Scotland has a growing and successful software and computer games industry and attracts experienced staff and students in this area from around the world. While it is only natural that this industry wants to recruit and retain the best staff, there can often be a number of hurdles to overcome before this is possible.
There are a number of visa options available to people who want to work in this sector, but finding the right one depends on the person's individual circumstances and long term plans. A summary of the main options is as follows:
Tier 2 (General) visas
This is the most common route used by the software and digital technology sector as it allows companies, with approval from the Home Office, to sponsor skilled workers. I have used this route to assist companies obtain visas for, amongst others, software developers, database developers, iOS and Android developers, communications engineers, digital content consultants and web design engineers.
The first stage in this process is for the company to obtain a Sponsor Licence from the Home Office. When reviewing the Home Office guidance relating to applications, this may seem daunting but with careful planning, the process can be completed within two months and for a relatively low cost. Applications for Sponsor Licences have a high rate of success - provided the company considers how it can comply with the Sponsor Licence obligations.
The second stage of the process will vary depending on the job the person will be doing. Sometimes it will be necessary to advertise the role to demonstrate that no suitable worker can be found from inside the UK, but a number of jobs in this sector are recognised as "Shortage Occupations." These currently include systems engineers, software developers and games designers in visual effects and computer animation. Further jobs including, product mangers, data scientists, senior developers and cyber security specialists are due to be added to the list in the near future.
Where a job is recognised as a shortage occupation, there is no need to advertise the role and the chances of obtaining approval from the Home Office to hire someone are much greater.
In my experience, this route has been particularly useful for companies who want to hire international graduates from UK universities to help the business grow, and since the licence is valid for 4 years, many companies use it to hire more than one person.
Intra Company Transfers
Another common route for larger companies is the Intra Company Transfer route. This allows companies with offices abroad to transfer staff to the UK on a temporary basis without advertising the position first.
A company would need a Sponsor Licence to use this route but as this can be obtained quickly and at a low cost, it is an excellent way of sharing skills between offices.
Exceptional Talent Visa
In August 2011, the Home Office introduced a new visa for world leaders in their field: the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa. This was to be limited to 1,000 individuals a year who were to be endorsed by approved bodies. In April 2014, in light of the growing demand for employees in the software and digital technology sector, TechCity were added to the list of bodies who could endorse applications.
Unfortunately, this visa route has been under utilised as it is very difficult to meet the criteria for endorsement. From August 2011 to March 2015, only 339 visas out of a potential 3,500 were issued. Although no statistics have been published regarding the number of visas issued to digital technology candidates, we are aware that only 92 visas were issued across all sectors from April 2014 to March 2015 so it is fair to say that uptake has been low.
The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa is not commonly used by established companies but is very useful for individuals looking to come to the UK to start their own digital technology business or invest in an existing business. It is also a common vehicle for graduates who are setting up their own spin out business in conjunction with their university.
The route requires the visa applicant to demonstrate that they have access to either £200,000 in private funding or £50,000 in funding from a regulated venture capital firm, Government or devolved Government department or a UKTI endorsed seed funding competition.
There are strict documentary requirements for this visa and as a result the refusal rate is high, with approximately 50% of applications refused often because of failure to follow the procedural rules. However, with careful planning and a detailed business plan, applicants have an excellent chance of obtaining a visa in this category.
There is a growing demand for skilled individuals to boost the UK's software and digital technology sector, and when recruiting from abroad, it is important that the immigration options are carefully considered. In my experience, with careful planning, a number of routes can be used to recruit and retain the best staff.
For further information on how I can help specialists in software and computer technology address any immigration issues, please get in touch.