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New innovator and start-up visas launch today — but is anybody ready?

New innovator and start-up visas launch today — but is anybody ready?

The new innovator and start-up visas went live today. They replace the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route which is now closed to new applicants, and the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route which will close from 6 July.

All applicants for these visas must now have the endorsement of an organisation certifying that their business is innovative, viable and scalable. Start-up applicants do not however need any funding secured — innovator applicants must have £50,000 lined up — and need only be seeking to break into national as opposed to international markets.

Immigration lawyers were expecting guidance for potential applicants to be published now that it is in theory possible to apply for the new visas. So far there is none, and we are hearing that there will be none. Instead there will be just the rules in the new Appendix W. If correct, that would be in line with the desire to make the system less odiously complex for all concerned, although it does represent a step change for practitioners.

The only further information that has been issued today (that we’ve found so far) is:

One striking feature of the guidance for endorsing bodies is the lack of rules they need to follow.

There’s nothing to prevent an endorsing body from, for example, charging high fees for an endorsement letter or requiring the applicant to provide them with a stake in the business in return for the endorsement. Nor is there anything to prevent an endorsing body from withdrawing endorsement, which would in turn risk leaving the migrant at risk of having their leave curtailed.

It will also be interesting to see how many entrepreneurs avail of the new routes. The guidance states that:

We will normally allocate 25 places to a new endorsing body, unless you ask for a different number. If, for any reason, your organisation would prefer to be issued with fewer endorsements, you should let us know and we will issue the preferred number of endorsements.

At the moment, there are 24 endorsing bodies on the innovator list. If they all have 25 endorsement letters, that’s a total of 600 per year. Under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route, around 1,000 visas a year were granted (not including dependants).

The guidance also contains the following sentence which seems to signal that the route is designed only for small numbers:

You may decide whether to accept open applications or to only issue endorsements to business founders you are already working with through your existing activities. If you choose to accept open applications, we recommend that you set out clearly any parameters you wish to apply on the types of business you will endorse, so that you do not receive unsuitable applications.

It remains to be seen how many endorsing bodies use their allocation, or indeed are geared up to grant endorsements in the short to medium term. The new visas may be live in theory, but as Nichola pointed out recently, the Tech Nation endorsing body is not going to be endorsing anyone until September. I’ve been in touch with a few other endorsing bodies today, and while one said that they are “happy to endorse from now” and another thought they might be ready from next month, a third said they were still “toying with the idea” and a fourth was not familiar with the concept of an innovator visa. More on this next week.

CJ McKinney

CJ is Free Movement's deputy editor.

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