UK may double number of visas available for talented migrants in technology sector

A man working on a computer as the government reveals proposals to double the number of visas availa

A man working on a computer as the government reveals proposals to double the number of visas available for migrants to work at hi-tech firms. Picture: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Foreign workers could be lured to work for UK technology firms under plans to double the amount of visas available for 'exceptionally' talented migrants as the country prepares to leave the European Union.

Officials will look at ways to ensure that new migrants at the cutting edge in digital technology, sciences or the arts come to the UK, with the aim of spreading talent around the country.

Theresa May is also setting out a £60m package of support for the technology sector including a new training programme and measures to boost the industry in cities including Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham.

A week before the Budget, the prime minister and chancellor Philip Hammond are welcoming tech firms and entrepreneurs to Downing Street on Wednesday to set out the support on offer and hear the views of the industry.

Mrs May praised the 'immense contribution to our economic life and to our society' made by tech firms.

She added: 'Helping our world-class entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed is how we lay the foundations for our prosperity and build an economy fit for the future.

'Technology is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, and we will continue to invest in the best new innovations and ideas, in the brightest and best talent, and in revolutionary digital infrastructure.

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'And as we prepare to leave the European Union, I am clear that Britain will remain open for business.

'That means government doing all it can to secure a strong future for our thriving tech sector and ensure people in all corners of our nation share in the benefits of its success.'

The package of support includes:

:: Doubling to 2,000 the number of visas available to the brightest and best talent from around the world, including in digital technology, under the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route.

:: A £21m investment to expand the London-based Tech City UK into a nationwide network to encourage the growth of the digital economy.

:: A £20m fund to help public services take advantage of UK expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence.

:: A £20m training programme which will see thousands of 14 to 18-year-olds tackle simulated cyber threats.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is launching a £2m pilot project in Aberdeenshire, Bristol/Bath and North East Somerset, Coventry and Warwickshire, and West Yorkshire which will see local firms offered vouchers to pay for full-fibre gigabit connections.

Tech City UK chairwoman Eileen Burbidge said: 'We are delighted to hear that the Government wants to increase Tech City UK's funding for the next four years.

'Under the Tech Nation banner, this country that has brought so much innovation to the world and leads in sub-sectors such as fintech, cyber security, artificial intelligence, robotics and life sciences, will build a national network of digital excellence so that the UK will continue to be recognised as one of the best places in the world to start or grow a digital tech business.'

Matt Clifford, co-founder and chief executive of Entrepreneur First, said: 'We commend the Home Office's decision to increase the number of Tier 1 exceptional talent visas.

'We cannot ignore the fact that our digital and tech economy cannot survive on home-grown talent alone and is substantially boosted by exceptional foreign individuals who have chosen to build their businesses in the UK.

'If London is to continue being the European hub for tech, and if it is to grow to rival other internationally significant tech centres, we must ensure the UK becomes an increasingly welcoming hub for EU and non-EU nationals alike.'