Jim Armitage: Visa system is a brake on our world-beaters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook: The microchip designer Arm Holdings is such a fabulous success story one almost has to pinch oneself to believe it is British. Yesterday it reported that more than 2 billion iPhones, iPads, smart TVs and other devices containing its chips had been shipped around the world in the past three months alone. At a time when few companies are reporting serious revenue growth (see Glaxo's 2 per cent above), Arm's were up 24 per cent in the quarter at $264m (£172m).

And this is a business born and bred in Cambridge, where it is still headquartered.

It is a good citizen too, paying £4.5m in taxes during that period on its £15m profit.

Without a doubt, we need more Arms in this country to create the fabled rebalanced economy.

Simon Segars, the chief executive, says there is no reason why more Arms cannot be launching in the UK. And there are plenty of decent businesses with terrific inventions to market coming out of the so-called Golden Triangle universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford. But they are still being stifled in their growth ambitions by the Government's populist crackdown on visas.

To compete with the best in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, British firms must be able to recruit the brightest talent from around the world. But when you talk to these businesses, repeatedly you hear stories of how they are losing good potential hires because of the complexity of getting them work permits. Meanwhile, precious management time that should be spent building the business ends up getting wasted fighting the bureaucracy of the UK Border Agency.

One venture capitalist tells of how a small Cambridge firm he has invested in has no fewer than three top-class foreign engineering brains whose visas have been held up.

Not only does this block the growth of these companies, it sends out a message to the world's brightest that Britain does not welcome their talent.

The Home Office says it has made the process simpler and easier, and that visa applications are up 5 per cent on a year ago under its "skilled persons" Tier 2 visa process. But that simply isn't borne out by the entrepreneurs you speak to in the real world.

The Coalition has done much to make Britain an easier place to be a technology entrepreneur. But it must complete the jigsaw with an intelligent visa system. That way we might stand a real chance of seeing more Arms surge up into the FTSE 100.