Tech Nation, the organisation that helped bring thousands of talented tech workers to the UK, has announced that it will cease operations on 31 March 2023 after the government pulled key funding, awarding it instead, somewhat controversially, to Barclays’ tech incubator Eagle Labs. Without the government funding, Tech Nation, which operates as a non-profit, cannot fund its accelerators, reports or visa programme.
It has been confirmed that Eagle Labs will not take over Tech Nation’s role as the endorsing body administering the tech arm of the UK’s Global Talent visa. Tech Nation has confirmed that it has notified the Home Office that its visa scheme will stop.
There is currently very little information available about what the future of the Digital Technology Global Talent category, often referred to as the “Tech Nation visa”, is going to look like. At present it looks like Tech Nation will continue to accept applications up until they cease operations, confirming that the visa programme will continue in the “immediate term”. However, given that assessors have normally been allowed up to eight weeks to decide applications, it is not clear whether an earlier cut-off date will be introduced to allow Tech Nation assessors sufficient time to decide pending applications prior to 31st March.
This announcement has been met with dismay in both the tech and immigration communities. Tech Nation, which launched in 2011, ran a variety of accelerator programmes designed to help UK start-ups and scaleups grow and expand internationally, and alumni include many of the UK’s most successful startup including Monzo, Revolut, Depop, Darktrace, Ocado, Skyscanner and Deliveroo. The importance of an accessible, flexible (and stable) immigration category ensuring that the UK can access and attract top tech talent remains fundamentally important to the strength of the UK tech sector and the wider economy. The Home Office says it is working closely with Tech Nation and looking at options to “ensure the continuity” of the Global Talent tech visa in the short term, whilst they explore the long-term changes necessary in light of Tech Nation’s planned closure. they have also stated “We will also take every available step to ensure that applicants already part of the Global Talent route are not disadvantaged by the closure, so the UK can continue to benefit from the brightest and best living and working here.”
Given that the removal of Tech Nation’s funding has been planned for some time now, it feels extremely short sighted that the Home Office have allowed us to reach this stage without even the vaguest of plans for the continuity of the visa programme or a successor to Tech Nation being announced. As the pound has hit an all-time low and the economy is wobbling, and the UK is comparatively painfully short on tech talent, now is not the time to be giving founders or investors reason to question the government’s commitment to such an economically important sector.
In recent years, the UK tech sector has grown by around 7% a year, faster than the UK economy as a whole, and it is now estimated to support around three million jobs. Last year the UK Government published its Digital Strategy 2022, with a mission to strengthen the country’s position as a “Global Science and Tech Superpower”, and to encourage investment and innovation so that the UK can continue to compete on a global stage. Foreign investment is a catalyst for digital economy development.
With competition increasing as countries announce various attractive visa policies, and in a shrinking global economy, competition for both talent and investment will be fiercer than ever. With the stakes being so high, founders and investors will be examining more closely each decision they make, both as to where they should choose to locate their start-ups and their investments. It is clear that any immigration policy that makes it more onerous and expensive to access the necessary talent will be a major turn-off to both founders and potential investors, so we would urge the Home Office to move quickly in establishing an accessible, flexible and affordable successor to the Tech Nation visa to ensure that the UK tech sector does not lose out!