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18 February 2020

94: Will the changes to the UK’s immigration rules allow us to attract the brightest and best to the UK?

What a tumultuous time for immigration in the UK! Overseas nationals looking to come to the UK as investors, as well as entrepreneurs and highly-skilled workers, may well be looking at what has been happening here over the last few years and wondering what options, if any, remain for them to come, despite the Government’s stated aim of attracting the brightest and the best to these shores.

We are still waiting for detailed confirmation of exactly what the post-Brexit transition period immigration system will look like. However, the forthcoming changes resulting from the UK’s departure from the EU will mainly impact European nationals looking to work in the UK. For those looking to invest or start a business here, although there may be further tinkering, many of the bigger changes have already been announced.

Global talent

The latest change was the replacement of the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa with a new Global Talent visa. The ‘new’ route is really a rebrand of the Exceptional Talent visa, given that the only substantive difference between them is that the new visa incorporates a new route for post-doctoral researchers and specialist technologists at UK research and higher education institutions. The addition of technical experts is to recognise their importance to research despite their more modest salaries, as well as to address the fact that the usual Tier 2 sponsored work route is not currently open to non-degree-level technicians.

No more entrepreneurs? Welcome innovators?

The biggest change for entrepreneurs over the last year was the discontinuation of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur route and its replacement with Start Up and Innovator visas. The Home Office had often struggled with assessing Tier 1 Entrepreneur applications on the basis of financial and business information which its caseworkers may not have been best-placed or appropriately qualified to evaluate. The new visas mean that entrepreneurs will now need to be endorsed by a registered overarching body which will be tasked with evaluating business plans.

The big change, compared to the old Tier 1 Entrepreneur scheme, is that, in order to gain such an endorsement, entrepreneurs will need to have a business idea that is new (and so investment in existing businesses in now not an option), innovative (ie different from anything else that is on the market) and viable, with a potential for growth. These are much more restrictive requirements than simply having a viable business plan. Innovators (but not applicants for Start-Up visas) need to have at least £50,000 ready to invest in their business in the UK.

Applications for the new Innovator and Start-up visas have been few and far between, not least because it appears that only a few of the endorsing bodies are actually accepting applications for endorsement or have an understanding of how the Home Office wants endorsing bodies to assess them. There are also likely to be huge variations in how the endorsing bodies will approach applications and apply the endorsement criteria. It is hardly surprising that a minimal number of Innovator and Start Up visas have been granted compared to the numbers of approved Tier 1 Entrepreneur applications. Although the Tier 1 Entrepreneur scheme was admittedly flawed, the UK may well be losing out on entrepreneurial talent and revenue as a result.

But you can still invest!

Despite rumours at the end of 2018 that the Tier 1 Investor route would be withdrawn, it appears to be alive and well, at least for the time being. Although the investment required is still at least £2 million, it continues to provide a viable option for those with the required funds looking to move to the UK. The biggest recent change was the increase to two years in the period during which investors are required to have held investment funds before making an application (compared to six months, as was the case before 29 March 2019), subject to certain exceptions. New investors applying after 29 March 2019 are also prevented from investing in UK government bonds – investment now has to be in either share or loan capital of active and trading UK companies.

The rules for employed talent are another matter. The Government has just provided an outline of the new points-based system due to come in on 1 January 2021. Although the emphasis is still on attracting highly-skilled workers to the UK, the minimum qualification level will drop and the new system will also cover European nationals arriving into the UK after the end of this year.

Clearly, all non-UK nationals wanting to come to the UK for the purposes of investment, entrepreneurial activities or highly-skilled work will need to keep an eye on changes to the UK immigration system, given the current uncertainty and the regularity with which changes are made to all routes even in quieter times.

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