In March 2019, the Home Office launched the new innovator visa, which it said was designed for ‘experienced businesspeople’ who had an ‘innovative, viable and scalable business idea’.
Whilst these aims were exciting and ambitious, the detail, once published, was an immediate cause for concern. In particular, before they could apply for a visa, applicants needed to gain support from one of a relatively small number of endorsing bodies. It soon became apparent that these bodies were, in turn, generally only able to offer assistance to a very small number of applicants.
As can be seen from the list of endorsing bodies here, typically, they only offer to support applicants who are already on an accelerator or incubator programmes and/or are seeking to work in extremely niche fields. Many require a stake in the company.
In addition, the requirements for obtaining extensions of stay and Indefinite Leave to Remain are extremely onerous. Our head of immigration, Nichola Carter, set out her concerns about these for the Free Movement blog.
Is the scheme a success?
New immigration statistics were published yesterday. We can now see that there have only been 14 applications under the scheme in its first six months from April – September 2019.
To put it another way, the UK has managed to attract a mere 14 ‘experienced businesspeople’ who had an ‘innovative, viable and scalable business idea’. The scheme is clearly not a success.
Is the scheme likely to become successful?
We have had success under this route. However, in general we find that experienced businesspeople are usually unwilling to offer a stake in their business to an endorsing body.
They also tend not to need the various support services offered – which are primarily designed for newer businesses and less experienced people.
As such, we are not expecting to see a significant increase in applications unless there are real changes to the requirements that make the scheme attractive to the very people it is designed for.
Are there other options?
Unfortunately, since the closure of the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route, there is no straightforward way for experienced non-EEA businesspersons to gain a visa to come to the UK to establish a business.
There are perfectly lawful workarounds. It is potentially possible, for example, for them to apply as the Representative of an Overseas Business or to use Tier 2, Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) or Tier 1 (Investor) depending on the exact detail of the business plans, how flexible those plans are and the financial position of the applicant. But this is an entirely unsatisfactory position for the UK to be in.
All the main parties have promised to change the UK’s immigration system. We are very much hoping that the winning party forms a new government, changing the system to attract experienced businesspeople to the UK is a priority.
Afterall, if Brexit goes ahead, EU businesspeople may also need a visa to come to the UK to establish a business.
If you need advice on any of the UK’s immigration routes, please contact us.