The Home Office announced last month that the number of applications to enter the UK under the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa scheme had risen from only 118 in 2009 to almost 10,000 in 2013. The number of these applications granted by border officials has risen dramatically from 199 in 2011 to over 3000 in 2013.
The entrepreneur visa scheme was introduced as a way of continuing to encourage migrants from outside of Europe to come and set up their businesses in the UK, along with all the obvious benefits these bring to the country’s economy. At a time when economic recovery is the primary political objective, such benefits are of understandable importance.
The encouragement comes by rewarding such entrepreneurs with a UK visa, which, after a set number of years, proceeds to leave to remain in the country indefinitely (ILR) and thence British nationality, providing that they satisfy all the requirements of the visa and, of course, possess the requisite funds. This is the reward offered for migrants who come to the UK and stimulate the country’s economy.
A recent study entitled ‘The Report; Migrant Entrepreneurs: Building Our Businesses, Creating Our Jobs’, commissioned by the Centre for Entrepreneurs and online company DueDil, suggests these obvious benefits to the country are clear, producing figures emphatically justifying the scheme.
According to the report, there are 456,073 immigrant entrepreneurs working in the UK, and they have founded 464,527 businesses, employing 8.3m people. The report also goes on to find that migrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs: 17.2% of non-UK nationals have started their own business, in contract to only 10.4% of British nationals. Yet, despite this enormous benefit to the UK and a sensible rationale behind the visa scheme, the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa has drawn a fair amount of attention in political discussion, coming in for a good deal of criticism.
Since the scheme’s introduction we have seen changes progressively making the visa application process more difficult, and the requirements more exacting. After the introduction of the notoriously tough ‘genuine entrepreneur’ test, other changes to the ways in which applicants can demonstrate the necessary funding (either £200,000 or £50,000, depending on the specific category) have made the visa significantly more difficult to obtain.
Just recently, at the start of this month, the government added further changes designed to tighten up the process. Suggestions that mysterious and faceless organised gangs have been taking advantage of the scheme with ingenious scams to allow migrants free roam to take up work in the UK did not take long to follow, along with other scaremongering sound-bites of phoney applicants exploiting our immigration system.
Thankfully for all James Brokenshire MP rode in to the rescue with new changes to the rules designed to make it more difficult to obtain an entrepreneur visa. His anti-immigration sword cut swiftly, to the delight of supporters of the Tory government.
“Our reforms have cut net non-EU migration to levels not seen since the 1990s and slashed overall net migration by a third since its peak under the last government,” declared Brokenshire triumphantly, as he wiped down his number-stained blade.
“And we will not hesitate to take firm action to protect our immigration system further – particularly when there is evidence of criminals targeting what they think are weaknesses in the rules.”
As the evidence behind such claims has been kept conveniently out of the public eye, it is difficult to see how this could genuinely be a widespread practice, especially given that the Entrepreneur visa doesn’t actually give migrants the right to work in the UK outside of their own business venture. And neither do the Home Office figures setting out the high proportion of successful applications seem to support this depiction of foul play behind entrepreneur visas.
Nevertheless, the Entrepreneur visa remains a popular battleground in Parliament and in the media, and it is likely that the government will continue to respond with tougher measures making it more difficult for entrepreneurs from abroad to obtain the necessary paperwork to enable them to start up their businesses in the UK, and so to bring the investment and employment benefits which are so beneficial to the country’s economic wellbeing, and so badly needed.
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