By Karendeep Kaur, Legal Director, Migrate UK, an immigration law firm.
With UK government figures confirming a 50% rise in technology job vacancies advertised last year and nearly 50% of employers struggling to recruit for digital roles, all too many tech organisations will have felt the impact of skill shortages in 2022. As many companies struggle to deal with numbers of unfilled vacancies which also hamper growth, there are some new ways to navigate critical tech skills shortages this year for businesses struggling to find sufficient UK recruits.
The High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa
The newest option for employers and currently under the radar of many tech businesses we speak to, is the HPI visa. Live only from the end of May 2022, this is ideal for employers suffering acute skills shortages especially in areas such as IT, engineering and science. This visa allows UK companies to recruit top talent from the best 50 universities worldwide, outside of the UK with this scheme. For example, this can range from Harvard University in the US, the University of Tokyo in Japan, Peking University in China or Paris Sciences et Lettres in France for Europe.
Available without sponsorship fees, this visa will allow those graduates who have obtained a degree from approved institutions in the last five years to come to the UK to work for two or three years depending upon qualification. Although applicants would still need to switch status to a category such as the Skilled Worker route if they wanted to stay in the UK long term, for graduates and businesses alike, it does offer a useful option at the start of their career. Amongst our tech clients, this visa is proving ideal for those recruiting for Engineers and Cyber Security professionals, allowing for economic expansion in this sector.
Of the nearly 5.3m graduates worldwide enrolled at these top universities from 2017-21, even if just a small number of these graduates chose this visa to work overseas at the start of their career it could make a difference. This new visa is open to individuals of any nationality, over 18 years old holding a degree from these elite universities from 2017 onwards.
The Graduate Immigration Route
Another way to recruit overseas tech stars is the Graduate Immigration Route which is available since July 2021. Under this route international students can remain in the UK for two years after they have completed their studies, or three years for Doctoral students. As an unsponsored route it also means that applicants do not require an initial job offer to qualify, nor is there a minimum salary requirement or cap on numbers.
For any international students who wish to work or look for work after successfully completing their degree at undergraduate level or above at a Higher Education Provider, with a track record of compliance, this route could be ideal. It offers graduates the chance to earn some valuable work experience in the UK post their studies and for businesses, qualified new talent for graduate-level roles – but it’s not a route that will lead to immediate settlement.
Instead, if employers and graduates hope to continue to work together at the end of the two or three years, the visa holder will be able to switch into ‘skilled work’ if the role meets the criteria under the Skilled Worker route as a longer-term solution. This route covers various roles making it ideal for new graduates, such as Business Analysts and Technical leads. The only restriction is the prohibition on working as a professional sportsperson which is of course not an issue with the tech sector.
Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
Finally, at a more apprentice level is the Youth Mobility Scheme visa which suits more entry level/starter vacancies and is applicable to most jobs including the tech sector. For those aged 18-30 this replaces the previous Youth Mobility Scheme visa (T5) and enables those who wish to live and work in the UK for up to 24 months from a wide range of countries for example, Australia, Canada, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino and Iceland. There are some countries where the worker would need to be selected in the Youth Mobility Scheme ballot to qualify, but these are smaller in number and are from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Offering good flexibility, workers on the Youth Mobility Scheme Visa can enter the UK any time their visa is valid – and leave and come back any time during their stay which allows holidays home. Applicants simply need to pay a £259 application fee, have £2,530 in savings, and like all the outlined schemes, pay the healthcare surcharge which for this category is £470 per year. Again, this route allows for candidates to work in many sectors and roles in the UK such as Technical Quality Assurance. Any employees under this scheme would also be allowed to study, although this might mean for some courses, they will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme certificate.
Under The Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) there are also some wider routes for young Australians to live and work in the UK and vice versa which will come become available within the next five years. Now within two years, Australian Working Holiday Visa makers will have expanded rights and will be able to stay in the UK for up to three years and up to 35 years of age.
For tech businesses these great new options can play an important role in helping to navigate the skills shortage. Equally for new tech professionals they offer a fantastic opportunity to develop some important and career-enhancing experience in one of the most dynamic tech sectors in the world.