The changing face of UK tech sector and community
Tech nation launched by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011, to support the East London tech cluster known as London Tech City — or Silicon Roundabout is now funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Theresa May recently announced fresh investment of £21m into Tech Nation by 2021.
Tech Nation has been designated by the Home Office to endorse the exceptional talent visa in the digital sector. With a quota of 2000 visas annually divided between 5 other such organisations to endorse people with exceptional talent in the arts, sciences and digital field.
The Tech Nation Visa enables the brightest and best tech talent from around the world to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector, contributing their cutting-edge expertise, creativity and innovation to maintaining the UK’s position at the forefront of the global digital economy.
1,250+Total number of applicants
750+Total number of visas endorsed
Endorsements are allocated on a ‘first come, first served’ basis following submission of a detailed online form and various supporting materials. Two subcategories of endorsement exist: ‘exceptional talent’ — for applicants who can demonstrate they are proven experts or leaders in their field; and ‘exceptional promise’ — for rising stars earmarked as future tech rainmakers.
The criteria to get endorsed includes:
- exceptional achievement in the field
- significant contributions to the field — outside of their daily jobs
- proof of recognition for this work; e.g. awards, press releases, works being widely used by others in the academia or industry
- continuous learning and mastery of new commercial/technical skills
- proven track record of innovation in digital technology; such as through experience as an innovator or founder of businesses (current or former), patent applications, etc.
With the current climate around immigration in particular and with Britain exiting Europe, I feel grateful to have been given this endorsement. I have previously been sponsored twice by two employers, every time you change employment you need to go through the 3–4 month long visa sponsorship process.
This entails a company either having a licence or applying to the Home Office to obtain a licence to sponsor a non British/European candidate, conducting a 28 day labour market test i.e advertising the job online and justifying why a British, settled or European candidate who may have applied wasn’t hired over the foreign worker.
It also entails paying an immigrant surcharge every year to the home office, paying for the certificate of sponsorship, the visa fees and the immigration health surcharge, up until 2015 who ever came to this country was given free access to healthcare just like all British and Europeans get living in the UK, but not if you were from a country outside Europe anymore.
If you leave your employer you have 60 days to find another employer (including them having a licence, conducting the labour market test and sponsoring your visa) if you are unable to do so, you must leave the country and you can’t come back on the same visa route for a year, thus resetting your previous years in the UK.
Under then home secretary Theresa May’s leadership, every migration stream was restricted in some way. High skilled routes were closed and a cap was placed on the number of Tier 2 visas issued annually. Eligibility criteria were harshly increased. The remaining seasonal schemes were terminated and family reunification was made harder. A swathe of other stringent measures on language requirements, income thresholds, economic resources, working rights and increasing settlement requirements came in across all migration streams.
The Guardian has found that since 2010 the Home Office has made more than 5,700 changes to immigration rules. In that time, the rules have more than doubled in length to almost 375,000 words.
All this was currently reviewed and most rules have now been relaxed including removing the Tier 2 labour market test and visa quotas being taken away but won’t be in effect until later in 2019.
So coming back to the Exceptional Talent visa, With a 50% acceptance rate, I owe a great deal to all the 20 C suite level executives in UK tech sector who went above and beyond to recommend my credentials and my contributions over the last 4 years towards UK’s digital economy and community.
When I was first informed about it, I immediately closed the guidelines document https://35z8e83m1ih83drye280o9d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Technation_visa_2018-v10.pdf, thinking to myself there was no way I stood a chance to get this endorsement. Given that I was running out of options to find a sponsored job with the December holidays coming up, I once again read the document and kept reading it for over a month until it started making any sense.
I was grateful to have found previous visa recipients of this category who went out of their way to answer the silly questions I had.
Once I understood what this endorsement entailed I realised I already had all the necessary work done in order to be endorsed, I now had to sit down and go through all my documents to submit not only as evidence but to tell my story.
As a migrant/immigrant/expat/economic worker (whatever you prefer to label yourself as) you are just a number or a quota for immigration records, what is unique about the exceptional talent visa is that you are a human with a compelling story first that then gets you this esteemed visa.
And anyone applying for this visa must keep this in mind, you are telling your story not just showing hard evidence of what makes you exceptionally talented with core technical skills. And also remember the panel on the other end read 100s of these applications on a daily basis, how are you going to share your narrative with them?
10 years ago, I was in a classroom wondering how my life would turn out. The course of my life weighed heavily on me and I needed to find out what I was good at. I found peace in volunteering. Spending my time helping others allowed me to feel a sense of purpose.
The space I was in also allowed me to think of how I would help inequality and working in the tech sector has been a great platform to address these issues but I never would have realised this dream without the help of my very first employer/manager/boss and mentor Shashin Shah of Onepoint Consulting (the last names are just a coincidence), who believed in me and has led to my life completely changing along with the unique infrastructure of UK tech ecosystem, that has allowed me to get access to the right resources and mentors who have helped me along the way.
What started off as a challenge to empowering youth and women has allowed me to impact the lives of many people along the way, being named a UN Empower Women champion, Financial Times Top 100 Minority people in UK Tech, Forbes Asia 30 under 30, Code First Girls Ones to Watch to name a few, my work has led me to meet with various British Government officials including the Prime Minister and members of the royal family across Europe and the UK.
I am in no way an expert on AI or building the next health tech or internet company, but all of my community efforts from volunteering, seeing the gender imbalance in this sector, led me to undertake STEM outreach initiatives and showcase more role models for the next generation, I invited female technologists to talk about their research which saw me win Entrepreneur of the Year award by Dr.Rosena Alin MP.
I made a documentary showcasing women in tech as role models. ‘Balancing Tech’ was screened at IBM’s London HQ, this led to the Feminist Library launching a tech skills programme and winning an award at the Girls Impact the world film festival.
Another documentary on change enablers in the UK, one of the interviewees an 11 year old programmer, won the Princess Diana Award, recognised during the film screening.
Over the years I have co-curated Mozilla Foundation festival’s youth zone -giving young people a platform to immerse in the word of digital via hands on workshops. Mentored UK digital startups that go to European Youth Award. Advised youth leaders, leading UK Youth’s Nominet Trust funded Digital Hubs. Engaged on a panel discussion with the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium and moderated a session with the President of Google.org talking about addressing gender and diversity imbalance in the digital sector at the European Development Days and have been invited to speak at Imperial College London, UCL, Microsoft and many other conferences on innovation for the next generation.
And I feel truly humbled that my community outreach and a passion to make a difference has led to the UK Government recognising the difference I have been able to make and enabled me to feel that I can use that talent or rather my connections and the right infrastructure to continue making a difference not only in the UK but hopefully across the world.
Since 2013 I have given my heart and soul to the UK, integrating into the very fabric of what makes Britain; a determination to work hard for a better world and push the boundaries of technological progress. My work has allowed me to advise the Duke of Sussex when he was appointed Youth Ambassador to the Commonwealth and I was granted a Royal Commonwealth Society Fellowship.
I hope that you would like to join me in this mission and together we can collaborate and empower more people, if it wasn’t for my connections who didn’t believe in me I never would have received this recognition.
And to sum up the documents that I submitted
- My CV (make this specific to Tech Nation requirements)
- A recommendation letter from a renowned platform that helps entrepreneurs accelerate in the UK
- A recommendation letter from a very well established university professor.
- My 1000 word personal narrative highlighting my journey in the UK so far, contribution towards the digital community and my future plans including short term and long term vision.
- A recommendation letter from my first employer where I worked for 2.5 years and how I got into the world of tech to start with
- 2 letters from my supporters/partners I worked with after
- 2 other letters from supporters who I have collaborated with whilst mentoring and running STEM outreach for the community in the UK
- Evidence of all the awards and media coverage I have been privileged to have for my STEM outreach initiatives in the UK and internationally (for my documentaries and public tech lectures)
- Evidence of growth and scaling of digital companies
- A new employment offer letter for my intentions of being in the UK and how that will contribute to the digital sector.
I want to highlight that all my 20 referees and the final letters I submitted were UK based (it makes your application that much stronger) and my contribution has mainly been to the UK digital community.
For those who want to come to the UK under this route and have no UK connections or any previous ties in terms of employment or volunteering I would recommend spending some time working on this or researching the UK’s digital sector, the major players, this is a highly competitive visa route, the investment you make towards this research and building ties to the UK tech sector will go a long way in you being able to get this visa.
Seeking legal advice is also recommended if you can, I did mine without the help of lawyers but I did seek a lot of advice from 10 different people who have been through this before. I am now excited to continue working in tech and start new initiatives to inspire the next generation into tech. And I am especially glad that I am part of the Tech Nation network, where the focus is on how you are helping the digital community first thus developing your own digital skills along the way.
Feel free to reach out to me if you need any help.