LONDON - The UK stands to gain from US President Donald Trump’s visa ban that will prevent foreign talent from setting up shop on American soil, tech figures have told City A.M., providing new opportunities to entrepreneurs and highly-skilled workers.
An executive order signed by Trump this week suspended foreign work permits such as the H1-B and L-1 visas, preventing companies from transferring staff to US offices and bringing in skilled talent from overseas.
“All of the talent that may have thought of going to the US now has been sent a pretty clear message,” co-founder of London venture capital giant Localglobe and early Skype executive Saul Klein said.
“But equally given the strength of the UK tech ecosystem, it’s a great chance for the UK to put its best foot forward and explain why it’s a great place to start and build a tech company.”
Klein added that remote working policies set up during the pandemic means many UK firms can adjust to no longer physically staffing employees in the US.
“Everyone is going to be a lot more flexible as to where they place their workforce and if you shut your borders down to talent, it’s pretty easy nowadays for people to site their talent outside of the US,” he said.
“It may provide some inconveniences in the short term, but for a lot of the UK’s talent, they don’t necessarily have to do that anymore.”
The UK has established a number of new visa schemes to attract foreign tech workers, such as the Tech Nation Global Talent Visa and the Startup Visa introduced by former chancellor Sajid Javid.
Gerard Grech, chief executive of Tech Nation, said he anticipates that the global talent visa will now see an increase in applications following the US’ decision.
“Having been an H1-B visa holder myself, I think the US’ decision to suspend the scheme is a setback for the US and its growing tech industry,” he said.
“The UK is very much open and active in attracting the best and brightest talent from around the world as the third-largest tech investment market, after the US and China.”
Skilled people who previously travelled from the UK to the US to work for major tech companies are now slowly returning to Britain, as the cost of living and chances to enter a company at the ground level begin to dwindle in hotbeds such as San Francisco.
“The UK has long benefited from the return of skilled people who have worked in US-based software companies and now want to come back to Britain, a group of people we refer to as ‘Valley Veterans’,” said Balderton Capital partner James Wise.
“With these recent changes to the US visa system, British-based technology companies have an even better chance of attracting people who may have otherwise gone to the US, which is essential for our already strong software expertise to remain competitive.”
Tech UK, a trade body that represents Britain’s tech industry, said it would welcome all newcomers to the UK’s burgeoning tech scene.
British tech startups broke records again last year to rake in more than £10bn in investment. They have continued to grow, receiving more than $5.3bn (£4.3bn) in funding in the first half of 2020 despite coronavirus.
“The introduction of the Global Talent Visa and the planned reforms to Tier 2 send a strong signal that our door is open to the brightest minds in tech to help build the future we need,” said Tech UK’s associate directory of policy, Vinous Ali.
“The UK digital sector is already growing faster than any other sector in the UK and this is creating the need for more skilled people from the UK but also the best talent from around the world,” she added.