Relax UK work permit rules for tech start-ups, report urges

21 Sep 2012 | Posted by Carl Thomas

The government has been warned that it needs to relax the current UK work permit and visa regulations in order to encourage the expansion of digital start-ups in Britain.

Bits and Billions, a report compiled by Policy Exchange, noted that the country has "enormous potential" in terms of becoming a world-leader in technology. However, difficulties in finding coders, designers and other highly-skilled staff is currently keeping aspirations down.

Relaxing the UK visa requirements for skilled migrants would go some way to helping the industry evolve. Lowering salary requirements for a two-year probationary period, for example, would be of great value for smaller firms that are unable to pay out the high minimum salary requirements to candidates that may not prove worthwhile.

Other short-term suggestions put forward in the paper included the reinstatement of a two-year post study visa for graduates who achieve good degrees in STEM subjects in order to make it easier for start-ups to hire staff from British universities.

Chris Yiu, author of the report, commented: "The prime minister is right when he says he wants the UK to be the best place in the world to start, run and grow a high-tech company. The problem is that the sorts of skills these businesses need are in short supply. Start-ups need to be able to take on the right people fast, not spend months trying to expand their technology teams. That’s why we need to make it easier for UK start-ups to take on highly skilled foreign graduates.

"Companies like Intel, Yahoo!, Google, eBay and YouTube were all co-founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. They are now major global businesses. We need to create the right conditions to ensure that the UK lives up to its potential to be a world leader in the digital economy."

The research compared the UK's policies on immigration to those of the US, and California in particular, where there is a thriving technology community with over half of the world's top 100 digital start-ups choosing to base themselves there.

Immigration isn't the only set of policies that will help to drive innovation and growth in the British tech sector, but ensuring that companies have access to the talent and skills they need to expand will help to build on other areas of change, such as tax systems and improvements in employment law.