solve skilled foreign workers' visa difficulties

An immigration visa stamp

The UK government plans to open up more visas for foreign tech entrepreneurs to start businesses in the UK.

This new 'startup visa', designed following advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and feedback from the tech sector, will replace the scrapped graduate visa route, and will require applicants to have an endorsement from a university or approved business sponsors, such as startup accelerators.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said: "The UK can be proud that we are a leading nation when it comes to tech and innovation, but we want to do more to attract businesses to the UK and our migration system plays a key part in that.

"That's why I am pleased to announce a new visa for people wanting to start a business in the UK. This will help to ensure we continue to attract the best global talent and maintain the UK's position as a world-leading destination for innovation and entrepreneurs."

Launching in spring 2019, the new visa route follows efforts to expand the use of visas to attract foreign talent to the UK in an attempt to tackle the skills shortage. It recently doubled the number of Tier 1 'exceptional talent' visas to 2,000, but these are shared among applicants from science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology and the arts.

Meanwhile, figures obtained by the Campaign for Science and Engineering show that the Home Office rejected 1,226 applications for Tier 2 visas to work in the UK in IT or tech roles between December 2017 and March 2018.

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of technology industry trade body, techUK, said: "The new startup visas are a sensible move to encourage those with good ideas to come to the UK. However, startups are only one part of UK tech. For many established mid-tier and larger tech companies, there remain serious concerns around Tier 2 visas. We understand that approximately 1,000 tech workers with job offers were refused visas between December 2017 and March 2018. This is a handbrake on economic growth and needs to be urgently addressed."

IT Pro has asked the Home Office how many startup visas will be made available.

The government's plans to open up visas have coincided with the launch of startup promotion body Tech Nation's first ever fintech programme.

Leading UK fintech experts will judge applications from promising startups, and Tech Nation will showcase the winners to the American market.

Fintech firms netted 1.34 billion in VC funding in 2017, and Tech Nation wants to double down on that success.

Eileen Burbidge, chair of Tech Nation and the Treasury's special envoy for fintech, who is also one of the judges, said: "Fintech has transformed many traditional services supplied by the financial services sector and is bringing huge benefits to the UK economy. The Tech Nation Fintech programme will help some of the UK's most promising fintech companies to grow and scale. The UK is already a world leader in fintech, this programme will help us to maintain that advantage while accelerating the benefits that the sector can bring to the whole economy."

The programme will include a 24-hour induction, a series of in-depth learning sessions with established entrepreneurs, investors and partners covering issues like regulation and partnering with banks. There will also be five networking dinners and a three-day showcase trip in early 2019 to the USA.

Applications open today, and run until 27 July, with successful applicants set to be informed by mid-August, before the programme starts in September.

Picture: Shutterstock

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