This is a guest post from Kemp Little, a Tech Nation Visa partner.
At the end of an eventful year in the immigration sphere, figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that net migration from the EU to the UK is at its lowest level since 2003 – the year before the Union’s borders were extended to incorporate the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.
A decline in EU immigration, coupled with a considerable rise in EU emigration has resulted in net EU migration of 48,000 for the year to June 2019. This represents a dramatic fall from days of 2015, when net EU migration peaked at 218,000.
However, applications for the Tech Nation (Tier 1) Visa for Exceptional Talent, continue to rise. The financial year 2018/19 saw a 45% rise in applications compared to previous year, up to 650 from 450 the previous year, with figures for 2019/20 looking set to continue with this level of growth.
Causes of the overall shift in migration patterns could include the decreasing value of the pound, and uncertainty over Brexit, which combine to make the UK less attractive to migrants, highly-skilled or otherwise. Equally, the relative strength of the Euro and political certainty in other EU Member States may have proved attractive prospects for those looking to up-sticks.
Theresa May’s Government published its White Paper on the skills-based immigration system in December 2018, which was intended to address issues such as the skills shortage, the resident labour market test, and the possibility of regional salary thresholds. Since then there has been a tendency towards a more restrictive immigration policy, which casts some uncertainty over whether the White Paper is now still valid.
Before the election, Home Secretary Priti Patel declined to be drawn on whether the new policy will result in an increase or a decrease in the overall immigration figures, preferring instead to make assurances that the immigration policy will be one of “control”.
What’s certain though is that the number one challenge facing tech founders in the UK is talent; finding and retaining people with the right skills, at scale and speed, from wherever they may be. The increasing popularity of the Tech Nation Visa, which consistently outperforms all other Tier 1 visa routes, and has demonstrated growth in application numbers every year for the last six years, speaks to the demand for talent, as well as the strength of UK tech on the global stage.