UK fast becoming global talent magnet on new incentives

Over the past two years, the United Kingdom (UK) has been increasing incentives to lure in young talents from other countries, a development that bodes ill for emerging economies like Nigerians.

“UK is gradually becoming a global talent magnet because of the numerous kinds of visas its government recently opened. I usually tell anyone around me who is in the medical line to think about the UK,” Oludayo Sokunbi, the chief executive officer at Japaconsults, said.

Sokunbi said that last year alone, more than 20 people that consulted him relocated to the UK to get jobs. “The fact that one can apply for it after doing some exams/certifications is a major boost to people who have work experience.”

Adewale Adetona, the co-founder at Menopays, a Nigerian financial technology company, said the UK was positioning itself to become the next Silicon Valley, hence the creation of visa routes like the Tech Nation Global Talent Visa.

“They have realised that the future is here and the only way to harness it is to attract global talents to further develop their economy, especially as the world is just recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Labour, a critical factor of production, plays an integral part in growing and sustaining any economy, and Africa’s biggest economy is blessed with a large, vibrant and young population, which represents 65 percent of its population.

But the two economic recessions in six years that led to weak incomes and purchasing power, higher food prices and unemployment rate have worsened the living standards of many Nigerians.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment and food inflation, which stood at 33.3 percent and 18.4 percent as at the fourth quarter of 2020 and April 2022 respectively, are among the highest in the world.

This has also heightened the level of insecurity in the country. Data from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project shows that about 1,200 people were kidnapped in the first half of 2021, compared to 45 in 2010.

These poor economic indicators are fuelling the migration of people out of Nigeria, especially the young ones. A recent survey by the World Bank shows that 50 percent of Nigerian youths want to leave the country.

The country ranked third in West Africa among the nations polled, trailing only Liberia (70 percent) and Sierra Leone (60 percent).

“UK is becoming the go-to place for Nigerian talents. And the pace at which this is happening is really fast. This will cost us our human capital which will ultimately affect the growth of our economy,” Kemi Ogunkoya, a leadership development strategist, said.

Elijah Bello, a tech expert, said the opportunities in the UK had always been there but people had started paying more attention to them because of the mismanagement of the country.

“Before, people in the tech industry were not thinking of leaving but right now, everybody I know in tech is considering it, and the brain drain that we are scared off is already here.”

In 2019, the UK updated its International Education Strategy. The update reaffirms the government’s goals of increasing the value of its education exports to £35 billion ($48 billion) and to hosting at least 600,000 international students per year by 2030.

The UK is battling with an aging population and a large skills gap.

The strategy commits to previously established goals for foreign enrolment growth which have been replaced by new immigration routes and work opportunities for foreign students. It intends to create clearer pathways to immigration.

Some of the ways in which this growth is to be achieved is the Graduate route, which was launched in July 2021. The route will allow eligible students to stay in the UK to work, or look for work, for two years (three years if studying at PhD level) after they have completed a degree in the UK.

Then the Global Talent Visa, which replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa in February 2020. This immigration category for talented and promising individuals in specific sectors helps them to live and work in the country for up to five years at a time.

The recently introduced High Potential Individual visa, based on the Global 50 University ranking criterion, is expected to commence on May 30, 2022. This visa allows talented skilled workers across a range of careers to live and work in the country without sponsorship from an employer.

Read also: NPA implores UK government to end rejection of Nigerian exports

Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting, a UK and Nigeria-registered Recruitment and Training Consultancy, said the UK was implementing various pathways into coming into the country because it had realised that “they are not enough people to fulfill the needs that they have as a country.”

“With the increase in healthcare due to the pandemic and the increase in manufacturing due to Brexit, which has caused a vacuum in its economy, they need to look out for talents outside of Europe to fill the vacancies that they now have,” she said.

Data from Higher Education Statistics Agency show that within a period of one year, the number of Nigerian students studying in UK universities increased by 63.5 percent to 21,305 in the 2020/2021 academic year.

The current number of Nigerian students is also higher than the ones in Canada (13,745) and the United States (12,860), according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Institute of International Education.

Data from the UK’s government immigration website show that the number of sponsored study visas (scholarships) granted by the UK for Nigerians rose to 43,200 in 2021, the highest in three years.

“UK education is widely recognised by employers worldwide because of the standard and quality of their education and offers a two-year post-study stay,” said Gbolabo Akintoye, a Nigerian student studying in the UK.

“Also, my qualifications didn’t need to go through World Education Services evaluation, unlike the US, which is currently hostile to international students,” he added.

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