UK government pledges 2,000 visas, £61m investment to Tech sector

Number of visas doubled to bring in more talent, with three £20m schemes planned to grow Britain's digital industries

By James Batchelor.Published Wednesday 15th November 2017, 12:14pm GMT

The UK government has announced significant support for the technology industry that should help developers hire key recruits from abroad.

Prime Minister Teresa May and Chancellor Phillip Hammond are expected to officially announce these plans later today, but has given an overview via the government's website. The news comes ahead of the Autumn Budget next week.

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Of most interest to games firms will be the decision to double the number of visas available for bringing in overseas talent to 2,000. This will help studios recruit workers with sorely-needed skills from outside the UK, although they will be competing with firms in other digital and technology sectors.

The Home Office has promised it will work with organisations around the nation to ensure these additional visas are applied outside London as well as within the capital. The Home Secretary is also planning to meet with tech experts to find out how the visa process can be improved.

It's a step towards reassuring a concerned British games industry, which remains anxious about its ability to recruit from outside the UK in the wake of Brexit. TIGA recently wrote a piece for GamesIndustry.biz on the importance of being able to hire globally, while UKIE stressed the need for the industry to regularly collaborate on proving to the government why such support is needed.

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The government also announced a £20m fund to aid the development of artificial intelligence, although this has been positioned as an initiative to help empower public services. Nevertheless, the games industry's role in advancing the possibilities of AI could come into play here.

A further £20m has been promised for a training programme teaching young people between 14 and 18 years old about how to tackle online cyber threats, while a £21m investment in Tech City UK - which aids digital start-ups - will expand the scheme into the broader Tech Nation.

Tech Nation will aim to build new hubs of digital and tech firms within key cities, with Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Birmingham high on the priority list.

How much the games industry will directly benefit from all this is somewhat questionable. While we are undeniably a Tech-centric market, we typically come under the remit of the Creative sectors - fortunately, this news was posted not only from 10 Downing Street but also the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

TIGA CEO Richard Wilson told GamesIndustry.biz: "It's a signal of encouragement and a signal of intent that the UK government wants high-tech and creative sectors like video games to survive prosper and grow post-Brexit.

"Even if we weren't benefitting directly from some of the measurements they've announced today - and I think we will - the direction of travel is very encouraging. You can imagine similar measures being directed at the creative industries."

UKIE CEO Jo Twist added: “We welcome this news as we have been calling for higher immigration quotas for Tier 1 visas to bring more exceptional talent to the UK as the majority of games businesses in the UK hire international talent. Games sit at the apex of creative and tech sectors so this increase as well as more funding for technology will benefit the more than 2,000 UK based games businesses.

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"The Government, however, must consider more holistic improvements to the wider immigration system in light of Brexit. We have made calls based on extensive industry consultation and evidence for any new system to be data driven, smart, flexible and quick enough to ensure that the games sector has access to the best and most diverse computer scientists, physicists, artists, AI specialists, genre specialists, animators and storytellers that we need to continue to be world class.”

Prime Minister Teresa May offered her own assurances in a statement: "Our digital tech sector is one of the UK's fastest-growing industries, and is supporting talent, boosting productivity, and creating hundreds of thousands of good, high-skilled jobs up and down the country. It is absolutely right that this dynamic sector, which makes such an immense contribution to our economic life and to our society, has the full backing of Government.

"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.

"And as we prepare to leave the European Union, I am clear that Britain will remain open for business. That means Government doing all it can to secure a strong future for our thriving tech sector and ensure people in all corners of our nation share in the benefits of its success."

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