On 3rd March, the Chancellor announced the second budget, to try and help the UK recover from the effects of the Brexit deal and the covid-19 pandemic.
As part of this, the government have agreed to introduce a fast track visa to help attract highly skilled workers to British firms from all over the world and is aimed at boosting the fintech sector. The move has come in line with the recent Kalifa Review (an independent review run by ex-Worldpay chief executive Ron Kalifa), which recommended the British government should work to encourage immigration as a way to support the fintech industry’s continued growth expectations.
The UK is globally one of the largest investors in its own fintech market, investing over £3 billion in 2020 alone. The sector, which has hubs in London but also Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and beyond, contributed around £11 billion to the economy in 2019, according to accounting firm EY. According to a government report, of the UK’s 76,500 fintech workers, around 42% are migrants, whilst around 28% of the UK’s fintech workforce is from the EU. This is particularly prevalent, given the recent mass exodus of EU citizens from London – according to research conducted by the Oxford University based Migration Observatory, approximately 500,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2020, the majority of whom were living in London.
In 2019, London held the highest concentration of financial and professional firms, but with the creation and expansion of global hubs in Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam and beyond, the race for talent has become more and more competitive. The EU-based hubs, in particular, have become increasingly attractive to EU-national workers who, pre-Brexit, would traditionally have moved to the UK.
Under the new scheme, a highly skilled worker will qualify for a fast track visa without the need for sponsorship, if they hold a job offer from a recognised UK company, cyber company or innovative high-growth fintech. The hope is that this will allow a greater flow of talent into the UK fintech sector.
The government will set out more details on the scheme in July, with the goal to launch the visa in March 2022.
Whilst many believe that these changes will have a positive impact on the UK’s fintech and cyber space, immigration experts and lobbyists have also criticised the move for not going far enough to support the industry’s growth. London First, a business campaigning group representing businesses in the capital, have called for further measures to be implemented and a higher focus to be given to fintech firms, in order to support the country’s recovery and to meet the new and existing skill shortages. The scheme, for instance, does not go far enough to invest in potential company founders – a crucial investment, as the PwC Job Creators report found that prior to Brexit, 49% of the fastest growing businesses in the UK had at least one foreign-born founder.
Many experts have also warned that the effectiveness of the visa changes will be in the details. With many of the start up and scale up firms involved often being smaller companies, visa processes that are slow, expensive and heavily bureaucratic are often not fit for purpose. The hope is that the government will create a process that is accessible to these firms, enabling fintech and cyber companies across the UK access to an even greater pool of talent.