Changes to the Tier 2 visa system designed to open up UK access to foreign talent were cautiously welcomed by the tech sector today as signs the government might value the sector above its immigration targets.
Home secretary Sajid Javid has excluded doctors and nurses from the visa cap on skilled foreign workers in order to alleviate strains on the NHS, leaving more visas available for foreign tech workers, engineers and teachers.
"We hope this announcement marks a new approach from the home secretary, one where the needs of business and our economy come ahead of arbitrary caps and targets," said Vinous Ali, head of policy at technology industry trade body techUK.
"For the tech sector to continue growing, we need an immigration system that works. Tech workers are some of the most mobile and in-demand professionals in the world.
"If the UK wants to be a global hub for tech then it needs to be open and attractive to the best tech talent."
The cap on non-EU visas was set at 20,700 a year by Theresa May in her time as home secretary. Before December last year, the cap had only been reached once, in 2015, but it has been hit for each of the last seven months in a row.
NHS demand for doctors and nurses accounted for around 8,280 of the annual visas, putting it in direct competition with the tech sector for overseas talent.
''The proposed reforms of the Tier 2 visa system will reduce the competition for skilled overseas workers between the public and private sectors," said Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates.
"To date, the NHS has been pitted against the tech community, the UK's fastest growing industry. Sustained vacancies in critical positions have been threatening to stifle growth in the UK tech sector. Skilled foreign workers are being turned away as the current cap is hit month on month."
Tech London Advocates has been campaigning for reforms to immigration policies in tech for a number of years and Shaw believes the startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs and amendments to Tier 2 show the government is finally listening to the UK's tech firms.
However, he stressed that it was merely the beginning: "We need tens of thousands of international tech workers if we want to meet our aim of one million tech employees in London by 2023. This is the start, not the solution, to the UK remaining open to world-class tech talent."
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Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.
Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognise him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.