Tech workers given preferential UK visa treatment

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The UK is looking for workers in the tech sectors

The UK has a high demand for talented tech specialists and the government has introduced more UK visas for high-skilled talent in the tech area as a result. The UK has grown into one of the greatest tech hubs in the world, offering abundant opportunities. The question is – what does Britain regard as talent and how can you work through the UK immigration system successfully?

Based on our experience of gaining entry into the UK for talent from outside the European Union we have explained the background and some problem areas we are often asked to solve. We look at:

Please do call us if you have questions relating to your application for UK entry.

What technical skills is the UK looking for?

UK businesses are facing shortages of experienced tech workers and are making it increasingly easy for people with tech skills to come to the UK. If you are a high-achiever in the following tech areas you may be eligible for the Exceptional Talent visa:

  • DevOps / SysOps engineers
  • Principal software engineers/developers
  • Experienced data scientists/data engineers
  • Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning experts (AI, NLP, ML)
  • Cybersecurity experts
  • Hardware engineers
  • Front-end developers
  • Operating systems engineers
  • Graphics programmers
  • UX/UI designers
  • Mobile App developers
  • Back end developers leading development of or contributing heavily to major new technologies or open source projects (e.g. blockchain, Scala, Golang, Elasticsearch etc)
  • Information Architecture strategy / Chief Technology Officer for business applications with international operations (ERP, CRM, BI etc.)
  • VR/AR developers

How the current system can help tech workers settle in the UK

There are three ways to speed up the visa process under a fast track route.  These schemes are designed to address specific shortcomings.

  • The first scheme is called ‘Empowering the North’ and is designed for people who want to work in the North of the UK in one of seven focus cities.
  • The second scheme, ‘Bridging the Gap’ is for people who have very specific business and/or technical skills.
  • Finally, the ‘Relocating Teams’ scheme is for teams of up to five individuals who all want to relocate together.

If you do not fall under one of the fast track routes you can still obtain an Exceptional Talent visa under the normal route as explained below.

The background behind the push to issue visas in the UK

The UK is the digital capital of Europe. In recent years, digital tech investment in the UK was 50% higher than any other European country. The number of UK digital tech businesses grew more than twice as fast as non-digital businesses, also resulting in twice faster job creation.  The UK digital tech sector has a higher proportion of non-UK nationals workers compared to the rest of the UK economy (13% v 10%).

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in the UK is at a four-decade low and the number of net migration is falling. There is a shortage of skills and experience to support the tech sector’s rapid growth.  Clearly, the UK needs more talent.

Exceptional Talent visas still remain a hidden secret in the UK

In recognition of the importance of overseas workers, the Home Office has increased the annual number of Exceptional talent visas available. The number of Exceptional Talent applications has increased in 2017. However, the Home Office’s latest statistics show that the number of applications made is still relatively low.

Being a new UK visa route, it may be that people are not aware of its existence. Although the criteria are high, a relatively large number of applications under the Tech Nation Visa Scheme get endorsed. It may be a bonus that the Exceptional Talent category is not overrun with applications and we therefore encourage clients to apply via this route.

Benefits of the Exceptional Talent visa

The Exceptional Talent visa has many benefits compared to other types of work visas the UK can grant. The main benefit for individuals is that the Exceptional Talent visa offers you flexibility as you are not ‘tied to a sponsor’.  This means that rather than having to find an employer who will sponsor you, which can be particularly difficult when applying from abroad, you can apply for the UK visa by yourself. Once in the UK, you are free to move between roles, employers, and locations. There is greater flexibility to have several jobs or to start your own venture.

More opportunities

Your chances of finding work in the UK will increase. Firstly, you can undertake the job search from within the UK. Tech businesses are fast-moving and often experience exponential growth. The growth spurt often comes on suddenly which means businesses cannot wait for a lengthy application process. It therefore pays to be at the right place at the right time.

Advantageous for employers

Employers do not need a licence to employ Tier 1 Exceptional Talents which reduces the compliance for employers. This is particularly attractive for start ups who are often time and cash poor.

What are the requirements for a Tech Nation UK visa?

The Exceptional Talent visa is different to all other visas. It is not the Home Office that decides if you are suitable. The decision is taken by Tech City UK.

Tech City UK – who makes the decision?

A panel of experts will be making the decision. This is beneficial because they understand the market and the technology. But it also means your application has to be of a very high standard and your experience has to be backed-up.

The specialisms Tech City UK is looking for

You have to possess the technical skills, as well as business skills.

Business skills include experiences such as the following:

  • Commercial/business lead in a digital business
  • C suite in a SMEs or head of operations for a digital business
  • Product Manager
  • Scaling a digital product internationally
  • Performance marketing experts
  • Taking a tech company through Initial Public Offering (IPO)
  • Solution sales expert
  • SaaS or enterprise sales leadership for digital services
  • Experiences VC or PE analyst with track records of leading investments in digital businesses

The list is not finite. If you believe you have a similar specialism then please get in touch as we can help you.

The criteria assessed by Tech City UK

There are two hurdles. Hurdle 1 is meeting one of the key criteria. Hurdle two is meeting at least two of the qualifying criteria.  How you will meet these is explained below.

Key Criteria

The criteria differ depending on whether you apply as an Exceptional Talent or an Exceptional Promise. In both cases, you must provide proof of recognition for work outside your immediate occupation; or have contributed to innovation in the digital tech sector; or have worked in a new digital field or concept, albeit at different levels of experience.

Qualifying criteria

In addition, you must show that you meet two or more of the qualifying criteria, as set out by the Home Office. For example, you could

  • Show that you have been, or have shown the potential to be, a world leading talent in the digital tech sector;
  • Provide evidence that you have made academic contributions through research;
  • Show that you have undergone continuous training or mastered a digital skill;
  • Prove that you have made significant technical, commercial or entrepreneurial contributions as a director, founder, or entrepreneur of a tech company.

Evidence needed for a successful Tech Nation visa

You will need to present your experience well – we do guide on what is likely to go down well. It all depends upon your particular circumstances.

The application form

You must submit a correctly completed Tech Nation application form. This can be found on the Tech City UK website (

You will need to explain:

  • Why you want to come to the UK;
  • Your planned occupation in the UK;
  • Where you plan to live;
  • How the UK tech sector will benefit from your work.

The UK visa process

There is a process to be worked through and if you get it wrong that will likely cause the application to fail. A substantial amount of documentation is needed for a successful application.  Feedback we have received indicates that people find our help in screening the documentation invaluable.

For example, you must provide letters of recommendation from two different recognised experts – the letters must adhere to specific formatting requirements and must address, amongst other things:

  • How, in the expert’s opinion, you have demonstrated that you are a world leader or have demonstrated significant potential to become one;
  • How you would benefit from living in the UK; and
  • Details of the contribution you would make to the UK tech sector.