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UK opens up 'high-potential individual route' for tech worker immigration

Graduates from top 50 global universities get a pass as critics say it fails to make up for Brexit impact

The UK has begun a fast-track visa scheme for tech workers graduating from a list of top 50 universities worldwide.

Critics, however, maintain the scheme will fail to compensate for the barriers erected to tech recruitment from the EU as a result of Brexit.

Announcing the "high-potential individual route", which started from 30 May, the British government said it wants to attract the world's top graduates in subjects such as science, engineering and medical research. Sought-after skills also include cybersecurity in a plan to support both economic growth as well as technological and medical advances.

The UK's chief finance minister, Rishi Sunak, said: "This new visa offer means that the UK can continue to attract the best and brightest from across the globe. The route means that the UK will grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

"We want the businesses of tomorrow to be built here today - which is why I call on students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to forge their careers here," he added.

Successful applicants will get a two-year work visa for Britain — three years for those with PhDs — and could move into other long-term employment routes.

Universities in the scheme have appeared in the top 50 rankings of at least two of either the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings or the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The current list is available here.

Security and criminality checks still apply, as does a test of proficient English. The visas cost £715 (c $903 – yes, you read that right, the UK has some of the highest visa fees in the world) and immigration health surcharges (up to £624/$788 per year) must be paid. Applicants must demonstrate maintenance funds of £1,270 ($1,603) or more.

But, unlike the previous rules, candidates no longer need a sponsor and a concrete job offer to work in the UK, nor meet salary requirements nor show they are not taking a place fillable by a British worker.

'We simply don't produce enough developers here'

The scheme would fail to compensate for the recruitment barriers created by Brexit, after which freedom of movement from the EU's trading bloc ended, according to one critic.

Lib Dem councillor and self-styled tech entrepreneur Robin Stephens took to Twitter to point out that "Brexit has closed the door to the world's top graduates. Hiring from abroad now incredibly difficult."

He added: "We simply don't produce enough developers here, and London was the tech capital of Europe, so a very attractive place to come to. Our young British developers were exposed to brilliant international devs thereby improving their skills."

Although India produces "top-notch developers", hiring them is fraught with "tons of paperwork" and "very high risk with the time," he added.

Earlier this year the Office for National Statistics found job vacancies had risen to almost 1.3 million in the first quarter of 2022 in the UK. The number of vacancies continued to increase across most industries in the first quarter of 2022, with some of the largest increases seen in professional, scientific and technical activities.

Bev White, chief executive of tech recruitment specialist Nash Squared, said the UK's technology sector is having to increase salaries for key roles well above the rate of inflation because of intense competition for candidates.

"A lack of skills has also seen technology job vacancies shoot up by almost 200 percent since 2020, and this has put further pressure on companies to increase salaries for in-demand roles like Software Engineers/Developers and Big Data/Analytics professionals.

"This salary growth in the sector is also feeding through to new starters and is why we are seeing companies like Meta offering some of the highest starting salaries in the UK," she said. ®

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