What are the available immigration routes to London for incoming tech talent?

22 June 2016 | Jonathan Martin

The continued growth of London’s tech scene and its importance as a destination of choice for investors, entrepreneurs, wealth and job creators, and students alike, means that the demand for increasing numbers of skilled tech workers becomes ever more pressing.

2015 saw a number of changes already introduced in this area with the addition of tech to the exceptional talent visa scheme and the fast tracking of applications in certain UK cities.  In addition, new tech positions were added to the skills shortage list including: IT specialist managers; IT business analysts, architects and system designers; programmers and software development professionals; and, information technology and communications professionals not already categorised under the cyber security specialisms.  All of these changes are aimed at cutting down processing times for applications, prioritising skill shortages, and helping technology companies to grow.  Although, it remains clear that more can be done in these areas.

So, if you are an individual wanting to come to London or a business needing to expand your tech workforce, what are the immigration routes available to you?  Below, we highlight the main ones of interest and consider when they might be appropriate.

1. Incoming investors to the UK

There are accelerated routes to settlement available the greater the sum an individual investor has to invest (5 years for an investment of £2,000,000 and 2 years if you invest £10,000,000).

For those who can set up businesses, the “Entrepreneur” route has received some adverse publicity, and the government department responsible for immigration is much more likely to look in detail your business plan than perhaps it was.  However, provided your application is genuine, this offers a route where there is no cap on the number of successful applicants.

Given that immigrants started 14% of new businesses in the UK up to March 2014, and are much more likely to do so than people already settled in the UK, this makes sound economic sense.

2. Exceptional talent in the technology industry

Exceptionally talented individuals in various industries can get endorsed by prestigious bodies and then apply for visas to work in the UK.  Such endorsements were difficult to get but, after intense lobbying, the situation in the technology industry changed following an announcement in October 2015.

Tech City (the body which endorses exceptional talent in the digital industry) aims to help companies get the talent they need to grow quickly by fast-tracking applications to ease expansion.  That will be the case whether the expertise is needed to take the company to Initial Public Offering (IPO), focusing on a particular product to take it to the international market, or if specific individuals are needed with specific talents in this field.  They will also consider applications from individuals who demonstrate “exceptional promise”.  This should enable companies to recruit highly skilled individuals from all over the world to fill specific talent gaps, and lowers the threshold for applicants in the early stages of their careers.

In recognition of the fact that technology businesses often need to recruit teams of exceptional talent, groups of five have been able to apply at once since November 2015.

In addition, the UK government is keen to see that the tech boom is not confined to London and reports that 170, 000 people now work in digital technology across the North of England.  To support the further development of this talent pool applications are now fast tracked for the following cities: Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield and Sunderland.

It should be noted however that the number of visas that can be granted by Tech City is restricted to 200 per year.  However, as of January 2016 just 37 applications had been made indicating that this route is not yet well publicised.

3. Routes for established overseas businesses

Representative of an overseas business visa

An established overseas business without a presence in the UK can send a senior employee to start operations in the UK, and there is also no cap on the number of these visas which can be issued.

Other employees of existing overseas businesses

Entry routes remain open under both Tier 2 and Tier 5 of the points based system set out in the Immigration Rules.  Whilst there is a cap on Tier 2 (General) migrants to the UK of 20,700 applicants per annum, this does not apply in all cases, and there are other routes under Tier 2 and Tier 5 where there is no cap.

General migrants are not counted against the cap if they earn over £155,300 or are in certain categories of “in country” application.

Outside Tier 2 (General) there are also:

  • Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfers);
  • Different schemes for young people or pursuant to international agreements or under government authorised exchanges.

All but the last of these routes require a UK sponsor company to employ the migrants, but once the employment has been agreed the application process is relatively straight forward.

4. Students

The government has cracked down on private colleges, placed restrictions on what work incoming students can do in the UK, and the ability to bring in family members.   However, it remains true that for those completing a degree in an established University the UK is still a desirable place to come.  While the Post Study Work visa no longer exists, there are routes that successful students can use to put what they have studied into practice in the UK employment market.

5. Business visitors

For those wanting to visit the UK to look at, or further business relationships, the good news is that the visa process has been simplified.  The standard visitor visa now incorporates the old business visitor category and allows for many varied purposes of trips to the UK.

What does all this mean for me?

The London tech scene continues to grow and thrive and relies on encouraging skilled migrants to sustain this growth.

Whether you are a business or individual, it is essential to properly select the correct route of entry and to submit an error free application to maximise your chances of success.  You should note in particular that recent changes mean it is no longer possible to correct any application errors on appeal.

How can we help

Abbiss Cadres has a unique service model incorporating all the expertise needed to help you manage the complexities of your pensions, employment and people issues.

If you would like advice on how we can help you with this or another immigration related issue please get in touch with us on +44 (0) 203 051 5711 or send us an enquiry.


Content is for general information purposes only. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive and it does not constitute or contain legal or other advice. If you require assistance in relation to any issue please seek specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances. In particular, no responsibility shall be accepted by the authors or by Abbiss Cadres LLP for any losses occasioned by reliance on any content appearing on or accessible from this article. For further legal information click here.

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The author

Jonathan Martin
Senior Consultant
Business Immigration
Global Mobility
D: +44 (0) 207 036 8397
T: +44 (0) 203 051 5711
F: +44 (0) 203 051 5712

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