Taking a closer look at what is keeping global entrepreneurs from fully accessing the UK’s thriving startup scene, and what we can do to change this.
This morning, Emerge, the UK’s leading education accelerator program for startups, hosted its final demo day – an occasion for their cohort of innovative startups to showcase initial results and progress to potential investors.
Since its inaugural class in 2010, Emerge has not only grown quickly a network of entrepreneurs and investors in the education space in the UK, but also a solid reputation to attract innovative entrepreneurs. Out of the 136 startups applications for the last program, almost half were coming from outside the European Union (US 27%, India 6%, China 3%, Canada 3%). A similar ratio regarding the nationalities of applicants is found at other leading accelerators like StartupBootcamp or Collider.
The visa wall
And this has been a growing paradoxical problem for accelerators: as their programs become more and more popular worldwide, they receive numerous applications from entrepreneurs outside the EU, for which UK visa rules are nothing but easy to comply by for these kind of innovative startups.
Last year Collider had to drop last minute a selected team from Pakistan because they could not comply with the strict rules in time. Emerge reports much visa hassle and stress with founders from non-EU countries. Already, two of their non-EU startup have decided to return to their home country after the program as they do not qualify for the entrepreneur visa yet. Similar stories can be heard from other accelerators with which Migreat works.
For non-EU nationals, successfully navigating the entire application and selection process at an accelerator does not guarantee that you will gain entry to the UK – because non-EU migrant needs a visa. Worse, since the current entrepreneur visa was not designed with technology startups in mind, once accepted, visas are only to be temporary and have no guarantee of renewal. In 2014, one out of two entrepreneurs failed the renewal of their entrepreneur visa.
Working for a simpler and more flexible immigration system
This highlight the limits of UK’s bureaucratic immigration system: a system that is thought with in mind a tick the box mentality of what Government think is an entrepreneur and startup.
This issue is well known in the startup community in London and is why think tank & lobby groups like Coadec, Centre for entrepreneurs, Tech London advocates, The Entrepreneurs Network and businesses like Migreat exist.
They help give a voice to issues faced by entrepreneurial migrants within the UK’s economy – and help solve them. The UK Government is also listening – the Migration Advisory Committee is currently calling for evidence of the economic impact of the entrepreneur visa route.
The solutions ahead
There is a quick solution to this growing issue of recruitment of global entrepreneurs in the UK.
Currently there are five accelerators on the list of UKTI that have a competitive advantage: they can fast track the applications for entrepreneurs accepted into their programs. Better, entrepreneurs accepted at those accelerators benefit from a rebate; instead of having to apply for the visa showing demonstrating £200K in a UK bank account, they “only” need to show £50K – which makes much more sense for early stage and internet startups. It would help a little if more serious accelerators where on the list.
This being said, the goal of the UK startup community should be to ensure that not only the entrepreneurs and startup accepted at accelerator can take advantage of a fast tracked visa process. The goal is to make it fair for every entrepreneur that wants to build a successful business in the UK to be able to do so without the visa-hassle. It would significantly help if a few tweaks regarding the visa process were rethought with the help of foreign entrepreneurs and the startup community itself.
Migreat.com published a report on this exact issue in 2014. It discussed the four main issues of the visa process, taken directly from the experience of 60 global entrepreneurs, and suggested four ways that these problems could be tackled right away.
Call to action
Migreat supports the immigration of the best and brightest entrepreneurs to the UK and has started to work beyond – at a European level – to help immigration of the ones that will create jobs, wealth and businesses.
If you’re a global entrepreneur looking to start a company in the UK or Europe or that has started a company in the UK or in the EU, simply join our linkedin group to receive the latest news on visa and immigration policies for entrepreneurs and startups.
This way, when Governments or the EU Commission approaches Migreat to advise reforms of their immigration system, we will be able to provide suggestions of entrepreneurs who have ideas on how to do so!