Tanya Laidlaw, Immigration Partner
It is no secret that the Innovator visa, launched on 29 March 2019 for foreign entrepreneurs wishing to run a business in the UK, is failing. Unlike its predecessor, the Entrepreneur visa, which produced more than 1,000 successful applications last year, the number of Innovator visas granted so far is in the single digits – this hardly suggests that ‘Britain is open for business’. This is even more worrying as the country edges closer to a no-deal exit from the EU with stark implications predicted for UK businesses.
The problem so far?
The Innovator visa was introduced for non-EU citizens able to demonstrate a “innovative, viable and scalable” business idea, however, applicants have found the application process increasingly frustrating. Applicants must acquire endorsement from a government approved endorsing body. The endorsing body usually requires the applicant to go through an accelerator programme and may request equity in the business in return for endorsement. This is all before even applying for a visa.
Arguably the biggest restriction so far, however, has been the narrow sectoral focus of the endorsing bodies. A list of endorsing bodies, also introduced on 29 March 2019, comprised mainly of tech incubators aimed towards technologists and tech start-up companies. Not much else being available for entrepreneurs who do not run a technology company or operate in that sector.
The Home Office expressed a commitment to recruiting more endorsing bodies with the aim of partnering with some of the UK’s leading businesses and increasing the variety of sectors available to entrepreneurs. This is obviously much needed in light of the technology focused criteria restricting many potential applicants.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
On 2 September 2019, the list of approved endorsing bodies was updated to include two new organisations – Innovate Britain and Blue Orchid. Innovate Britain support entrepreneurs in sectors such as Education, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Consumer and Infrastructure whereas Blue Orchid do not appear to limit support for innovators in specific sectors and work closely with local authorities and government departments. With more endorsing bodies the category has the potential to work – especially by providing support for entrepreneurs which is not exclusively focused on high concept tech ideas but also for the traditional mercantile type entrepreneurs.
It remains to be seen how Innovate Britain and Blue Orchid will assess applicants for endorsement but the addition of two new endorsing bodies should at least, in theory, provide more opportunity for entrepreneurs who wish to set up their business in the UK and increase the chances of success for the struggling visa category.
So, Is Britain open for business? Well, with the Innovator visa introducing new endorsing bodies in different areas, the future certainly looks brighter for foreign entrepreneurs wishing to start or run a business in the UK. This is welcome news of course in light of Brexit and the UK’s aspirations in attracting the best and brightest individuals.
If further endorsing bodies are introduced and the variety of entrepreneurs able to apply increases, then it may truly be the case that Britain is open for business. For now, we have to wait and see but this is a step in the right direction.
To find out how we can help you with immigration law matters, please get in touch with Tanya Laidlaw who heads our immigration department.
Please note – this article does not constitute legal advice.