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Immigration and Recruitment for Technology Start-ups

Technology Start-ups have been given massive government incentives to flock to the UK, however according to a group of experts it is the government’s own policies on immigration that are stopping the UK taking its place as a world-leading hub of technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

There is a shortage of talent in the UK and the complicated Immigration Rules restrict companies who wish to hire individuals from abroad.

There are, however, a number of options for companies that are seeking the best talent when making their recruitment decisions.

Exceptional Talent

This month, the Government expanded the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route to include technology experts. However, this route is limited to only 200 people each year, though in practice it is likely to apply to far fewer people than this because the requirements are so stringent.  This category is really designed for individuals who are world leaders in their field or who show exceptional promise and are likely to become world leaders.  This is unlikely to ease the pressure for the average start-up that is looking to recruit and expand their business.

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)

Freelancers who are able to set up their own business and can make a substantial cash investment into that business may be able to qualify for leave to enter the UK as a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Migrant. They can then be self-employed, and work on the same basis that a UK freelancer might.

This solution is not ideal, because it is limited to those who have access to (in most cases £200,000). If someone is successful in obtaining leave as an Entrepreneur, they will be restricted in the work that they can do. All work must be for their business. This means that they could not be employed by an existing UK business, but they could do contract work, through their self-employed business.

The application process for a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa is complicated and requires not just the funds, but also a large amount of documentary evidence to show that the individual genuinely intends and is able to set up a UK business.


For businesses struggling to hire the right people, one option might be to consider taking someone on part-time. This has the advantage of widening the pool of potential applicants that you can consider to include students, who are normally entitled to work for 20 hours per week.

Tier 2 (Sponsor Licence)

The most appropriate way forward for companies who want to hire talent from abroad is to gain a sponsor licence, so that they can sponsor individuals to come and work in the UK.

In order to be eligible for a sponsor licence, a business will need to have in place policies and procedures for Human Resources to ensure that the company is not at risk of committing any immigration offences. A small technology start-up is unlikely to have a dedicated HR department, but this is not a barrier to gaining a sponsor licence. Most of the roles for compliance can be allocated to a third party including to a UK based legal representative, which means that you can have experts who are in charge of your compliance with the Immigration Rules, while company staff can get on with doing what they do best.

The process is ongoing. Every member of staff that you employ will need to make an application to the Home Office and you need to ensure constant compliance with the Immigration Rules or risk being downgraded or losing your sponsor licence.

While the immigration rules are prohibitive, and are certainly not designed with the fast-paced and flexible world of technology start-ups in mind, there are still options for companies who want to hire the brightest and best, even if those people are not already part of the settled population in the UK.

For advice of assistance on any immigration matter please contact Richmond Chambers on 0203 617 9173 or


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