Brexit and UK Tech: Obstacle or Opportunity for Tech Talent?

31st January 2020 - 16:00

by Guy Morley

After over two years of uncertainty, Brexit has finally happened. Regardless of your feelings towards the matter, all we can do now is move forward. Frustrating or confusing though the process may have been, it did give the UK tech industry at least one gift: time to prepare for what’s to come. But now that there’s no turning back and still some uncertainty ahead, it begs the question of what exactly does lie ahead. Will the UK’s new independence hinder the sector’s growth, or will it allow an unexpected surge of new talent?


The Trouble with Talent


We first explored the potential impacts of Brexit on tech recruitment and the sector’s ability to attract top international talent in a blog last September, which you can read here. In this blog, we presented three different options businesses have for their recruitment post-Brexit. The UK happens to have a lot of excellent home-grown talent, and the government is investing in skills development and job creation in the sector through its three Local Digital Skills Partnerships (Local DSPs)[1]. But what about the companies looking to source top talent from outside of the UK?

Immigration policy is arguably the most fretted about threat to the UK tech post-Brexit. Many have feared that stricter policies would discourage international talent, or make it exceedingly difficult for companies to recruit internationally. If the UK cannot entice this talent to our industry then we will be forced to compete against it in an already-competitive global market.

The Home Office recently introduced its newly proposed immigration system, which awards points based on criteria such as skills, qualifications, salaries, and English language skills. The new system shouldn’t pose a major threat to international talent, as the government’s policy statement states that the new system is geared towards prioritising talented, skilled individuals, such as “scientists, engineers, academics and other highly skilled workers.”[2]

Rather than discouraging international talent in the tech industry, the new system seems to favour individuals in the STEM fields. There’s even explicit mention of this in the aforementioned policy statement. Another draw is the removal of the arbitrary cap on talent and the decision to cease use of the Resident Labour Market Test, which were hindrances on international recruitment in the old system.

This is not the only improvement made so far. The Global Talent route for highly skilled workers is set to be expanded in January 2021 for both highly-skilled EU and non-EEA residents to enter the UK without a job offer if they reach the requirements for a visa and are endorsed by a relevant competent body. This has provided a fast-track route for scientists and researchers with STEM backgrounds to enter the UK[3]. The caveat here though, is that the individual must be endorsed as a current or emerging leader in their field by one of the five Global Talent endorsing bodies – The Royal Society, for science and Medicine, The Royal Academy of Engineering, The British Academy, Tech Nation, Arts Council England and UK Research and Innovation[4]. It’s a bit of a lofty ask, but this route would provide sponsorship to some of the top companies in the UK.


Immigration and Innovation


Others fear that restricting international talent will cause innovation and investment to grind to a halt. The UK boasts 14 tech ‘unicorn’ companies, which are startups worth more than $1 billion or £770 million[5]. According to a 2019 report from The Entrepreneurs Network think tank, 9 out of these 14 companies have at least one foreign-born co-founder. Data from that same report finds that 49% of Britain’s fastest-growing companies have immigrant co-founders, 42% of which are EU-born[6]

Currently and in the days pre-Brexit, any EU national with a startup idea could enter the UK and launch their business the same way a UK national would. As of January 2021, EU nationals looking to set up shop will be subject to the same rules as non-EEA nationals and will need to apply for an Innovator visa or a Start-Up visa. These visas have different requirements, but both require some sort of endorsement from either an organisation or higher education institution. The trouble here is that each endorsing body typically only gives their stamp to a limited number of businesses each year.[7]

While this scheme allows foreign entrepreneurs to continue setting up shop in Britain, it will definitely slow the rate at which it happens and decrease the number of these businesses that are started here each year. It’s not a closed door to innovation, but it may be discouraging for some EU entrepreneurs.

It is still early days for post-Brexit Britain, but it seems as though the government is prioritising the STEM fields in its plans. This is great news for hired tech talent, but the new regulations present several roadblocks for self-employed entrepreneurs. The best we can do at this point is wait and see, while sending a message that when it comes to tech, the UK is very much open for business.


If you’re are a company going through a growth phase and looking to add new talent to your team we have a range solutions which can help find top tech talent from Simple HR solutions, Sourcing talent to work package solutions, get in touch with us at









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