INSIGHT-London's young techs find anti-immigrant mood a drag

Wed Sep 17, 2014 6:00am EDT
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* Need for skilled talent puts London at odds with national policy

By Shadi Bushra

LONDON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - When Efe Cakarel picked London as a new base for his video streaming company, he was counting on its location, capital markets and infrastructure, but also on the city's reputation as a hub for talented people from Europe and beyond.

Four years later, the 38-year-old entrepreneur has a half-dozen engineering vacancies that he says haven't been filled for nearly a year because of a local shortage of top-tier programmers. Immigration restrictions, he says, have made it harder to tap into the global pool of talent, costing his 7-year-old startup, MUBI, subscribers and revenue.

"We're ready to grow, but without the right workers, we just can't expand," he said.

Tech entrepreneurs say Cakarel's experience reflects a broader problem facing London, Europe's startup hub and an engine of innovative growth. To compete globally, its tech firms need to import talent. But young firms say nationwide curbs on immigration have put constraints on their ability to hire.

One study has found migrants are behind one in seven companies in the UK. The European Commission has said almost half a million tech vacancies may come up in Europe next year and job websites advertise tens of thousands of tech vacancies in Britain, pointing to a bottleneck of talented people from around the globe.

At the same time, cities from Toronto to Sydney are boosting efforts to open their doors to skilled migrants, particularly in the strategic tech sector. TechUK, an industry lobby group, earlier this week called for smarter policies to attract more talent. "There are an incredible number of city-led initiatives worldwide to highlight the effect migration has on cities," said Kim Turner of the Toronto-based Maytree Project, an immigration think tank.

Entrepreneurs say Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Chile and Germany are some of the national governments that are best responding to the need to attract high-skilled migrants.   Continued...