Ever since the idea of Brexit surfaced in the UK, one of its major criticisms has been that it will make hiring in the technology sector much more difficult. Now that the United Kingdom has finally, properly, left the European Union and a trade deal has been reached, there are mixed signals.
UK technology and digital industries are some of the most international and most competitive in terms of workforce recruitment and retention. With EU-UK freedom of movement ended, and significant bureaucracy and paperwork added to the process, many thought that the UK tech sector would take a big hit.
In fact, such fears appear to have been evident in the data for several years, with the Wall Street Journal reporting back in 2018 that UK hiring of EU workers had dropped to its lowest level for years as companies struggled to persuade European citizens to come to the UK.
Now that the UK government has struck a trade deal with the European Union, it’s time to ask: How are things changing for technology hiring? Has disaster struck?
Perhaps the most important thing to note for companies hiring workers from outside the UK is that you will need a sponsor license. UK government guidance says that anyone you want to recruit from outside the UK, apart from Irish citizens, “needs to meet certain requirements and apply for permission first”. Here’s what you need to know.
- For “skilled workers” — likely to be those in the technology and digital industry — that means they’ll need to have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor. They must also speak English to a certain level, and the offer must be for a sufficiently skilled job that pays more than £25,600 or the “going rate” for that job — whichever is higher.
- There are some exceptions to these rules; applicants may still apply if the job pays as little as £20,480 if, for example, they have a PhD relevant to the job or if they have a job offer for a “shortage occupation”. Encouragingly, those occupations include job titles several IT and technology jobs like IT architects, systems designers, web programmers, software developers, web design professionals and cybersecurity specialists.
- Transfers within a company are allowed, too, as long as they are again sponsored by a Home Office licensed sponsor company, have worked for 12 months overseas at the company, be a graduate or higher, and be paid at least £41,500 or the “going rate” for the job, whichever is higher.
This was previously known as the Tier 2 system, and the changes have caused some controversy. ITPro reports Naomi Hanrahan-Soar, a lawyer and managing associate at law firm Lewis Silkin, as saying that the changes may indirectly force some existing foreign tech workers working in the UK to leave the country unless they earn a very high salary.
But a month into Brexit, there are some positive signs. According to the Recruitment and Employer Confederation (REC), points-based immigration systems such as the new one adopted by the UK often change, and will likely be updated as employers and trade bodies pressure the government.
The REC has also called for the shortage occupation list to be regularly updated, so if demand increases for tech workers, there is a hope that the government will also show flexibility to accommodate those changes.
And so far, trends in technology hiring aren’t looking too bad for the UK. A report by S&P Global Market Intelligence said that despite early fears, fintech hiring in the UK has largely been saved by the advent of large-scale remote working. Though this certainly wasn’t a planned UK government policy, companies have now realised employees can successfully work from home and are likely to allow them to continue — giving UK tech businesses access to a much wider talent pool. A complex and evolving situation, then, but not as bleak as once thought.