Virginia, US
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| Kathleen O'Donnell | Lauren Spencer

Thinking Outside the Borders: A Bridge Across the Tech Skills Gap in the UK

Many UK employers within the technology sector will be familiar with the obstacles that arise when recruiting for specialist roles. The painstaking process of advertising a role only to find that no one suitable applies or, even worse, no one applies at all. In 2015, The Employer Skills Survey concluded that 33% of the vacancies advertised were considered by the employer as ‘hard to fill’. Tech Nation’s annual report revealed that the UK has 1.64 million digital jobs available and the digital sector is creating jobs 2x faster than the non-digital sector. These roles need highly skilled workers, but what happens when there are not enough highly skilled workers to go around?

The UK’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL), put together by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is more important than ever, mainly as it allows employers to recruit highly skilled migrants from outside the EEA both quickly and easily. Luckily for the industry, MAC is already aware that there is a skill shortage within the digital sector meaning many ‘hard to fill’ roles are already accounted for.

How employers can bridge the skill shortage gap in UK's Tech Sector

The Tier 2 visa allows skilled workers to enter the UK, on a long-term basis, to fill a skilled job vacancy or employees of multinational companies to transfer to the business’ UK branch.

Employers must first apply for a sponsor licence from the Home Office to be able to employ (“sponsor”) non-EEA nationals under the principal work permit visa routes, which are Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) –Long Term). The application process normally takes approximately 2-5 months. Once the Home Office have approved the sponsor licence application, the employer can start the process of sponsoring non-EEA nationals to work for them in the UK. Although it may seem a daunting process to apply for and maintain a Sponsor Licence, employers are glad to have the opportunity to recruit non-European nationals when they can't fill the roles from the settled labour market. At Fragomen, we have a specialist team who can support you through the licence process and then support with issuing Certificates of Sponsorship under Tier 2 for those who are eligible. 

If the role comes under a job listed on the SOL, employers can avoid the 28-day Resident Labour Market test, a big advantage when recruiting migrant workers. The benefits do not end there, if for any reason the migration cap for Tier 2 General Migrants is reached (which we have experienced recently), shortage occupations are prioritised over other highly skilled roles.

The sponsored worker will typically have to submit a visa application from their country of nationality (unless they are a recent graduate from a UK university). They will submit their application form and supply evidentiary documents to prove their eligibility for the visa.

The Tier 2 (ICT –Long Term) migrant can only stay in the UK for a maximum of 5 years unless they are earning £120, 000 in which case they can extend to a maximum of 9 years –this route does not lead to settlement. Tier 2 (General) migrants can apply for settlement, known as Indefinite Leave to Remain, after 5 years of continuous residence in the UK.

SOL and tech

The SOL accounts for a number of occupations within the digital sector. It is important to note that some of these roles have additional criteria dependant on the size of the company and whether the Home Office regards the company as ‘qualifying’. In short, this means the company must have no more than 250 employees and must not have been set up solely to service one client. Furthermore, this only affects certain shortage occupations on the list below, for instance a Cyber Security Specialist must have had a minimum of five years’ relevant experience and demonstrable experience of having led a team.

The list includes (but is not limited to);

  • Software Developer
  • Shader Writer
  • Games Designer
  • Cyber Security Specialist
  • Systems engineer in visual effects and 2D/3D computer animation for the film, television or video games sectors
  •  Data scientist
  • IT product manager
For the extensive list please refer here.


Here at Fragomen we are able to liaise with MAC when we believe a shortage occupation is missing. For example, they run consultations where they seek feedback on shortages from business.  If you are a digital company and are aware of shortages that are not on the current list, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will reach out to MAC and the Home Office to arrange a consultation. Having an occupation added to the SOL never happens quickly—if at all—but it can be worth the wait when a company knows that the job is skilled, in national shortage and can sensibly be filled by non-EU workers.