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Government plans to double top-class visa availability to tempt more technology leaders

The UK government plans to double the number of visas offered to talented foreign migrants in order to lure more tech talent to the country.

The number of visas available under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent programme will be doubled to 2,000 per year under the new plans. These are the permits offered to those considered world leaders in their field, and whose presence would drive skills development.

Tier 1 visas are currently handled by five endorsement bodies that assess applications through a peer review process, for science; engineering; digital technology; medicine; and the arts. Currently each can grant between 150 and 250 permits each year.

Under the new system each body would retain their base levels of endorsement, but an additional 1,000 would be made available on a first-come-first-served basis. Tech Nation (formerly Tech City), the digital technology assessor, is expected to particularly welcome the announcement, as it is one of the only bodies to have consistently reached its own cap for the last several years.

Prime Minister Theresa May said that tech firms make “[an] immense contribution to our economic life and to our society,” adding, “Technology is at the heart of our modern industrial strategy, and we will continue to invest in the best new innovations and ideas, in the brightest and best talent and in revolutionary digital infrastructure.”

The news was announced at the same time as a £61 million investment in the tech sector, including £21 million to expand Tech City UK into a nationwide network; £20 million for public services to take advantage of UK expertise in areas like AI; and a £20 million cyber threat training programme for 14 to 18-year-olds.

The investment in the tech sector appear to be focused at tempting companies to remain in the UK post-Brexit, rather than leaving for new hubs on the continent. While the sector is young it is growing quickly, but is not yet so heavily based in the country that it could not uproot itself for more hospitable climes.

The Autumn Budget, due to be announced today, will apparently also contain plans to invest in areas such as AI, 5G and education.

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