Criticism for New UK Entrepreneurs Visa After 2 Granted in 3 Months

A new visa scheme aimed at encouraging overseas entrepreneurs to settle in the UK has been criticised for being too restrictive after only two people were successful from less than a handful of applicants during its first quarter of availability.

The “Innovator” visa is one of two new visa classes introduced on April 1 as part of a concerted government effort to demonstrate the UK’s openness to talented foreign entrepreneurs as it plans to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK as part of Brexit.

But the Home Office has also been keen to draw the rules more tightly than those for the old visas, given those were widely regarded as prone to abuse. Sajid Javid, then home secretary, said the new scheme would “widen the applicant pool of talented entrepreneurs” when he announced the change to the immigration rules last year.

There were only two successful candidates for the “innovator visa” between April 1 and 30 June, the first three months of the new scheme, out of just four applications, according to Home Office data published by the Office for National Statistics. Under the rules, applicants must persuade a group of business experts that they plan to set up a genuinely innovative business in the UK.

The visa replaced the now discontinued “Tier 1 Entrepreneur” visa. The Home Office said when it announced its plans in March that it demonstrated the government’s “commitment to attracting leading talent”.

A further 23 people were successful in the other new visa class — the “Start-Up”, which replaced the “Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur” visa — out of a total of 32 applications in the quarter.

Nadine Goldfoot, a partner at Fragomen, a specialist immigration law firm, said part of the problem with the Innovator visa was that the “endorsing bodies” meant to vet ideas had not been given long enough to get their programmes in order.

In the longer term, she said, it was a problem that the government insisted an idea had to be “innovative” and that nearly all the endorsing bodies were focused on digital technology industries.

“We speak to successful entrepreneurs daily who are looking to establish a business in the UK,” Ms Goldfoot said. “They have sound business plans and money to invest. However, they aren’t necessarily tech-focused, so stand no chance of obtaining an endorsement from an approved body as things stand.”

The number of applicants who are approved under the new system is much lower than those for the old visas. Over the past year, the government approved 1,403 applications for “Tier 1 Entrepreneur” visas, while 282 people were granted a “Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur” visa.

The Home Office defended the new scheme and said the low numbers for the new visa classes were “not unusual” and in line with the initial performance of previous schemes that subsequently proved popular.

In the first three months after the launch of the old “Entrepreneur” visa scheme, just six were granted, while there were none granted under the “Graduate Entrepreneur” programme, according to the department.


Published: 15 October 2019


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