Future of UK tech talent visa uncertain after controversial closure of Tech Nation
Tech chiefs have sounded the alarm over the future of Tech Nation’s lauded visa programme today after the start-up body announced it would wind down after controversially losing a major government contract.
Tech Nation said yesterday it would close at the end of March after 12 years in operation following the government’s decision to hand £12m grant funding, its main source of income, to a start-up accelerator run by Barclays.
Tech Nation has separately managed a Global Talent visa programme for the Home Office since March 2020 which has allowed talented international talent to flow into the country’s start-ups.
However, when approached by City A.M. yesterday, officials could only assure it will “take every available step to ensure that applicants already part of the Global Talent route are not disadvantaged by the closure”.
Investors and industry chiefs have now warned that winding down the visa programme could hamper the growth of the UK’s tech industry.
“With the loss of Tech Nation’s leadership, the Global Talent Visa must not slip down the government’s agenda at such a critical moment for the tech industry and the UK economy,” Russ Shaw, chief of Tech London Advocates, told City A.M. “At this early stage, it is not clear what is going to happen to the visa programme and we will be asking the government for clarity.”
Ollie Purdue, a partner at London-based venture capital firm Antler, said Tech Nation had been an “essential partner enabling world-class tech talent to enter the UK”.
“Since Antler started making investments in the UK in 2020, we have worked with founders from 66 nationalities. That was possible because of the excellent visa scheme which allowed tech founders to come to the UK to create their startups,” he told City A.M. “Losing that visa route will be a major setback for the UK tech ecosystem.”
Tech Nation has processed over 6000 Global Talent Visa applications since its inception and endorsed more than 3000. Some 13,000 jobs have also been created by alumni of the group’s nationwide accelerator programmes.
Ekaterina Almasque, general partner at early-stage VC firm OpenOcean, added the global talent visa had become “almost synonymous with Tech Nation”.
“As big believers that the best talent can come from anywhere, at OpenOcean we were dismayed to learn about Tech Nation’s forced closure,” she told City A.M. “We want to keep the UK as an attractive destination for talented tech workers, not a point of departure.”
The decision to hand the grant funding to Barclays has been roundly slammed by the industry. A letter criticising the move had garnered over 400 signatures from prominent figures in the industry prior to the start-up group’s announcement yesterday.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said Barclays Eagle Labs was successful in its bid because their “application represented the best value for taxpayers’ money, will benefit the most startups and scale-ups over the next two years, and was scored highest by an independent panel.”