There have been just four applications for the government’s flagship new visa for overseas entrepreneurs in its first three months of operation.
By contrast, the visa it replaced — Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) — had 1,900 applications in 2018.
The figures will raise questions about the design of the Innovator route. Aimed at experienced foreign entrepreneurs who have at least £50,000 in capital behind them, it requires applicants to be endorsed by one of a limited number of business incubators and seed funds.
Latest Home Office stats show #Innovator & #Start-up applications attract v low numbers (just 2 Innovator entry clearance applications approved in last quarter compared to 400+ prior to closure of T1 (Entrepreneur)), contradicting Govt.'s assertion that UK is open for business.— Laura Devine Immigration (@LauraDevineLaw) August 22, 2019
Experts had warned that the design of the Innovator visa scheme is flawed. Issues include the frequent need to participate in a business accelerator programme to secure endorsement; having to give up equity in the start-up; and the “extremely high” bar for getting settlement.
The model is perceived as unattractive to the calibre of people who would meet the criteria for an Innovator visa, which include being able to bring their start-up business into international markets.
A Freedom of Information response released in May showed that there had been zero Innovator application visas in the first fortnight of the scheme.
It has now emerged that only four people applied for entry clearance in the Innovator category between April and June 2019. Two of those applications have been resolved, of which both were granted.
In the previous quarter, there were 738 Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) applications. Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) closed to new applicants on 29 March 2019, the same date that the Innovator route went live.
While the Home Office has previously said that it expects to grant fewer visas under the new Innovator and Start-up routes than under the schemes they replace, it seems unlikely that applications in single figures would make the cost of designing and administering the route worthwhile.
The Start-up visa is off to a slightly better start. It attracted 32 entry clearance applications in its first quarter of operation, of which 25 were decided on and 23 granted.