The United Kingdom’s plan to offer work visas to graduates from the top 50 universities outside of Britain has been described as “an innovative approach” to attract overseas talent.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, said it’s encouraging to see that the UK government is focusing on new ways to plug the talent gap in the UK in all sectors and not just in tech.

The UK government hopes it will attract the “brightest and best” graduates to the UK. Under the plan, applicants with a bachelor’s or master’s degree will be given a two-year work visa and PhD holders can apply for a three-year visa.

“Demand for skilled talent is extremely high right now, and visa policies like this add a competitive edge to the UK as a destination for those looking to start and boost their careers,” Shaw said.

“Ultimately, it’s important for the sector to continue to find new and innovative ways to attract talent and encourage those looking to join a tech business to pick the UK as their destination, and this visa approach will certainly help.”

Successful applicants will then be able to switch to longer-term employment visas, the UK government said.

The most recent list of eligible universities from 2021 includes China’s Peking University and Tsinghua University, plus universities in the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia, Singapore, France, Sweden and Switzerland.

Some companies in manufacturing, logistics and the food sector have urged the government to loosen the rules for entry-level jobs.

“There is no doubt that Brexit has exacerbated the talent gap, but it’s important to also acknowledge that the gap already existed well before the UK left the EU,” Shaw said.

“Regardless of the political context, it’s clear that Brexit has made things more challenging for the UK, and the country must innovate and develop creative solutions to stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive”, he said.

The program, and others such as the Global Talent Visa and new Scaleup Visa, will take effect in August and help close the gap in highly qualified personnel, particularly in the technology sector, where demand is higher than most industries, he said.

Candidates must pass a security and criminal background check under the plan, the UK government said, and be able to speak, read and write English, at least at an intermediate level.

Rishi Sunak, Britain’s chief finance minister, said: “The route means that the UK will grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. We want the businesses of tomorrow to be built here today, which is why I call on students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to forge their careers here.”

Shaw said the UK high-tech sector, which can rival the likes of the US, China and India, is viewed as a strong player on the global stage and will continue to be competitive.

“Recent tech investment numbers, job growth and new tech unicorns reinforce this strength,” Shaw added. “The UK is a few steps ahead of other European tech hubs, and the British environment is exceptionally good at creating tech businesses and enabling them to thrive and grow. Having cultivated a vibrant and dynamic tech ecosystem over the past decade, Britain is now in a good position to keep attracting top talent, but it is also important that those leading the growth do not become complacent.”

He said that with the number of technology jobs growing at a rapid pace, it has become increasingly difficult to fill vacancies.

“What the UK needs is a combination of both homegrown and overseas talent to help close the gap,” Shaw said.

The government’s visa plan has also been met with criticism.

Miraz Rahman, professor of medicinal chemistry at King’s College London, said, “If they are going to use ranking for this visa scheme, they should have used regional rankings and select top graduates from Africa, South Asia, Europe, Middle East and America.”

Rahman added that this would be “a fairer system” and that “being born in the West doesn’t make anyone a top graduate”.

Owoyemi Elegbeleye, from Nigeria’s University of Lagos, told CNN: “It is unfortunate that African graduates are being excluded. The UK government should consider a spread in this policy so that Africans can benefit. They can spread the eligibility list to the top 300.”

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