Our immigration and visa partner, Kingsley Napley, offer an update on the Tech Nation Visa following the closure of Tech Nation. Read it below or visit their blog for this and other issue updates.
Tech Nation has remained the endorsing body for the digital technology branch of the “Global Talent” visa since the programme was launched in 2014, back when it was known as the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa. As an endorsing body, Tech Nation reviews applications from talented people in tech from all over the globe. The applications are assessed against a set criterion, with successful applicants endorsed as having “Exceptional Promise” or “Exceptional Talent”. If endorsed, individuals can use this to apply for a Global Talent visa, which allows them to live and work in the UK.
However, on 31 January 2023, Tech Nation announced that it would cease all operations on 31 March 2023 after the UK government pulled key funding, awarding it instead to Barclays’ tech incubator Eagle Labs. This sparked upset and a wave of panic amongst the tech community and immigration lawyers alike. The announcement was then followed by an extreme lack of clarity on the future of the tech limb of the Global Talent visa, setting the tone that the UK was closed to international tech entrepreneurs.
After this tense period of uncertainty, Tech Nation confirmed that they would continue to accept applications “until a new endorsing body is in place”. This news was certainly a welcome relief, as covered in our previous blog.
Now, a year later, it appears that the Home Office has finally decided that the time has arrived to find a suitable long term replacement for Tech Nation as the endorsing body. An advertisement was recently published on gov.uk’s contract finder to “procure an Endorsing Body Service for persons applying through the Digital Technology route of the Global Talent Visa to assess their credibility for set criteria”. The contract is an open procedure, meaning that any interested supplier may submit a tender in response to an opportunity notice. The value of the contract stands at a whopping £7.5 million and is set to last 2 years and 4 months, until 31 August 2027.
Most crucially, the advertisement states that the “approach to market date” is set for 3 June 2024, and “contract start date” is 1 May 2025. We understand that there will be no interruption between endorsing bodies and that, until 31 April 2025, Tech Nation will continue to assess endorsement applications. However, ensuring that there is a smooth transition to the new endorsing body will be vitally important.
The largest question at present is whether any changes will be made to the endorsement criteria. Tech Nation currently takes a relatively restrictive approach, with a very narrow focus on applicants working in product led digital tech companies, and a laundry list of applicants who would not be considered suitable. This is a perfect opportunity for a new endorsing body to make the rules more flexible, possibly even opening up the route to those working predominantly in the investment and accelerator arena who are struggling to get endorsed under the existing criteria.
Enabling greater access to the Global Talent visa will become even more pertinent in the face of the recent announcements from the current government that sponsored workers’ minimum salary requirements will be increasing. The baseline threshold will be increased by almost 50% from £26,200 to £38,700, and many start-ups will struggle to meet the new salary requirement to sponsor workers. The main alternative for those wishing to establish a business, the “Innovator Founder” visa, is not very attractive either, with its restrictive requirements for Indefinite Leave to Remain being wildly out of synch with the lifecycle and trajectory of a start-up.
It is therefore important that the new endorsement body takes a more flexible approach in recognising innovative individuals from the worldwide Tech sector. Whilst a high bar must be enforced, ensuring that the rules account for the myriad of important roles in the tech sector is incredibly important to the UK’s tech sector and its ability to attract the best talent. It should be noted that some incredibly talented individuals have struggled to even meet the current criteria. Thus, the choice of a new endorsing body is incredibly important and the government should choose wisely!
Contact Kingsley Napley to learn more about how they can help tech entrepreneurs establish in the UK.