Visas don’t compute for Tech City skill-seekers

A SKILLS shortage is harming Silicon Roundabout, pictured. Local companies trying to import workers with coding and programming ability are being hampered by government immigration restrictions.

Now a Hackney MP has stepped in to help. Meg Hillier ambushed Business Secretary Vince Cable in Parliament as he spoke about immigration.

The Hackney South and Shoreditch member seized her chance when a story Cable was telling about a high-street encounter with a shopper petered out for lack of a punchline. Hillier leapt up to tell the House of Commons: “I’m the MP for Shoreditch, what the Prime Minister calls Tech City, and business after business in that area has raised concerns with me about the challenge of getting visas for key coders and programmers.

“They can’t recruit in the UK because we’re not skilled up enough yet, so there’s an issue there for his department. But also because of the Home Office’s cap they’re finding it a struggle to get them in and I wondered if he had any words of comfort for them in his negotiations about this.”

Cable responded: “It’s important that we train people in the UK, where that’s possible, and one of the drivers behind the apprenticeship programme is that we build up our scandalously neglected skills base.

“Where there are genuine vacancies, it’s important that people are able to move freely and if she’s able to bring cases to my department, we’ll try to work with the Home Office to make sure they are able to come.”

The next day Hillier, speaking from a Shoreditch recruitment fair, above, told Loving Dalston that she would meet Cable to discuss the issue.

She said: “The Hackney University Technical College is doing a great job to ensure that children are trained for skills that are needed. But they are being taught ICT rather than programming. So some people have to be recruited from abroad. Getting a visa for people from overseas is a problem for small companies, who find it very expensive. The bigger companies can do it, although for them it’s still a hassle.

Lucy Yu: visas are too time-consuming
Lucy Yu: visas are a problem

“The Prime Minister is always going to Shoreditch but if it’s his own government restricting growth it’s bad. Vince Cable will meet with businesses to hear their problems direct.”

Swiftkey chief operating officer Lucy Yu supported Hillier’s claim that organising a visa was time-consuming and difficult for small businesses. Some of the information required to prove that a job could not be filled anywhere within the European Union seemed excessive.

“It would, ” she said, “be great if the MP could get the process made easier.”

Joe Macleod, global design director at ustwo, told “David Cameron talks up ‘Digital Shoreditch’ and ‘Tech City’. We find this highly hypocritical, as they say they’re going to promote us as an industry, yet they’re ignorantly not aware that this industry is built by designers and developers.”

David Altheer 110513 

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