At the start of the year, the Prime Minister made five key pledges to the nation including growing the economy against the backdrop of union strikes and looming recession. He looked to the tech sector as an effective means to grow the economy and pledged billions in funding to research and development in artificial intelligence, green tech, quantum computing, fintech and the life sciences to make the UK “a beacon of science, technology, and enterprise”. Strikingly, he made no proclamations about wishing to attract the brightest foreign talent to help achieve this aim. There has been an apparent disconnect between the country’s economic needs and immigration policies for quite some time. It has become even more stark in recent weeks when the organization at the heart of channeling international tech talent into the UK market lost its core government funding.
On 20 January 2023, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport awarded a two-year Digital Growth Grant to Barclays Eagle Labs from April 2023 to “boost small and scaling tech businesses in all corners of the UK.” This was not entirely unexpected as whispers of this began circulating in the autumn of last year leading to more than a hundred tech founders, executives and investors penning an open letter to the government to raise their concerns over this rumoured development.
While it was announced that Tech Nation, the current beneficiary of the grant, would continue delivering the remaining government funding until the end of March 2023, it was made clear that Barclays Eagle Labs would not be taking over the visa scheme administered by Tech Nation.
For nearly a decade, Tech Nation, a public interest company, has been assisting the Home Office to deliver the digital technology limb of its Global Talent visa programme, and its predecessor, Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) migrant programme. In that time, amongst its many achievements in the tech sector, Tech Nation has endorsed more than 3,000 applications having processed twice as many. Its role has been to assess endorsement applications from applicants with technical and business skills from a broad spectrum of sub-sectors within the digital technology industry against eligibility and suitability requirements. Having an endorsement, which is valid for 3 months, is the necessary precursor to making a visa application in this category.
On 31 January 2023, Tech Nation announced that its days were numbered after the withdrawal of public funding and it would cease operations on 31 March 2023 after completing its contract with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It reiterated its intention to continue with the visa programme in the “immediate term” as it entered into negotiations with the Home Office about its future. The Home Office has remained tight lipped about this development which has left existing visa holders and prospective applicants understandably anxious.
On 15 February 2023, Tech Nation held an hour-long “information session” presented by its alumni who shared their experiences with an audience from around the world. Tech Nation sought to quell panic and reassure everyone – also through the publication of an announcement on its website – that it will continue to accept endorsement applications until further notice encouraging people to apply as normal. It is understood that a number of tech groups are in talks with the Home Office to take over from Tech Nation insofar as the visa programme is concerned and more information about the new digital technology endorsing body will be provided in due course.
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