Thought Piece

Staying power: the UK as a magnet for global talent

Posted: 25 Mar 2022

Resource Type: Thought Piece

Corporate executives and highly skilled workers across the world rate London as the best place to be based. So says the Global Power City Index 2021. And the UK’s government and financial and professional services businesses are committed to ensuring it remains that way.

Adapting to global change

The UK, and London in particular, is a leading financial centre and talent is key to its success. An effective visa system for highly skilled workers is critical as it directly affects how easily firms can find and employ the best people.

Our Global Offer to Business report 2022 benchmarks the UK against other financial centres. It shows that the UK continues to attract highly skilled professionals from overseas.

But two game-changers have disrupted the status quo – the end of freedom of movement in 2020 and the pandemic.

Leaving the EU is thought to have triggered the most significant change to immigration policy in the UK in recent decades. At the same time, the pandemic has affected business travel and immigration across all countries. It brought international travel to a halt and ushered in widespread homeworking in many sectors.

A year after the end of freedom of movement, and following two years of pandemic restrictions, how are UK businesses attracting global talent?

Strong pipeline of talent

The UK and London already have an impressive international workforce, making London one of the most globally connected financial centres in the world.

With 38% of its population foreign born – more than any other global financial centre – the UK attracts people from all over the world. Businesses can hire from a multitude of backgrounds, helping relationships with global clients and partners. In 2020, 15% of workers in the City of London came from the European Economic Area. A further 25% came from elsewhere in the world.

Students from abroad continue to contribute to the UK’s international talent base. The UK offers some of the world’s best universities. And a growing number of students are graduating in courses directly related to financial and professional services. That means UK-based firms have their pick of a world-leading pool of highly qualified entry-level talent.

Top-rated MBA programmes, an international workforce and a rich cultural scene make London and the UK an attractive destination for talent from all over the world.

The universities of the UK and the US are unmatched. Businesses in these markets benefit from pools of skilled graduates and world-leading research and innovation capabilities. In 2022, the University of Oxford was named best university in the world for the sixth year in a row.

But these strengths are at risk and the UK knows it must work hard to remain competitive.

No economy’s attractiveness has declined as much as the UK’s between 2016 and 2020, according to executives. The perception of the UK as a welcoming business environment for international talent dropped by 21% in this period.

The government knows what businesses need: better access to talent to complement the UK workforce and an easy-to-navigate immigration system. Measures have been planned, and some are already in motion, to rise to these challenges.

Accessing home and international talent

The global leadership offered by the UK's deep pool of talent stands vast and unmatched

Tap into the UK's wealth of talent

What next for UK access to talent?

In 2020, the UK government launched the Future Borders and Immigration System (FBIS) programme ahead of the end of freedom of movement. This five-year programme aims to “transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family”. It promises to “revolutionise the operation of the UK border, tighten security and deliver a better customer experience for those coming to the UK”.

As part of the FBIS, a points-based immigration system was introduced in January 2021. This new system significantly reduced restrictions for migrants outside the EU.

It also accelerated the implementation of technology to manage UK immigration.

UK businesses have acknowledged that some of these changes have helped simplify and streamline the visa and sponsorship process. This has made it easier for them to find and recruit the best people.

Businesses have welcomed the end of resident labour market testing for skilled worker visas and the suspension of the cap on skilled workers. And, crucial to pandemic times, platforms have been created to manage the recruitment process more effectively online.

The UK government has also developed new entry routes for specific groups including innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers and graduates.

Such measures will ensure the UK’s talent ecosystem remains vibrant and flexible enough for the demands of fast-changing industries.

The graduate route has been particularly welcomed by international high-skilled workers in financial services and businesses. Launched in May 2021, it allows graduate students to stay in the UK for at least two years after completing a course in the UK.

The UK attracts nearly 500,000 international students from 189 countries and is home to 14 of the world’s top 100 universities for finance and related subjects. EU nationals “coming to the UK for study reasons are the group that has the largest share of workers in high-skills occupations” in the UK.   

The UK is launching three more initiatives this year that will benefit businesses and workers:

The UK is launching three more initiatives this year that will benefit businesses and workers

  • Global business mobility – Route will be open on 11 April, 2022
    • Aim: Designed for overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence in the UK or transfer staff to the UK
    • How: A reform of previous routes, it includes the Intra-company Transfer (ICT) route, ICT trainees, representatives of an overseas business, among others.
  • Unsponsored high potential individual – Route will be open on May 30, 2022
    • Aim: To allow a small number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer
    • How: Eligibility will be open to applicants who have recently  graduated from a top global university. 
  • Scale up – Route will be open on August 22, 2022
    • Aim: Enhance access to global talent for scaleups. This visa was a recommendation from the Kalifa Review of UK FinTech
    • How: Visa supporting talented individuals with a high-skilled job offer from a qualifying scaleup to come to the UK.*

There will also be several other improvements to the current system in 2022, including:

  • Further simplification of immigration rules to make them as user-friendly and accessible as possible
  • Redesigning the sponsorship system to speed up end-to-end processing and improve sponsor firms’ experience
  • Providing additional support to SMEs as they adjust to using the sponsorship system.

Efforts to safeguard the UK’s reputation as the go-to destination for students, skilled workers, and businesses in the world of finance are well under way. Positive action is being taken to improve the experiences of skilled professionals travelling here to work and global organisations looking here to recruit.

Despite the many challenges of Covid and Brexit, the UK has as much pulling power as ever, and is committed to ensuring it remains that way.


*annual average revenue or employment growth rate over a three-year period greater than 20%, and a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the three-year period

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