There is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a migration crisis in Europe at present. Specifically, there is a crisis in southern and central Europe in particular, with literally hundreds of thousands of people seeking either refugee status and/or a better life than is available to them in their homelands. The projections suggest things are going to get worse, with some projections of over 1M displaced people as a result of the situation in Syria and the Middle East generally. A recent report suggests that Britain’s population could increase by up to 10M in the next 25 years, with immigration at five times the EU average.
What has this got to do with recruitment? Well it’s by way of a preamble to the related news story that the founders of over 230 tech startups have written to the Prime Minister to warn the government that its plans for reducing the number of immigrants will make it more difficult for skilled immigrants or immigrant entrepreneurs who want to start a new business here.
It seems pretty clear that the majority of the population wants to see immigration reduced, so the majority of politicians – as politicians do – are following the votes. That doesn’t necessarily make it right (or wrong), but does help explain why it’s happening.
What really matters depends on your perspective. For the UK economy, it is as plain as a computerised pikestaff that digital industries are of substantial and increasing importance. Remember too that Britons, from Babbage to Turing and onwards, played a major role in the development of the computer, only to lose out to the USA and Japan (amongst others). Nowadays, we recognise that in the global economy there are talented people spread throughout the world, many of whom could help fill the jobs that our growing digital businesses have in abundance. If we don’t fill these jobs, then the same global economy will lure our businesses – and then our talent - abroad, especially if there are more favourable tax regimes making the move more attractive.
You just have to look at the history of the computer (try Wikipedia) to see how Britain failed to capitalise on its early success. Today, it’s arguably even more important that we are at the forefront of this industry, not least so we can counter the burgeoning threat of cyber attacks. We can’t do that without the talent to drive our companies. The government is well aware of the problem: recently the rules around the Tier 1 visa were relaxed in order to help technology companies employ talent from abroad. That said, only 200 of these Tier 1 visas were granted last year. In comparison, there were some 50,000 Tier 2 visas.
What’s the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2? The former allows an immigrant to live/seek employment in the UK for two to three years and work for any company. This flexibility is the crucial distinction between Tier 1 and Tier 2 – the latter is sponsored by companies and, thus, more subject to the whims of employers - and now potentially the politics of immigration. Like the writers of that letter to David Cameron, the entire digital/computing industry needs to continue to lobby the government to persuade it to do what is right for the economy and business. That means making a distinction between different types of immigrant: a difficult political calculation. There are perhaps not many votes in this, but if any government wants to be beaten at a general election, the surest way is to crash the economy. Not supporting our hugely important digital industries is one way to do just that.
Ailsa Simpson, IT Recruitment Consultant, Be-IT Resourcing