Theresa May’s wooing the tech industry with extra visas after Brexit

Theresa May is seeking to reassure the UK’s flourishing tech industry amid ongoing concerns over the impact of Brexit on hiring top talent.

The Prime Minister and chancellor Philip Hammond will meet with top entrepreneurs and investors on Wednesday and is promising a flurry of measures to support startups across the country.

“It is absolutely right that this dynamic sector, which makes such an immense contribution to our economic life and to our society, has the full backing of government,” said May.

Read more: Tech leaders call for new post-Brexit visa to avert talent crisis

“Helping our world-class entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed is how we lay the foundations for our prosperity and build an economy fit for the future.”

The home office will double the number of visas available for tech experts from outside the EU to come and work in the UK to 2,000. And the home secretary Amber Rudd will meet with the industry for input on making the visa process more efficient.

Access to talent has been cited by the majority of entrepreneurs as their biggest concern since the vote to leave the EU in the referendum nearly 18 months ago.

The move was welcomed by tech investors Brent Hoberman and Eileen Burbidge. However, Alex Depledge, startup founder and former chair of tech policy group Coadec, said it was not enough.

“Thank you, but really that’s not going to move the needle. It's words and no action. What business is looking for is action,” she told City A.M..

“They're not the easiest [visa] to apply for and it costs business money,” she said, adding that the move does not address hiring from the EU or foreign students graduating in the UK, while there has been little progress since the Brexit vote on immigration or other areas affecting the sector.

Currently 1,000 Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas are available and administered by five organisations, including Tech City UK. The industry body set up by the government received 380 applications in 2016, up from 100 a year earlier. A date for the extra visas to become available has not been set.

Depledge said her latest startup after selling for €32m (£28.7m) in 2015, BuildPath, was founded on the contingency that it could be a success if it were forced to be a British-only business.

Read more: Britain's got tech talent (for now): Top VC firm warns Brexit risks UK's crown

Tech City UK has also been promised £21m to expand its efforts outside London and across the country, with a focus on Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Fresh cash will also go towards helping public services adopt new technologies such as artificial intelligence and training teenagers to fight cybercrime.

“Britain is a world leader in digital innovation with some of the brightest and best tech firms operating in this country," said Hammond.

"Working with us, they can provide technological fixes to public sector problems, boost productivity, and get the nation working smarter as we create an economy fit for the future.”


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