In the search for talent, fintech firms have always taken a global view. In the UK alone, the fintech sector employs more than 76,500 people, 42 per cent of whom are from overseas.
This figure is even higher in the US, with 57 per cent of the Silicon Valley’s fintech workforce born outside the country.
In fact, demand for fintech professionals is so high that many countries have introduced some form of tech visa to attract new talent.
The aim of these tech visas is to streamline the immigration process for skilled workers (and their families) so they can bypass the usual admin which is involved in relocating for work. Tech visas can also offer a direct route to citizenship in some situations. The promise of citizenship allows employees to think long-term about their careers, without the worry of having to relocate every few years.
But according to some high-growth fintech companies, the current visa systems do not go far enough.
Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky recently called on the UK government to introduce specialized tech visas to help attract more overseas staff post-Brexit. The firm has said that it hopes to double its UK-based workforce in 2019, pending visa availability.
Meanwhile, a recent report by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) has argued for the introduction of a Unicorn Tech Visa, which would offer more favourable hiring conditions for young fintech companies which have been valued at $1bn (£765m) or more.
Tech visas are already being used all across the world to give fintechs – and prospective employees – an advantage in an increasingly competitive sector. In the UK, the Exceptional Talent Visa (Tier 1) criteria was recently relaxed to include tech experts. France has a dedicated French Tech Visa which includes a series of incentives for overseas workers, including the ability to repatriate your extended family. France-based fintechs can also apply for a Tech Ticket package, which includes a €45,000 (£38,900) grant for any company which hires workers from overseas.
However, there is still a way to go before fintech visas can help bridge the gap between the demand for skilled workers, and the ease of access to the world’s current fintech hubs.
The benefits of tech visas for employees
For global fintech professionals, tech visas will inevitably result in increased opportunities where they can be rewarded for their skills and specialties. This in turn can create a more competitive working environment, where workers are encouraged to add to their expertise and make themselves even more employable.
Those fintech employees who are already working abroad will have the added reassurance that a tech visa brings, allowing them to plan a long-term future at their firm.
This is particularly true for people who have struggled with stringent immigration laws in fintech-heavy countries such as the UK, Australia and the US, where overseas workers can be forced to contend with travel limits, endless admin and ongoing visa-related costs.
The demand is clearly there. In the UK alone, there is a shortage of fintech talent, and last year it was revealed that thousands of tech workers were refused Tier 2 visas as a result of arbitrary immigration caps in certain sectors. A ‘special status’ visa for fintech workers would allow international professionals to fill these existing vacancies and avail themselves of the huge opportunities in London – the self-proclaimed ‘fintech capital of the world’.
The benefits of tech visas for employers
The current fintech skills shortage has been well documented, and a tech visa would help employers to cast a wider net in their search for staff. In India and south-east Asia, many universities offer prestigious fintech degrees and masters programmes, resulting in a highly skilled graduate population who could fill vacancies in global fintech hubs such as London, Paris, San Francisco and Frankfurt. Tech visas allow businesses to secure the necessary human resources quickly and effectively; and provide a pipeline to find them in future.
By having a more diverse and reliable source of new employees, fintech firms can adjust their growth plans accordingly and expand more quickly if they so wish.
The future of tech visas
Fintech visas are likely to dominate the news cycle for fintech and finance, at least until more countries recognise the economic benefits of welcoming highly-skilled workers in this fast-growing sector.
Brexit-related uncertainty in the UK and an immigration crackdown in the US mean that other countries have an opportunity to take the lead when it comes to fintech employment opportunities. Frankfurt and Berlin have been positioning themselves as alternative fintech hubs, while in Hong Kong, a series of partnerships are aimed at promoting the region’s fintech sector. It is worth noting that Hong Kong is currently one year into a three year trial visa scheme which prioritises skilled tech workers and recent graduates.
Similarly, Australia has loosened its visa requirements to allow skilled tech workers to apply for residency after just three years.
In the race to become a global fintech leader, governments would be wise to take the advice of CEOs such as Revolut’s Storonsky and make it easier for international talent to go where they are needed, to unlock all the opportunities that a global fintech career has to offer.