This article was written by Kimberley Ong at Fragomen LLP
The topic of the Tech Nation visa has been explored by my colleague here. Today I will delve deeper into the nuances and technical conditions for endorsement which interested applicants may find helpful.
Basic eligibility considerations
To be eligible you must fall within the remit of one of the acceptable technical or business skills. For technical applicants the emphasis is on individuals who can create, expertly use, and deploy technical infrastructure. As such, IT Architects and Testers do not fall within the list of acceptable technical skills. Types of business applicants include commercial/business leads or those with experience of expanding or growing a Tech business. Only business applicants working in technical organisations are eligible.
Promise or Talent applicant?
There are two options for applicants applying for Tech Nation endorsement: Exceptional Talent (Leader) or Exceptional Promise (Emerging leader).
Promise applicants will likely to be at an early stage of their career, usually with less than 5 years of experience. The applicant must explain why they believe that their application should be considered under the Promise route, however the ultimate decision on classification will lie with the Tech Nation assessor. Talent applicants are generally already established leaders in the sector, with multiple examples of meeting the criteria discussed below.
What are the conditions for endorsement?
If applying as a Promise Applicant, you must show that:
- You have been recognised as having potential to be a leading talent in the digital technology field in the last 5 years;
- You can meet 2 of the following optional criteria:
- 1 example of innovation as a founder of a product led digital technology company or as an employee working on a new digital field or concept;
- 1 example of proof of recognition for your work beyond your occupation that contributes to the advancement of the field;
- 1 example of making significant technical, commercial or entrepreneurial contributions to the field as a founder or employee of a product-led digital technology company;
- 1 example of exceptional ability in the field by academic contributions through research endorsed by an expert;
- You are at an early stage in your career.
If applying as a Talent Applicant, you must show that
- You have been recognised as a leading talent in the digital technology sector in the last 5 years;
- You can meet 2 of the following optional criteria:
- a proven track record for innovation as a founder or senior executive of a product-led digital technology company or as an employee working on a new digital field or concept;
- proof of recognition for your work beyond your occupation that contributes to the advancement of the field;
- You have made significant technical, commercial or entrepreneurial contributions to the field as a founder, senior executive, board member or employee of a product-led digital technology company
- You have demonstrated exceptional ability in the field by academic contributions through research published or endorsed by an expert.
I will take this opportunity to explore the first Optional Criterion in further detail below, as this commonly poses many challenges to unsuspecting applicants.
Optional Criterion 1: Innovation
For Talent applicants:
“You have a proven track record for innovation as a founder or senior executive of a product-led digital technology company or as an employee working on a new digital field or concept”
For Promise applicants:
“You can provide 1 example of innovation as a founder of a product led digital technology company or as an employee working on a new digital field or concept”
Applicants hoping to meet this criterion should take careful note of the following:
- The Tech Nation visa guide explains that Innovation can be exemplified through innovation/product development, proof of product in market and associated traction through revenue.
- There is no definition of “innovation” which makes this an inherently subjective concept, but from experience I have seen success mainly in cases involving the actual creation of a Tech product. This means that applicants who have not been involved (directly or indirectly) in the product creation process, mainly non-technical applicants such as commercial/business leads or performance marketing experts, may find it more difficult to establish an appropriate connection between their efforts and the product creation process. Demonstrating their personal contributions towards this achievement is a critical factor. These individuals may likely not be eligible, regardless of the types of “innovative” practices employed while fulfilling their responsibilities.
- Products should have market traction, as such products that have been created but not yet deployed to market, and have not yet been earning revenue, do not meet the high bar set by Tech Nation.
- Talent applicants must show that they have a proven track record (I would recommend at least 2 or 3 examples) of innovation. This means that applicants who have only developed one single product (regardless of prestige) or cannot show multiple examples of technical innovation within that one product, despite experiencing strong business success with this product alone may not be eligible.
- Specific relationship requirements apply in those individual applicants can only take credit for certain achievements if completed whilst fulfilling specific roles. Only founders or senior executives in a product-led digital technology company are eligible. If seeking to meet this criterion as an employee, you will need to show that you are working on a new digital field or concept which is a higher bar. Again, there is no definition of “new digital field/concept”; however, we can reasonably assume that upcoming Tech areas such as FinTech, EdTech, MedTech should all qualify, although the level of innovation of the product within that sector will also be taken into account.
Where does this leave applicants?
Aside from the above-mentioned points, applicants seeking to satisfy Optional Criterion 1 will have better luck with their applications only if they can answer the following questions in a satisfactory manner:
- Are there Tech products that have been created?
- Are they innovative?
- Am I involved in the product creation process (do I have a sufficiently strong link with the innovative product) and can I evidence this?
- Do I satisfy the relationship requirement, in other words, am I a founder or senior executive of a product-led digital technology company or an employee working in a new digital field or concept?
- Do the Tech products have market traction?
- If I am a Talent applicant, can I show a track record of product creation?
If these questions cannot be answered positively, applicants may be better off focusing their attention on the other Optional Criteria (such as Optional Criterion 2 where they can show that outside of their immediate occupation, they have engaged in activity contributing to the advancement of the sector, eg. mentorship/conference speakers etc).
Other points to note:
Although the path of acquiring Tech Nation endorsement is challenging, for those eligible it offers a fantastic immigration route which is cheaper than most alternatives and very flexible.
Other points to note include:
Providing evidence of thought leadership through online publications in seeking to meet Optional Criterion 2. Any publications relied on must not be capable of being construed as “advertorial” in nature. The applicant’s background will be thoroughly assessed in the context/topic of the op-ed or news article proposed. It may be the case that a commercial lead commenting on specific insights in a technical area may not be accepted as a “thought leader” because they do not have sufficient technical credentials to back that up.
What about investment leading individuals, for example, individuals with experience of leading substantial VC investment over £25 million GBP? They must have previous tech experience to begin with and it will be extremely rare for such individuals to be “employees” or “senior executives” of a product-led digital technology company. To satisfy Optional Criterion 1, such applicants will need to show that they were a member of the founding team of the business. To satisfy Optional Criterion 3, they also have the option of taking credit for achievements made in the capacity as board member of such businesses, although it is important to clearly explain the applicant’s contribution in that role. Anything falling beyond the scope of these relationships will not normally be accepted by a Tech Nation assessor.
The Tech Nation Global Talent route opens significant opportunities for individuals with the right profile and background to take advantage of an extremely favourable route of residence in the UK. A Tech Nation visa holder will not have their time constrained by factors such as sponsored employment or entrepreneurship milestones.
On careful construction of the requirements, it appears founders of Tech businesses may find themselves in a highly favourable position where endorsement is concerned. They are more likely to be able to attribute their achievements with relative ease compared to employees of tech organisations – thereby finding it easier to meet the evidential requirements for endorsement. This does not mean that other applicants cannot succeed – far from it – but they would be wise to consider how best to demonstrate their achievements. For example, product managers and technical applicants (e.g. developers, engineers) should also find themselves in a strong position where demonstrating their achievements are concerned – but they will certainly need to explain their personal contributions and in this respect a letter from their employers, or other such evidence, will be important. For those investing in tech businesses, it will be vital to show that they also played a role – perhaps as a board member or advisor – in growing and scaling those businesses.
It is therefore crucial that applicants are fully aware of these requirements and that their application form, supporting documents and recommendation letters are all carefully prepared in a way that accentuates their satisfaction of the specific conditions for endorsement.
Need to know more?
If you are looking to gain immigration permission under this category of endorsement, we would be very happy to have an initial chat. If you would like to discuss this category in more detail, or if you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an initial call.