UK immigration restrictions 'already impacting start-up scene', says Coadec exec


Government plans to further restrict the UK's current immigration policies will damage outside perceptions of the UK as a start-up nation, former government advisor and Coadec executive director Guy Levin has told IT Pro.

Levin and his Coadec organisation, a non-profit trade body for start-ups, launched the #SaveSkilledMigration petition at the start of the month to fight back against the government's proposed review of the Tier 2 visa, used by non-EU migrants to apply to work in the UK.

And Levin told IT Pro the response from start-ups has been huge, with many of the 120 respondents to date worried that significant changes could spell trouble for the growth of UK businesses.

"If the UK wants to be one of the leading digital economies in the world, I think we need to be having talented men and women from around the world come and support that," he said. "The response has been overwhelming in terms of the negative impact that restricting Tier 2 further would have on people individually.

"People saying 'I could lose my job' and companies saying they'd have to restructure or not be able to make as many job offers as they'd been hoping to."

The government is reviewing the visa with the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a group of independent economists who are discussing plans to raise the salary threshold for Tier 2 visa holders.

Another MAC proposal is to restrict roles eligible under the visa, as well as limiting the time an in-demand role can be classed as a role with a UK skills shortage and restricting the rights of dependents.

But Levin argued that advertising in-demand roles to foreign workers does not mean UK people would lose out on these vacancies to non-EU migrants, rather that the demand for these roles cannot be met by UK workers alone.

"I wouldn't say people in the UK aren't talented and therefore we have to bring people in from outside to replace them, but I think these are often very fast-growing areas where bringing in people from outside the UK can actually often help increase UK domestic skills," he added.

"Having an external perspective of another country is often a very positive thing."

He also warned the changes could hurt the UK economy by damaging the UK's international standing, deterring talented foreign workers from choosing the country over others.

He said: "A lot of people also talk about the cultural thing - being open, how we're perceived internationally and the impact that being overly restricted could have on perceptions of the UK as a tough place to go.

"If you're that talented MIT computer scientist or Harvard MBA graduate, where are you going to go to work, set up a start-up or work for a high-grade company?"

Damian Kimmelman, CEO of B2B lead generation and risk management start-up DueDil, told IT Pro that some skills simply are not common enough in the UK.

He said: "It is a huge advantage for UK companies that our visa policy allows us to hire from all over the world - it's one of the reasons why I'm building a business here. We would love to employ more British workers, but in some key, highly-skilled technical fields - like data science - the talent just isn't available, so we need to look abroad to fill many of these roles and grow our company.

"If we want to build a strong, competitive tech sector in the UK, companies like us need to be able to bring in the best international talent."

Acknowledging that Whitehall must public concerns about the rising pace of immigration and worries now being raised by UK start-ups, Levin stated that restrictions brought in by the previous government are already having an impact.

"Given that the UK government has been so pro-tech and the Prime Minster said in the election campaign that he wanted the UK to be 'the start-up nation of Europe' and one of the start-up nations of the world, part of that is being open to international talent," he said.

"I think this is generally seen as a big issue within the community, it's a very diverse international community and I think that's one of the things that makes it so strong."

The review will take place over the next few months before the proposals go to government in mid-December.

Levin hopes to organise a roundtable with MPs and supporters of the campaign in the near future, he told IT Pro, as well as writing an open letter.

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at