Restricting IT talent borders on the ridiculous

Outdated restrictions on recruiting abroad are bad for everyone

IT is a creation of the developed world. As with the first Industrial Revolution, it is a child of the peculiar mix of individualism, capitalism and muscular respect for science that is our heritage — and like any robust offspring, it has the ability to uproot itself and live a successful, independent life far from its roots. That does not mean we should deny ourselves the benefits of what it creates, wherever it creates them and whatever shape they take.

Outsourcing can certainly be seen as one of those benefits. Although there are plenty of complex practical and moral issues to consider, we have only to consider the lessons of history to see that industries can and will move across the globe. The results are disruptive but ultimately advantageous; the people of Manchester dress better now than they ever did when they worked in the cotton mills.

But another benefit to IT is its attractiveness to the bright and motivated. Indeed, such is the concentration of fearsomely capable people within the industry that it's hard to think what they'd all have been doing a generation ago. Because computer technology provides the shortest link in any industry between creative ability and widespread success, it is a superb filter for the ambitious and talented — wherever in the world they may be. In return, it gives them the freedom to work wherever in the world they choose. If they're allowed.

So why should we choose to deny those who wish to work here? For all the native IT talent we have in this country, we have plenty of appetite for more — and heaven knows, we can use them. Yet the immigration policies in the UK are arcane and obstructive. As an exasperated Mike Lynch of Autonomy points out, there are any number of ridiculous hoops to jump through with no guarantee of success. It's not even a question of protecting local jobs; innovative companies free to choose among the brightest and the best create many more vacancies at other levels for each high-performing individual they recruit.

Even the moral aspect of overseas recruitment is satisfied. It may seem exploitative of remote communities to cherrypick their finest, and it certainly bears consideration. Yet India and China have both notably benefited from returning expatriates seeding the next generation with cash, skills and contacts back with them after success in Europe and America.

From every aspect, it seems right to give such people the freedoms of choice we expect for ourselves. In the end, it shouldn't matter where people work — the Internet makes a nonsense of artificially concentrating wealth creation within physical borders. But until that day, we shouldn't hobble ourselves with official mindsets stuck in a suspicious, baleful past. Reform is promised, but it cannot come soon enough. IT needs the right sort of intellect much more than the right sort of passport.