Post-Brexit immigration rules threaten to hinder the UK’s economic recovery and should be reformed, to enable entrepreneurs from European Union (EU) member states to set up businesses in the UK more easily, according to a lawyer specialising in business immigration.
Free movement with the EU ended on 31 December 2020 and new immigration arrangements have been put in place for EU citizens wishing to come to the UK, who are now treated the same as non-EU nationals. The UK has introduced a points-based immigration system which aims to attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy.
Mariam Khaliq, Head of Immigration at Bishop & Sewell who specialises in business immigration law, said: “The new points-based visa system does not provide a suitable route for most EU Nationals looking to come to the UK to set up businesses here. As a result, a whole host of entrepreneurs, who could have made a positive contribution to the economy, have been barred from entering the UK.
“The immigration rules need to be urgently reviewed and a new category should be established to provide a route for more entrepreneurs from overseas to invest in the UK.”
Prior to leaving the EU, nationals from member states could freely travel to the UK either to seek employment or to set up their own businesses, while the previous immigration regime’s Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa (abolished in March 2019) enabled foreign nationals to apply for the right to enter the country to set up or run a business.
Mariam continued: “Since 2019, the Home Office has introduced two new categories for foreign entrepreneurs: the Innovator visa and the Start-up visa. Both of these categories are inadequate for the vast majority of entrepreneurs, as applicants first need to obtain an endorsement from an approved business endorsing body if they are satisfied the business idea is “innovative” .’
“For example, both visas require the applicant to demonstrate that their business will offer ‘something that’s different from anything else on the market’. Clearly, the vast majority of entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in the UK will not be able to meet such stringent eligibility criteria.
“The Government’s priority post-Brexit strategy has been to curtail immigration to the UK and the new system has significantly reduced the number of overseas entrepreneurs getting UK visas. For example, in the last quarter of 2018, the Home Office issued 894 Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas, compared to just 66 Innovator visas in the last quarter of 2019.
“However, attracting investment is vital to helping the UK economy to recover as it emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown. The Government needs to urgently rethink its approach to business immigration. Foreign nationals and overseas entrepreneurs should be encouraged to set up business in the UK, where they could make a significant contribution by offering employment and paying UK taxes.
“Rather than simply bringing back the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa category, something more along the lines of the Tier 1 General (Highly Skilled) Migrant category should be considered. This route was for highly skilled people who could help the UK compete in the global economy and involved racking up points in categories including age, education, savings, previous earnings, and English language ability. The category was closed in April 2015 as there were concerns from the Home Office that many applicants were not truly highly skilled.
“If the Government brought back an amended version of this visa category, limited to EU nationals and those from other countries they feel generate better quality business ideas, this would at least cover an entire category of people who seem to have been forgotten about in the Home Office’s post Brexit immigration system.”