Last Wednesday, Migreat’s roundtable offered a stage for migrant entrepreneurs, organisation helping those global entrepreneurs in the UK and policy makers to share concerns and ideas on how to make immigration for entrepreneurs work better from an administrative perspective.
The roundtable was the occasion for Migreat to launch its report on the UK Entrepreneur visa application process and share its findings.
I – The report findings and recommendations for an immigration policy that attracts entrepreneurs
Entitled ‘A UK Immigration System Open to Innovation and Promising Entrepreneurs?’, the report highlights the common pitfalls and administrative challenges associated with the visa application process and makes four simple recommendations that could significantly improve the visa process at little to no cost:
- Return passports within a few days.
- Increase the flexibility in the format of documents that are accepted.
- Align rules on the timing of the funding process with the reality of the funding cycles of startups.
- Involve experienced third parties in the genuine entrepreneur test interviews.
The report was officially recognised and supported by Business Secretary Vince Cable who said:
This is a timely report in light of the recent controversy over migrant entrepreneurs as UK job creators. It’s important that we get this route right to ensure that the next migrant business success stories, like Caffe Nero or Last.fm, don’t slip through the UK’s fingers. We must send a clear signal that we are open to business.
It caused the Home Office to issue an official reply later that morning that confirmed the commitment of the actual government to attract global talents and doing so, with keeping a focus on security and abuse issues:
We are building an immigration system that works in the national interest as part of our long term economic plan. One that is fair to hard-working British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who break the rules or flout the law.
II – Feedback on the recommendations
In the room, the discussion which followed the presentation of the report, concentrated on whether the recommendations could be considered by the Government and if yes how could it be implemented.
John McGee, Head of Migration for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, explained first that overall, the measures proposed, even if simple, were not just administrative processes, but suggested an overall change of perspective on the visa application review, that would consequently require slight changes in policies. Hence, it would take a bit of time, and lots of efforts.
1. The UKVI holds on to your passport — the problem is the processing times
On the first recommendation, the return of passport to their owners as soon as possible, John highlighted that the issue was very much a security issue – The UKVI and Home Office are not comfortable with the idea of having a visa applicant travelling abroad while applying for a visa in the UK, and for right reasons – however, this problem is hiding the real issue: long processing times.
Leslie Sarma, from Tech London Advocates, confirmed the real problem is unpredictable and long processing times. However, in defence, she mentioned that UKVI offers applicants to stay in the country legally even if their visa is expired in case their application is still pending, in UKVI hands. As such, she concluded, it is already a good news that someone does not have to worry about applying 6 to 8 weeks prior to his/her visa expires, and that any prospective applicant can apply the day before the visa expires – and still legally stay in the country.
2. The documents — Goods news! Changes are coming
Leslie was the first to announce the good news. Changes in April next week are happening in the format of the letter the UKVI asks foreign entrepreneurs to show. A slight change in the wording of the letter from the bank should make it easier for entrepreneurs to prove that the money is accessible to them.
3. The Cycle of funding — a “good point” according to John that unfortunately is unlikely to change in the near future
Several member of the audience during the Questions & Answers highlighted that Venture capitalists money is not easy to raise, and that early-stage startups do not raise funds before having a solid business model. A research from the US shows that most VCs invest in startups in their fourth year on average, when they have proven a working model. John suggested that this was not ay time soon to be revised or changed. Matt, founder of the Centre for Entrepreneurs, argued that a new visa, a startup visa, would perhaps be something that could take care of helping those entrepreneurs.
Reacting to this, Josephine, head of partnerships and communications at Migreat, offered to look at other example of Entrepreneur and startup visa worldwide that have gone to solve that issue around fundings. Josephine explained why the UK immigration system when compared to other existing visa worldwide, is one of the strictest. The UK asks entrepreneurs to show access to 200K Pounds Sterlings so approx $309K, compared to Canada which asks a different bracket of amounts depending on the source of the money and no money when the entrepreneur is accepted in one of the country’s incubator; or Chile which gives $40K to entrepreneurs coming; or Singapore which asks only for $40K no matter what the source.
Josephine mentioned that New Zealand’s new Entrepreneur Visa (called the Entrepreneur Work Visa), that gives progressive steps to the starting of the business and acquisition of the visa, might be one example inspiring the UK on that matter. The entrepreneur is given initially 12 months to buy or establish their business (called the start-up stage), and then grant them 24 months when they have proved they did so or have undertaken steps to do so (the balance stage). More comparison can be explored through the below graphs and are explained in the report.
4. The interview — A need to get more expert in the process.
A social entrepreneur in the audience raised the case of social entrepreneurs being turned away by the requirements, and being limited in their capacity to demonstrate to case workers during the Genuine Entrepreneur Interview Test that their “social” business model can work: “I am sure to be told that I have no business model or ability to run a business if I bring them the term social”. John nodded at this comment and confirmed that this problem was heard and known by UKTI and BIS, and repeated that there was a need for more stories and evidence like this to make things change if change they want to see.
Overall, the consistent and repeated message that came across from both the entrepreneurial community and the Government’s representatives was that a better understanding of foreign entrepreneur’s reality was needed – and as such the involvement of third parties in the application process, or sharing of industry knowledge in between the UKVI and the Business community is the way to solve the issues raised.
As such, the panel and the audience came to conclude that the roundtable is a first constructive step to gather that information and evidence. More work, relying on a follow up of this roundtable and collection of more evidence, would greatly help the department of Business Innovation and Skills and the Home Office work together to make the UK open for business, remains an attractive destination for global talent and not lose on the next Last.fm or Caffe Nero.
If you are an entrepreneur and are in need of help for you visa application, Migreat is here to help you: ask questions on our Questions & Answers forum or connect for free with an immigration expert online.
More pictures of the event on Migreat Facebook Page.