Monday 30 November 2020 6:03 am

The rush for Tech Nation visas is misguided — why limit recruitment by geography?

Job van der Voort is co-Founder and chief executive of Remote

Earlier this month, it was reported that applications for the Tech Nation visa into the UK spiked almost 50 per cent this year.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Britain’s tech sector continues to attract talent from around the world.

In the last two years alone, almost 2,000 people have applied for the visa, which grants tech employees the right to work in the UK for up to five years. Demand is expected to rise even further in 2021, when freedom of movement ends and EU nationals hoping to work in UK tech need to find a different route in.

It is always reassuring to hear news of the continuing appeal of Britain’s tech sector, and that high numbers of overseas applicants want to fill the UK’s yawning skills gap (don’t forget that nine in 10 organisations admit to having a shortage of digital skills, according to the Open University).

However, this rush for visas is misguided.

For focus on the Tech Nation visa indicates that UK employers are still thinking geographically when it comes to hiring — that talent must either be based locally or be willing to emigrate.

The reality is that talent is distributed all over the world. Insisting on geographic proximity requires knowledge workers to leave their friends and families behind if they want to access greater opportunities, trading their local communities for a higher cost of living in densely populated cities like London, potentially on the other side of the world.

Obviously, not all workers will be keen to jump on a plane for a job opportunity, limiting the prospective talent pool. But what if they didn’t need to?

If London’s businesses considered hiring according to time zone rather than location, for example, they could consider applicants from across Europe, or even further afield like Israel or South Africa, which have similar working hours to the UK. With the recent shift to remote working, we’ve seen first-hand that workers don’t need to be in a physical office to do their jobs, so why restrict hiring to those prepared to move?

Historically, employing someone overseas has come with bureaucratic and logistics challenges, such as setting up different country entities which can be expensive and confusing for businesses. That’s without considering local market knowledge such as salary expectations, or individual country compliance. 

But the technology now exists to make this process frictionless, handling global payroll, benefits, compliance and taxes. And we’ve seen a host of tech companies rise to prominence (most notably Zoom) since the pandemic began that make it easier than ever before to collaborate and work seamlessly from anywhere.

Remote working is no longer an oddity — it is the new normal.

If employers break free from traditional ways of thinking about hiring and look beyond candidates who can commute into the office, the pool of employable talent is limitless. We don’t need to focus on the few who successfully apply for a visa. We can hire the best and the brightest, wherever they come from — and they don’t even need to set foot on a plane.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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