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Immigration in the tech industry - by any measure; a positive immigration story

29 November 2017

Representatives from some of the leading companies across the industry joined forces to host a Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”) roundtable on 13 September, coordinated by Lewis Silkin and techUK.

The MAC have been commissioned to advise the Government on the contribution of EEA nationals in the UK to the existing UK resident population and businesses as well as how the post-Brexit immigration system might be aligned with the modern industrial strategy. The tech industry is front and centre to the modern industrial strategy and the largest user of the Tier 2 skilled worker visa to the UK. Accordingly, it was an important meeting to be able to share views and provide feedback.

The good news is, there is so much positivity about migration in tech and this gave the industry leaders a chance to voice it.

Firstly, it is almost impossible now to think of a business in the UK which does not rely on tech support. From the local corner store that needs working internet to accept card payments, to online fashion, grocery delivery apps, case management software for the many service industries dominating London business, and online banking and investment. Tech now underpins the growth, or at least management, of almost everything.

Thus, the Government’s industrial strategy is focussed on enabling tech growth through encouraging business activity and developing the appropriate infrastructure and STEAM skills (STEM but with the new addition of the Arts). So enabling the tech industry is important to us all. This has most recently been recognised by the doubling of quotas for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa for tech users.

Tech uses almost no low skilled migration. They are predominantly highly skilled and the research papers published over previous years all agree that highly skilled migration tends to slightly raise the salaries of settled workers. Essentially, if a tech company want to bring a star AI technician to London to work, they’re going to have to pay her highly for the move. That then raises the bar for salaries of her co-workers in similar positions.

The tech industry is dynamic, global, creative and focussed on diversity issues. Silicon Valley is full of fun and crazy ideas. Many of the successful businesses at the roundtable were keen to express how important diversity is to the problem solving and creativity of their teams. One attendee in particular was passionate that hiring the best people from all around the world raised the game of everyone.

Furthermore, tech is global and always creating new things. Sometimes, a UK business can’t find someone with the necessary skills to do the job in the UK, because there are only a handful of people worldwide who have worked on something new. Artificial Intelligence, driverless cars, the VR portable work station… someone, somewhere maybe not here, might be creating something awesome and it would be unfortunate to miss out on being part of it because we don’t want too many migrants in the UK.

Tech companies know they have a skills shortage and they are doing everything they can to attract more home grown talent to the industry. Too few UK graduates study maths to A lLevel let alone attain computing qualifications. Many forecasters say that the skills shortage is going to increase year on year and tech companies are trying to encourage school students to see their potential careers in tech companies or tech roles within traditionally non-tech business. They are encouraging flexible working so that more women return to work and they are conscious of upskilling and re-skilling workers with skills that become defunct as technology requirements change.

The list of exciting reasons why migration in the tech industry is good for UK business, UK residents and the UK generally, is a very, very long list. In the US, the majority of tech unicorns (and tech companies generally) have been founded by immigrants. In the UK it is one in five tech start-ups that are founded by immigrants. Obviously no one truly knows why that is the case. One migration expert wrote an entire book about how migrants are exceptional, motivated people to have taken a leap out of their comfortable home zone. But really, we only know that the tech industry heavily relies on skills from people all around the world, the EU included. Stopping a household tech name from hiring a German software engineering graduate (or effectively prohibiting them from doing so by making it exorbitantly expensive), will not mean that the latest unemployed British law student can take the job.

Instead let's support the industry that supports us and that has so much exciting and encouraging news to spread about the many benefits of immigration from brainy and motivated people.

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