Over 230 founders and investors in the UK have written an open letter to Prime Minister, warning that cracking down on skilled immigration “could put Britain’s digital economy at risk”.
Over 230 startup founders and investors, including Martha Lane Fox and the founders of Citymapper, DeepMind, SwiftKey and Unruly called for a rethink of government proposals to further restrict visas for skilled workers.
Signatories to the letter, organised by Coadec (The Coalition for a Digital Economy), include:
· Alex Stephany, CEO of JustPark
· Andrew Fisher, Executive Chairman of Shazam
· Azmat Yusuf, founder of Citymapper
· Ben Medlock, co-founder of SwiftKey
· Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, co-founders of DeepMind (acquired by Google)
· Hermann Hauser, serial entrepreneur and investor (including founding Acorn Computers, from which ARM was spun out)
· Joe Cohen, founder of Seatwave
· Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com and former government Digital Champion
· Mike Lynch, co-founder of Autonomy (acquired by HP), and founder of Invoke Capital
· Nick Hungerford, co-founder of Nutmeg
· Robin Klein, investor in startups including TransferWise, Zoopla, LoveFilm
· Saul Klein, Founding Partner, LocalGlobe (formerly Partner at Index Ventures)
· Sarah Wood, co-founder of Unruly
· Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarmann, co-founders of TransferWise
The letter comes as the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) considers proposals that would make hiring skilled workers from outside Europe significantly more difficult.
The letter argues: “The UK has become a global tech hub thanks in large part to startup founders, investors and employees from across the globe, including many of us who were not born in Britain but choose to invest our time and talents here”
It warns: “further restrictions on skilled migration could restrict the growth of our businesses and hurt UK’s digital economy.”
Executive Director of Coadec, Guy Levin said: “The Government has a strong record supporting digital entrepreneurship, so it doesn’t make sense that are considering changes that would make it tougher for startups and scale-ups to thrive. Any changes to the immigration system must make it easier, not harder, for digital entrepreneurs to come to the UK to start their business, and for growing startups to hire top international talent.”
The government is currently reviewing the Tier 2 visa system for skilled workers.
Tier 2 is the main visa route for skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). To qualify, would-be immigrants need to have a degree level qualification and a definite job offer, and the company that wants to hire them need to become accredited as sponsors, advertise (non-shortage) roles for 28 days in the UK first, and meet salary thresholds for the role. There is also a monthly cap on numbers, that was hit in July this year.
In the Prime Minister’s speech on immigration, he announced: “we will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to advise on significantly reducing the level of economic migration from outside the EU”.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) subsequently launched a review of the Tier 2 visa system, launching a Call for Evidence that ran from 2nd July – 25th September 2015.
Proposals that the MAC are considering include:
Significantly raising salary thresholds. Currently employers need to offer a salary higher than the 25th percentile in the income distribution for a role (eg for software developers that is currently £31,100). But the government has asked what the implications would be of raising this to the 50th or even 75th percentile.
Restricting which roles are eligible. The MAC have been asked how to restrict Tier 2 to ‘genuine skills shortages’, which could mean scrapping most of Tier 2 altogether and just retaining a version of the Shortage Occupation List.
The MAC is expected to report to the Government in mid-December, and publish their recommendations in January. They are also looking at the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa in a separate review.
Commenting, Alex Depledge, co-founder of Hassle.com and Chair of Coadec said: “A lack of people with the right skills and experience is holding back the growth of the UK’s digital economy. Putting coding on the curriculum and investing in apprenticeships are steps in the right direction, but it is also vital that we are attracting the best talent from around the world. The UK is now home to a world-class startup ecosystem, but if we want those companies to scale, they need to be able to hire the best person for the job, wherever they come from.”
Commenting, Sarah Wood, co-founder and co-CEO of Unruly, said: “As a global platform for digital video advertising, almost two-thirds of Unruly’s revenue comes from outside the UK. We simply could not have scaled the business to the size it is today (15 offices, £28.7m revenue) without the programming expertise and language skills of international software engineers and digital professionals from around the world. If the Government is serious about growing Britain’s digital economy and competing on a global stage, it cannot afford to cut off the oxygen that feeds our ecosystem – skilled talent from around the world, drawn to London and the UK precisely because of its diversity, creativity and vitality.”
Alex Stephany, CEO of JustPark said: “The ever-greater shortage of talent – in software development above all – has become the largest single brake on growth in the tech ecosystem. Without a truly progressive immigration policy to attract the best in global tech talent, it’s a pipe dream that London and the UK can surpass Silicon Valley any time soon.“
Coadec is campaigning to #SaveSkilledMigration and following the MAC’s Call for the Evidence, Coadec launched a survey of startup founders, and wrote a submission to the MAC based on over 130 responses.
235 digital entrepreneurs and investors signed the open letter to the Prime Minister
Coadec is sponsored by Arqiva, Facebook, iHorizon, Intuit, Google, TechHub and Yahoo.
See one of the campaign’s tweets below:
— Coadec (@Coadec) October 28, 2015