It’s official: The UK is closed for new business

2 April 2019

In his introduction to the recent White Paper on the future UK immigration system, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid promised  a new system that welcomes talent “from every corner of the globe and demonstrates the United Kingdom is open for business.”

The UK’s first changes to the Immigration Rules since the publication of the White Paper came into force on 29 March - the day previously scheduled for the UK’s exit from the EU.  Sadly, these rules clearly show that the UK has a long way to go to fulfilling that promise of being open for business.

The new rules replace the Graduate Entrepreneur visa and the Entrepreneur visa with the much vaunted Start-Up and Innovator visas. These changes had been trailed since June of last year and follow on from the 2015 review of the Entrepreneur visa routes by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

Following the MAC’s recommendations, the Government has given external endorsing bodies a central role in the new visa category.  Endorsing bodies approved by the Home Office will now be responsible not only for assessing initial applications (including business plans) and endorsing applicants who meet new innovation, viability and scalability criteria, but also for monitoring the progress of the business at specified ‘checkpoints’ and assessing application for permanent residence.  Endorsement, under which the skills/talent/business assessment is outsourced, has been used for the Exceptional Talent visa route and is something that the Government and the Home Office seem to be very keen to expand.  We argued for it to be used in the Entrepreneur route in our submissions to the MAC in 2015, as it puts the assessment of business plans into the hands of experts rather than Home Office caseworkers.

On Friday, the list of the endorsing organisations was published.  But unfortunately, none of them appear to be ready to endorse any applications.  TechCity, which is currently an endorsing body for those in the technology field applying under the Exceptional Talent route, has said that it will start considering applications in September 2019. However, none of the other endorsers have any information on their websites.  The information which has been released about the scheme also raises more questions than it answers about how endorsing bodies will operate and how the integrity of the outsourced system will be maintained.

How did this happen?  

Firstly, this was left far too late by the Home Office and the Government machinery.  Setting up an endorsement scheme requires the endorsing bodies to establish their specific scheme assessment criteria and processes, appeal mechanisms, application forms, charging structures and terms and conditions under which it agrees to be an endorser.  This all takes time and requires external expert advice, and it is clear that endorsers were not given enough time. Second, the Home Office failed to consult stakeholders, including experienced advisers and lawyers. 

While it was clear that the Entrepreneur route left much to be desired and should be reformed or replaced, the extraordinary position is that it is now not possible for highly talented international entrepreneurs to apply to come to the UK to set up a business. The UK is probably the only developed country without an entrepreneur-style visa. The Home Office should urgently re-open the Entrepreneur visa route as an interim measure until endorsing bodies are able to operate their schemes and endorse new applicants. Failure to do this sends out a clear message: the UK is closed for business.

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