The calculus of cleggeron

Cameron gave a speech recently in the hipster headquarters of the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch.  There must be some irony in this.  The Truman Brewery was an East London brewery which was started in the 1660s and brewed on site until it went out of business in 1988 leaving behind massive empty buildings in pre-gentrified Shoreditch. The buildings were transformed into a mixture of artists’ studios and dotcom offices and are now at the heart of the Brick Lane scene.  A scene which now hosts a large portion of the creative industries of London.

The irony is that this regeneration of one of the poorest neighborhoods in London was made possible through the arts, an area that cleggeron has massively cut in their budget.  (We can argue another day whether gentrification actually benefits any of the original residents.)  The point is more that Cameron chose to give a speech about brining economic growth to East London from a building which symbolises the power and potential of such growth, but did so through a revenue stream that the current government sees no merit in.

However, I found the content of Cameron’s speech far more irritating than its venue.  It spoke of East London (in this case meaning roughly Old Street Station to the Olympic site) becoming a new Silicon Valley.  I very much support this.  If you take a stroll around the Shoreditch triangle, through the Old Street circle and up Kingsland Road or further east down Bethnal Green Road you will pass a great number of high-tech and creative industries that call East London home.  Extending  this area towards the Olympic site (and consequently straight through Queen Mary, University of London where I work) only makes sense.  The problem I have is with the details of visas and foreign talent.

To get what is called a Tier 1 (General) visa (a non-sponsored visa which allows you to work fulltime), you need to prove you can speak English, are educated to some degree, and have some amount of income.  You can read all about it here. (There are other Tier 1 visas such as the post-study work visa.)

In short: you need 100 points if you are in the UK not on a Tier 1 (General) or are outside the UK.  You get awarded points the following ways:

  • 20 points if you are under 30 years old (nothing if over 40)
  • 45 points for a PhD (35 if Master’s is highest degree or 30 if Bachelor’s)
  • 10 points for English language skills
  • 10 points for a minimum amount of  savings
  • 5 points if you studied for a least a year at a UK higher education institution and earned a degree

Additionally there are caps on the number of these visas they will give out.

For income requirements, you need to have a p.a. income of £30,000-£34,999, or the equivalent in another currency as determined by the UK Border Agency. This assumes you have a PhD and are under 30 plus other things. There are proposals to limit this even further though and limit the minimum income to £45,000. This would be detrimental for university researchers, particularly the masses of postdocs and technical staff with salaries far below the professors and lecturers. See as an example this series of job adverts, most of which require a PhD. The salary range for the jobs is £28,983 – 35,646 p.a. plus London Allowance of £2,795 p.a. If a limit of £45,000 is introduced, it would be more difficult for university researchers to move into entrepreneurial roles since their previous incomes will not earn them a non-sponsored visa.

This all hits very close to home as I am an American who just finished a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. My research area is exactly the kind of thing this government would like to have help grow the British economy (I do digital music signal processing, computer science and electronic engineering). I am now working a series of short research contracts and will be getting a visa designed for people in my position – a Tier 1 post-study work visa. This visa is good for 2 years and after that I need to apply for another visa. However if I stay within university research, I have very little hope of qualifying for a full Tier 1 (General) visa if the requirements keep increasing the needed previous earnings.

This cannot truly be the intent of the British government. How can excluding non-EU nationals with the talent and education to grow their new Silicon Valley be justified by nothing more than a lack of a qualifying salary from a British educational institution?  At least there are loopholes to make sure foreign footballers still get visas without a problem, otherwise that would just be embarrassing.