Britain is leading the way in attracting overseas specialist tech talent

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What does it take to ramp up a successful digital business? A big part of the answer lies with finding the right people.

The potent mix of brainpower and practical skills can help grow a small-to-medium business into an international heavyweight. You need only look at Hailo, HouseTrip and Reflections Interactive (acquired by Ubisoft) to see companies following this trajectory, with great results.

The challenge

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Yet nailing the right skillset in your business isn’t straightforward. Digital enterprises rely on skills that simply didn’t exist 10 years ago, with schools and colleges racing to keep pace with the demand for specialist IT skills.

Sarah Wood, founder of Unruly, recently told me:

Shortage of skilled technical talent is an ongoing challenge for technology companies in the UK.

Recruiting from countries outside the EU has been a real challenge, as it requires too much time, cost and effort.

If anything is holding us back, it’s the inability to bring in people who can drive value in UK digital businesses as quickly as possible.

Of course, the EU provides us with a rich pool of talent. With a total population of over 500 million, in terms of sheer manpower, the continent more than competes with the USA.

But to be at the forefront of digital innovation, Britain often needs exceptional people with different perspectives. This means looking beyond Europe – to the world as a whole.

Exceptional talent

Last summer, Tech City UK began working with the Home Office to speed up immigration procedures for the world’s brightest tech talent.

We brought together colleagues from across Britain’s tech community, and drew on their knowledge to define “exceptional talent in digital technology”. Then we took this to the Home Office and developed a set of criteria against which exceptional digital technology talent can be judged.

What emerged was the Exceptional Talent Visa (also known as a Tier 1 Visa): a dedicated, fast-track visa route for applications from highly skilled tech workers overseas.

In April, Tech City UK became an official adviser to the Home Office on applications for the Tier 1 visa.

That means we are a Designated Competent Body (DCB), like The Arts Council (for arts and culture applications), The British Academy (for humanities and social science), and The Royal Academy of Engineering (for engineering).

We can endorse up to 200 visa applicants between now and April 2015.

The development of both the Exceptional Talent Visa and Tech City UK’s accreditation as a DCB points to the clear advancement and growth of the tech sector in the UK.