A Freedom of Information Request has shown that, in recent months, 1,946 applications for restricted Certificates of Sponsorship under the Tier 2 (General) limit to enable UK employers to sponsor non-EU IT professionals were unsuccessful. This means that, since the end of last year, UK employers in the tech sector have been unable to fill around 2,000 highly skilled vacancies which are crucial to these companies' continued growth in the UK.
It is therefore clear that this limit, which applies to employers looking to sponsor non-EEA nationals to work in the UK who are currently based overseas and will earn an annual salary of less than £159,600, is having a detrimental effect on the ability of UK tech companies to recruit individuals with the skills they need to develop their businesses in the UK.
Efforts to persuade the Home Office to raise or amend the criteria for the cap appear, so far, to have fallen on deaf ears. This seems strange when other areas of the Government are actively engaged in promoting the UK as a tech hub. For example, in April 2018, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, published a joint policy paper, entitled "Artificial Intelligence (AI) Sector Deal". In this paper, it states that "A revolution in AI technology is already emerging. If we act now, we can lead it from the front. But if we ‘wait and see’ other countries will seize the advantage. Together, we can make the UK a global leader in this technology that will change all our lives." It goes on to say that "Skilled experts are needed to develop AI, and they are in short supply. As a global leader, the UK needs a large workforce with deep AI expertise . . ."
Consequently, in order for the UK to be a global leader in this area, it is vital that companies engaged in this field are able to access people with the necessary skills. The best way to do this in a sustainable way is for the UK to develop more home grown talent. However, this can only be achieved by enabling universities and companies to employ the best minds in the field, which may involve bringing people in from outside the EU.
Unfortunately, the UK immigration system in its current form looks set to thwart this ambition. It is therefore to be hoped that, as the Home Office considers potentially modifying the Tier 2 (General) limit, it finds a way to enable companies in the tech sector to recruit the people they need, regardless of nationality, so that they can act as a driver for continued UK economic growth.