Nearly one year ago the UK’s Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa category closed and in its place the Innovation and Start-Up visa categories were established. Since then, published government statistics have shown that the new visa categories have been relatively unsuccessful, with only four applications for Innovator visas granted in the three months following its introduction (March to June 2019).
This has been echoed by interviewees this year who say, “The Tier 1 Innovator category is not very effective,” adding that it is now “a real challenge for individuals to set up businesses in the UK”. “The hoops clients have to go through are tough,” says one interviewee.
Although the Innovator visa requires up to £150,000 less investment than the former Entrepreneur visa, the requirement to show innovation is an onerous task for most applicants. Additionally, those applying must now have third-party endorsement by a pre-approved organisation that must be “reasonably satisfied that the endorsee will spend much of their working time in Britain developing business ventures”. Furthermore, the selection of endorsing bodies has been criticised for its disproportionate focus on the technology sector, further narrowing the opportunities for successful applicants outside this area.
Commentators warn that the “government should reassess whether what they are doing is sending the right signals”, since, whether intentionally or not, the new restrictive requirements appear to contradict the apparently welcoming stance taken by the government towards innovators.
In response to the high threshold for acceptance and the resulting lack of success, some law firms reported that they have shifted their focus to Exceptional Talent visa applications to make up for the lack of entrepreneurial work. However, for now, the lack of successful Innovator applications should be a cause for concern for the government and more widely, as the UK seeks to offset any economic hit that may result from its recent departure from the European Union.