An open immigration policy is critical to the success of UK tech but politicians are being distracted by hard-line point scoring, a top tech chief has warned.
In an interview with City A.M., chair of UK startup network Tech Nation and former government COO Stephen Kelly said a hostile immigration policy risked dissuading tech talent from moving to the UK, which would hamper growth in the sector.
“We need so much talent in technology and we need to celebrate immigration and people coming in for the right skills,” he told City A.M.
“So, it’d be fantastic if all the agencies, including the Home Office, are aligned to that. But I’m a realist here, and, sadly, there are political votes gained if the party – and this is not just a comment about any government – is seen to be tough on immigration.
“But it hurts the economy,” he added.
Kelly, who also headed British software giant Sage Group, said that the fact that half of the country’s decacorns – tech firms valued at over $10bn – were run by immigrants to the UK underscored the power of immigration to innovation in the UK. Immigration was a “non-negotiable” in the success of the sector, he said.
Kelly’s comments come as pressure grows on the Home Office to push through a scale-up visa designed to help fast-growing firms access top talent from overseas.
A specialist fintech fast-track visa was one of the key recommendations of the landmark Kalifa Review of fintech last year, designed to boost the international standing of UK fintech, but a senior Home Office official revealed the scheme would now be pushed back to August when speaking at the Innovate Finance Global Summit in April.
Janine Hirt, boss of fintech industry body Innovate FInance, said that the delay risked hampering growth.
“The Kalifa Review recommended the creation of a new visa stream more than 12 months ago. This is an unfortunate delay which will have a material impact on the growth of UK FinTech companies,” she said in April.
“As we have heard repeatedly from FinTech companies….competition for top talent is fierce. Without easier routes UK tech companies will miss out on hiring the best and brightest people from across the world.”