UK government’s ‘Silicon Valley’ ambition unfeasible without more tech migrants, says RSM UK
As chancellor Jeremy Hunt has once again emphasised the prime minister’s ambition for the UK to become a “science and technology superpower” last week, RSM UK points to evidence that clearer government policy to stimulate growth in UK technology companies is needed, while healthy immigration will be key to creating a world-class workforce.
A freedom of information request to UK Visas and Immigration, analysed by RSM UK, shows nearly 54,000 international workers migrated to work in the UK’s technology sector in 2022*. This is up from 40,000 in 2021 – the largest year-on-year increase in the last five years. Yet despite the increase, inbound immigration currently accounts for just 1% of the five million people employed in the UK’s technology sector, suggesting more needs to be done to attract skilled workers from overseas.
Ben Bilsland, partner and senior tech analyst at RSM UK, said: ‘Yet again, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has expressed his ambitions for the UK to become the “world’s next Silicon Valley”. A healthy pipeline of global talent and ideas will be vital if the UK wants to compete on an international level and a large proportion of this will come from overseas. But our analysis suggests the current inflow of immigration isn’t nearly enough. Without a sizeable increase, the government’s ambition is not feasible yet and there is a risk that the tech businesses of the future will be developed outside of the UK.’
The data also shows the vast majority of technology workers migrating to the UK are from Asia – over 43,000 in 2022, with 40,000 of these individuals from India. Only 2,000 workers migrated from the EU, which suggests more needs to be done to make the UK a more attractive pull for EU workers.
Ben Bilsland added: ‘One place to start is the visa process – which should be streamlined and efficient, so it does not create a barrier for attracting global tech talent. The existing Global Talent visa plays a key role and some certainty of how this will be administered in the future is important. The government also needs to focus on stimulating growth in the tech sector, especially emergent technologies that will fundamentally change the global digital economy – including AI. Business communities that cultivate ideas at an early stage need to be supported.
‘There are many benefits to skilled migration, including enhancing the wider ecosystem, bringing in more diverse ideas and innovation, and plugging the existing skills gap.
‘Migration is only part of the solution if the government is to achieve its goals. The broader picture also includes home-grown talent. If the question is, how to develop a digitally enabled workforce that can support a leading technology economy, then sustained investment in education facilities and training will be essential.’
*UK Visas and Immigration, 1 January 2022 – 31 December 2022