Last November, I wrote a blog on Tier 2 visas that pondered how much the government’s policy towards immigrants may, or may not, be having a beneficial impact on a) the digital/computing industries in the UK and, following on from this, b) overall economic growth in our country. As I noted in the last blog, one specific area that could benefit from immigrant talent is online security, especially countering cyber crime. When I wrote that original blog I was particularly thinking of cyber-crime rather than terrorism, but then, at more or less the same time as the last blog was published, Paris was subject to substantial, co-ordinated terrorist attacks, with hundreds of casualties. Then, at the time of writing this new blog, the BBC was the victim, albeit relatively short-lived, of a cyber attack, leaving millions unable to access its websites and iPlayer.
In the great scheme of things, not being able to re-watch ‘Strictly’ on the iPlayer is neither here nor there compared to the potential dangers of terrorism. Yet the same overall principles matter – we need experts who can protect us from both and it doesn’t matter if these experts are from Mongolia or Madras if they can stop the maniacs who are hell-bent on our physical or economic destruction.
Of course, the reality is that terrorists are just as interested in bringing down our IT infrastructure in such a way as to cause death and destruction in the aftermath of such an attack as they are in attacking us directly with bombs and bullets. You don’t have to read the Daily Mail to get worried about the potential for a cyber-terrorist jamming air-traffic control so that planes have no reference to each other in the sky.
The fact is that it is very hard to know where these threats will come from next. To those who say “we should not let in people if we are not sure of their background”, we need to point out that in the final days of 2015, as reported in the Telegraph, “A British-educated computer expert who spent more than a decade studying and working in the UK before becoming one of Islamic State’s top cyber experts has been killed in an American drone strike. Siful Haque Sujan was a leading figure in the militants’ hacking campaign and their efforts to defeat surveillance and tracking by Western spy agencies.” Sujan had become the major Isil hacker earlier in the year, after his mentor, Junaid Hussain, another Brit and one of Isil’s leading cyber-terrorists, was also killed in a drone-strike.
This is deadly serious stuff, and demonstrates precisely why the government needs to ensure that we have the right people in the right positions to counter the multiple threats, both direct and indirect to our security, our businesses and us as individual citizens. Since my first blog a lot more has happened that brings home to us just how important this is.
The government is well aware of this, as this link for the new (in November 2015) list of skills shortages (i.e. eligible jobs) for which Tier 2 visa can be made makes clear. A small number of the jobs on this list have additional requirements that need to be satisfied before a Tier 2 visa can be granted. These include…
· IT product manager
· Data scientist
· Senior developer
· Cyber security specialist
However, getting a Tier 2 visa is not particularly easy and it costs quite a bit, as the Tier 2 visa overview on the government’s own website shows. That said, I do feel for those in power over us. Making the right judgements in the face of pressure from businesses, as described in my first blog, is very difficult, particularly so in the case of Siful Haque Sujan. Again quoting from the Telegraph, here is why the government probably got it right in this case.
“Sujan entered the UK in 2003 and went on to study computer system engineering at the University of Glamorgan. He set up a Newport-based computer firm with his brother that provided online ordering systems.
“He also held at least two patents for devising computers systems and was regarded as a pillar of the local Bangladeshi business community.
“An immigration tribunal in 2014, where he unsuccessfully applied for a special visa to remain in the country because of his sought-after skills, heard he was “an individual of considerable ability.”
Assuming the US intelligence is correct (not always guaranteed of course!), Sujan was a danger to the West when he went to be work for Isil in Syria. How much more of a danger might he had been if he had been allowed to stay in this country?
That said, we do, of course, elect and entrust governments to get these things right. We do need more counter-cyber crime experts, from wherever they come, and we need to ensure that the workings of the visa system maximise the number allowed into the country of these talented individuals who can help keep us safe and our businesses secure while excluding the undesirables who wish to do us harm. No mean task but one that is arguably as important as any other the government faces in 2016.
Ailsa Simpson, IT Recruitment Consultant, Be-IT Resourcing