What Are ‘Unicorn Visas’, Exactly?

Maybe you’ve heard of ‘unicorn visas,’ maybe you haven’t — either way, you’re likely going to hear more about them in the future. Recently, two of the most successful tech unicorn companies in the UK have begun pressing for more accommodating visa rules. Deliveroo CEO, Will Shu, and OakNorth CEO and co-founder, Rishi Khosla, believe that these unicorn visas should be the future of the tech industry. But, is it a good idea?

Shu has experienced firsthand how challenging recruitment has been for many businesses in the UK. In an interview with The Telegraph, he said: “As a tech company the skills we need are changing, increasingly — and of course we want excellence.” These unicorn visas would grant UK’s unicorn companies the ability to attract and retain some of the best talent across the globe. And what innovative company doesn’t want (and need) the best of the best to help support the growth of their companies?

Yet, there’s an even larger problem these unicorn visas could help resolve. In the UK, there are only a handful of tech unicorn companies. While this is good, it’s still a pretty insignificant number. Now, imagine such a small pool of businesses trying to compete with the larger global market. It just isn’t likely. Later in his interview, Shu says that these proposed unicorn visas are ambitious for Britain because it will encourage that we “see the next generation of unicorns founded and grown right here.” In other words, unicorn visas would help the UK establish themselves as a leader in the tech sector, which will further advance the community and the economy. This is especially important as the tech sector continues to experience anxiety surrounding Brexit. With unicorn visas, higher caliber employees would be more accessible with less waiting periods and without having to jump through as many hoops.

Sounds pretty indisputable, right? But like with many new ideas, unicorn visas have received some pushback. Other startup founders believe these visas should be available to all companies, big or small. Right now, these visas (as their name suggests) would only be available to unicorn companies, which could hinder the growth and potential of smaller startups. These founders are afraid these changes could impact current startup employees while actually hindering the economy, only benefitting unicorns by offering up faster growth opportunities and giving them access to a larger pool of candidates all to themselves.

Good or harmful, conversations like these that are focused on employment, accessibility, and business growth are important to have as it gets us closer to resolving issues many companies face across the globe today.

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