Innovator visa applications rise 192% in a year
The number of innovator visa applications has risen 192% in a year, from 100 in 19/20 to 292 in 20/21*, says Bates Wells, the City law firm.
Bates Wells says despite numbers almost trebling, innovator visas are still far less popular than entrepreneur visas, which they replaced in May 2019. In their last full year 18/19, there were 2,242 applications for entrepreneur visas.
Innovator visas, which were introduced to attract experienced businesspeople to the UK to set up new businesses, are considerably more restrictive than their predecessors. The enterprises established by innovator visa holders must be ‘unique’ and ‘able to be scaled quickly’.
Bates Wells says reform of the innovator visa route is needed to make it more attractive for entrepreneurs to come to the UK. The stringent criteria for innovator visas is likely a reason for their relatively low uptake.
Applications must be endorsed by an authorised organisation, such as an incubator or an early-stage venture capital firm, which, in return may demand equity in the new business. This may be a deterrent to entrepreneurs. Some endorsing bodies also require applicants to meet other requirements, such as completing a paid-for mentorship programme or establishing an office in a specific city, raising barriers to entry even higher.
The Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Energy announced a revitalisation of the Innovator route in July 2021. However, whilst the changes aim to fast-track applications and streamline criteria, the only real change is that applicants will no longer be required to have at least £50,000 in investment funds to apply.
Bates Wells says the reforms will not make the innovator visas much less restrictive given that no new endorsing bodies can now join the scheme. This will reduce the potential options for applicants, meaning that some individuals are exploring other routes such as global talent visas.
Global talent visas may be more attractive to entrepreneurs as they don’t require an endorsing body.
Chetal Patel, immigration partner at Bates Well, says “It’s clear that reform is needed to make it easier for entrepreneurs to come to the UK, not harder. We need to create more jobs and more opportunities, bringing in ambitious entrepreneurs from abroad should be a key part of that.”
“With immigration rules being severely tightened post-Brexit, the Home Office should ensure that the rules demonstrate the UK is truly open for business.”
“If concerns over the innovator visas are not addressed, the UK could fall behind in attracting the very best entrepreneurs with the next big idea. The Home Office should be reforming these visas as a matter of urgency to provide jobs and investment in the UK for years to come.”
*Year-end 31 March