The Tech Talent Merry Go Round: Is Your IT Company Ready to Jump On?

UK tech talent has never been more in demand, and candidates are enjoying the power of a sellers’ market. How can businesses attract and keep the best talent? Jonathan Beech, Managing Director of immigration law firm Migrate UK, shares his insights in this exclusive article.

A Global Talent Pool for UK Tech

One lesson from the pandemic has been that location is not always a factor when recruiting for a job. 18 months of working under the Government’s work from home directive has proven that with the right IT infrastructure, many tech teams can work from any location and even any country – as long as the employer and employee are compliant with immigration rules.

The upshot of this for tech CEOs is that the talent pool has now gotten wider – good news for businesses that often struggle to find specialist tech skills locally. But after an unprecedented year for technology, it’s apparent that IT skills are now in greater demand than ever. This has led to a large skills shortage in the UK. IT jobs in Britain have reached pre-pandemic levels, and many employees can now work anywhere, which means that, as Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute of Employment studies says, “for the first time in a decade, it is more of a sellers’ market.”

Attracting Overseas Talent

We are now witnessing a growing war on tech talent at Migrate UK. Since December 2020 we have seen tech recruitment increase significantly, with many employees frequently ‘chopping and changing’ jobs, and employers competing to attract and retain the best talent by pushing up wages, incentives, and applying for sponsor licences so they’re able to recruit much-needed talent from overseas. These licences last for four years and give a UK business the ability to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to their employees, to employ non-settled citizens and fill a skilled vacancy in the UK on a skilled worker or intra company transfer route.

This hot recruiting climate has created a tech talent ‘merry go round’, with the tech skills shortage creating an even greater demand for overseas skills. An example of this is one of our clients, who in the first two months of this year used up their yearly allocation of Skilled Worker CoS, and so had to request four times their previous yearly allocation to cover demand over the next six months alone.

A yearly allocation of CoS is normally based on those allocated to a business in the previous year, or on a substantiated forecast of skills needed for each financial year. This rapid escalation in licence applications is also seen in the latest figures released by the Home Office, which show an 8.5% increase from January-May 2021 after around eight years of very little change.

In addition we are not just seeing individual hires of IT talent, but ‘batch’ hiring amongst clients, varying from global organisations to SMEs. But with candidates recognising there is a great demand for their skills, they are also selecting employers who are prepared and already hold sponsor licences when they offer the candidate the job.

Alternatives to CoS

For IT businesses wary of the high costs of employee sponsorship, the new Graduate Route offers a lifeline for tech CEOs and companies struggling to fill immediate skills gaps. From 1st July, the Graduate Route allows graduates who meet certain criteria – including having completed a degree at undergraduate level or above – to apply to remain in the UK work, or look for work, at any skill level for two years. It also enables these graduates to switch to a skilled worker route if both employee and employer choose.

For exceptional IT superstars there is also now the possibility of the Global Talent Visa in certain sectors, including digital technology. But this is only for leaders or tech specialists with exceptional talent. Emerging leaders with extraordinary promise, or under the specialist guidance of the UK Research and Innovation endorsed funder, should be sought on whether this is a potential option for a specialist recruit.

Staying on Top of Onboarding Regulations

Finally, to ensure any onboarding goes smoothly, tech CEOs should ensure their HR teams are always on top of Right to Work checks across employees. This is the legal obligation to conduct documentation checks for every UK-based employee to ensure your employees have the right permission to work for your business.

There are different procedures for checking the immigration status of EU, EEA or Swiss citizens and non-EEA citizens. Non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizen family members can use an approved immigration status document, but while requirements were adapted during COVID-19, from 1 September 2021, all UK employers must carry out full document checks with original documents amongst other requirements as appropriate.

If your business is up to speed across all these elements as part of its tech talent recruitment strategy, you haven’t only jumped on the tech talent merry go round – you’re also ready and set for a longer, better ride.


Jonathan Beech
Managing Director, Migrate UK

Jonathan guides industry journals and leading HR titles with insights on immigration trends and rule changes. Jonathan’s research has been published in The Independent and Financial Times, and he represent Migrate UK as an industry specialist with leading global television and radio broadcasters. He also advises government consultants, who have in turn gone on to influence employment policy, and hosts HR seminars, forums for business leaders, and workshops for UK-based businesses.