The Home Office has today announced that it is bringing forward two new visa routes to attract leading business talent to the UK, and that the Tier 1 (Investor) route reforms that were first discussed in December last year will come into effect on 29 March 2019. These new initiatives build on other recent announcements - including doubling the number of Exceptional Talent visas, improving the availability of skilled work visas, and plans for a future skills-based immigration system, which supports a flexible labour market, whilst ensuring sustainable migration.

Two new routes to open on 29 March 2019

The Start-up visa route will be open to those starting a business for the first time in the UK, while the Innovator visa route will be for more experienced business people who have funds to invest in their business. Replacing the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route, the Start-up visa will be for people of any background looking to start a business, not just recent graduates. As with the previous route, applicants will not need to have secured any initial business funding. However, unlike the current visa, they will have two years, twice the length of time to make their business a success before they need to make a further application. The Innovator route will be for more experienced business people who have funds to invest in their business. Applicants will need £50,000 to invest, rather than the £200,000 required under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route. If their business is a success, they will be able to apply for settlement after three years.

In a new move, endorsing bodies and business experts, rather than the Home Office, will assess applicants’ business ideas under both routes to focus the route on only the most innovative, viable and scalable businesses. The endorsing bodies have a role in assessing applicants’ business ideas and endorsing them - similar to the role universities played in the previous Graduate Entrepreneur route. There will be no limit on these two routes, which will open on 29 March 2019.

These are welcome reforms. They will open up the UK to a broader pool of entrepreneurial talent and innovation and makes more sense for business experts, rather than Government, to endorse the viability of these entrepreneurs and their business ideas. The challenge for Government is to ensure that the endorsing body process is not unnecessarily bureaucratic so as to stifle innovation.

Tier 1 (Investor) Reforms

Reforms to the Tier 1 (Investor) route are also being brought forward. The Government confirmed that whilst the UK will continue to welcome legitimate and genuine investors in the UK economy, the reformed route aims to better protect the UK from illegally obtained funds, whilst ensuring that genuine investors have access to a viable visa route. With that in mind, applicants will be required to prove that they have had control of the required £2 million for at least two years, rather than the current 90 days, or provide evidence of the source of those funds. It remains to be seen whether increasing the length of time monies must be held will address the Government’s concerns.

The reforms are designed to increase the benefit to UK companies by excluding investment in Government bonds, which means the route will only be available to those who invest in UK businesses, delivering greater economic benefits to the British economy.

The reformed Investor route will be operational from the 29 March 2019.

The Government has reiterated that it remains committed to bringing net migration down to sustainable levels, but also recognises the need to attract people who bring benefits to the UK and enable employers to have access to the skills they need. These are largely positive practical changes for entrepreneurs and investors. It is right that applicants and the public should feel confident in these routes and that experts assess business applications, rather than officials being expected to decide what makes a good business.