These measures centre around a doubling of the availability of visas in the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) immigration category from 1,000 to 2,000 per year. This category is for recognised global leaders and promising future leaders in the areas of technology, science, art and creative industries.
In addition, the government has pledged a new technology hub in Birmingham and other cities by investing £21m to expand Tech City UK into a nationwide network called Tech Nation. Tech City UK currently operates a digital technology hub in London, and the plan is for this model to be expanded to more cities around the country. It is hoped that Tech Nation will support 40,000 entrepreneurs and up to 4,000 start-ups as they scale their businesses.
Clearly this announcement is aimed at the digital technology sector, but Exceptional Talent visas are available for individuals receiving endorsements from one of five endorsing organisations:
Tech City UK
Arts Council England
The British Academy
The Royal Society
The Royal Academy of Engineering
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters following the announcement as the annual limit on Exceptional Talent visas has never been reached since its introduction in 2011. It is hoped that additional reforms to the category will be considered by the government in order to encourage more applications under this category.
For employers in the digital technology sector (and those in other sectors employing talented individuals in the sciences and the arts), it is certainly worth keeping an eye on these developments. While these announcements are to be welcomed, further reforms will be required in order to increase the number of visas granted under this category.
Nevertheless, it certainly appears that there will be opportunities for cities like Birmingham to benefit from both the reforms to this immigration category and the additional funding which is being made available to support businesses working in this area.