Update on Innovator visa, May 2019

End of an era or the true hardship of the Innovator visa route

The new innovator and start-up visas went live on 29 March 2019 to replace the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route, which is now closed to new applicants, and the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route, which will close from 6 July. The word from practitioners is that so far there have been no applications made, as there is a lot wrong with the new innovator visa route.

The new innovator route was long expected and was deemed to be a nice idea, in particular in the light of the Migration Advisory Committee’s 2015 review of entrepreneur visa. The review focused on adapting the same endorsing system, which has already proved so well with the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route.

However, when it comes to practice, the harsh truth is that the route is effectively closed to migrants, especially those overseas.

What is the problem?

The review recommended third party endorsement, “partnering with reliable organizations in order to select migrant entrepreneurs”, where “the selection of entrepreneurs should be carried out by industry experts where possible”.

It made sense to swop the Home Office caseworkers for business people and industry experts to pass judgements on the viability of business ideas. The trouble is the endorsement mechanism has been a true mystery or seems not to have been thought through.

Firstly, some endorsing bodies on the Home Office list admitted that they are either not ready to endorse or that they do not know how they appeared on the list and want to be taken off. So much for the endorsing spirit.

Secondly, the nature of the majority of these endorsing bodies gives rise to concern. Since they operate as seed funds, tech incubators and accelerators, the already established and experienced entrepreneurs within the Innovator group, have to give away a stake in their business in return for investment and mentorship, which most of them do not need and do not want.

Also, a good business idea that could contribute to the growth of the UK economy locally may not be enough, since “Applications to our programme will be looked at competitively, against companies that operate in the sector and that can sell their product or service internationally. Thus, I am afraid that your business may not meet our requirements here.” (example of one of the friendlier responses). Some offerings are so technical or niche that there is very little to grasp.

How does one become endorsed?

That nobody knows. The Home Office guidance lacks specific information on the matter, adding a simple warning within the published endorsing bodies list, which reads as follows:

Please note that neither the endorsing bodies nor the business helpdesk will answer hypothetical or speculative enquiries.”

So you are left with hardly any information as most of these endorsing bodies are not giving much away. Most have no information relating to endorsement on their websites and many are reluctant to answer enquiries.

Only a few of the endorsing bodies accept open applications, and for the remaining majority you have to be accepted on their programmes with specific timeframes and deadlines. Only then you can start being considered for an endorsement. But once selected, how to enrol on the programme if you are outside the UK? Attendance in person is required, whether it is for the programme, or just to pitch or attend an interview. An overseas entrepreneur is effectively competing with the native entrepreneurs even before they can apply for visa. We can conclude that despite opening the new Innovator route, the route remains closed.

Posted on May 29, 2019.

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