Rishi Khosla, the founder of OakNorth, a challenger bank valued at $2.8 billion (£2.3bn), is urging the UK Government to create a fast-track system or a “unicorn visa” that would process visas within 48 hours if the applicant had secured a job with a tech “unicorn”.
The proposed “unicorn visa” would be for those who would usually apply for tier 1 exceptional talent visa for digital tech leaders, or tier 2 visa for skilled workers. The aim would be to cut the process and subsequent waiting time, which can take over two months, down to two days.
Concerned over their ability to attract top tech talent after Brexit, other leading tech companies are also keen for the government to speed up the visa application process.
Based in London with 550 employees, OakNorth became the second largest fintech in the UK after securing a nearly $400m investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund. The company, which reported a 220% rise in pre-tax profits to £33.9 million last year, has told Government that itself and other tech unicorns such as Monzo or Funding Circle should be given priority over other fast-growing companies because they have a better chance of achieving the same success as search engine giant Google.
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OakNorth chief executive Rishi Khosla told The Times: “Our hope is that even in a post-Brexit world, we’d still be able to attract diversity of talent – and I think we will.”
Despite the uncertainty of the current political climate, the number of tier 2 visas issued by the Home Office for workers from outside the EU rose by 15% to 106,524 for the year to March. Applications for the Tech Nation tier 1 exceptional talent visa rose by 45% to 650 over the year to June.
OakNorth’s call for a unicorn visa echos a similar call made by Deliveroo boss, Will Shu, who demanded a special visa system for unicorns to Brexit proof the growth of the tech sector.
Immigration lawyer at Qore Legal, Jonathan Hendry agreed that there was a pressing need for a fast-track service for tech companies that need to secure talent quickly. However, he said: “There would have to be a massive administrative effort on the part of the Home Office to set that up — even if it is achievable.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also urged government departments to create a fast-track visa system to attract leading scientists. However, immigration experts have been scathing about recent effort to improve the system.
Since the launch of the innovator visa in March, which is aimed at foreign founders who have launched or plan to stat scalable businesses, hardly any have been granted, however, more than 1,100 of its predecessor, the entrepreneur visa, were granted last year.
Earlier this year, the government announced the decision to introduce a new type of visa for start-up entrepreneurs, which added an extra 8,000 or so spaces to the 20,700 applicants allowed each year, although these were not exclusively earmarked for IT workers.