In July this year, the Government published a new UK Innovation strategy, the details of which are contained in a policy paper. The paper sets out its vision for the UK to be a global hub for innovation. To implement the vision the Government has put in place a strategy setting out four key pillars.
- unleashing business – fuelling businesses who want to innovate
- people – to make the UK the most exciting place for innovation talent
- institutions and places – ensuring research, development and innovation institutions serve the needs of businesses and places across the UK
- missions and technologies – stimulate innovation to tackle major challenges faced by the UK and the world and drive capability in key technologies
With specific reference to talent, the Government recognises that world class innovation requires diverse domestic and global talent and therefore want to make the UK the easiest country in the world for top innovative talent to enter. The policy paper states:
“We will open our borders to the world’s best innovators and make the UK a global hub through the Office for Talent; open up new and improved visa routes for innovators, and offer a reviewed funding offer for globally-mobile talent. We will tackle excess bureaucracy, giving innovators back control and creating the lowest-friction, most innovator-friendly research, development, and innovation system… ‘We need the world’s leading researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs to see the UK as the place to progress their ideas and to establish and grow innovative businesses”
A dedicated cross-departmental unit, the Office for Talent, has been created driving a proactive approach to bringing talent to the UK. Its roles include:
- advertising to innovators the benefits of making the United Kingdom their home
- ensuring the UK is open and welcoming to highly skilled migrants
- co-ordinating pro-active recruitment of top talent in critical priority sectors
In relation to visas, the policy paper contains information about new visa routes that are set to be launched in 2022: ‘High Potential Individual’ and ‘Scale-up’ routes, and the new ‘Global Business Mobility’ visa. The paper also contains details on changes to the Innovator route.
High Potential Individual
This route will initially be open to those who have graduated from a top global university and who demonstrate high potential. Under this route:
- there will be no requirement to have a job offer, this means that the route will be flexible and will allow individuals to switch jobs or work for more than one employer at the same time
- those eligible will be able to settle in the UK
This route was first recommended following the Khalifa review –and will support UK scale-ups. Under this route:
- an individual with a high-skilled job offer from a qualifying scale-up will be eligible for the visa
- those eligible will be able to settle in the UK
- scale-ups will be able to apply through a fast-track verification process to use the route
The new Global Business Mobility visa
This route will allow overseas businesses and innovative companies greater flexibility in transferring workers to the UK in order to establish and expand their businesses.
Innovator route changes proposed
The Innovator category was launched in March 2019, the category replaced the entrepreneur visa and was aimed at experienced businesspeople seeking to establish a business in the UK. Unfortunately, the route has been far from attractive to entrepreneurs. The policy paper sets out details of a ‘revitalised innovator route’ which will allow talented innovators and entrepreneurs from overseas to start and operate a business in the UK that is venture-backed or harnesses innovative technologies, creating jobs for UK workers and boosting growth. Under this route:
- simplified and streamlined business eligibility criteria – applicants will need to demonstrate that their business venture has a high potential to grow and add value to the UK and is innovative.
- fast-track option – a fast-track lighter touch options is being explored for applicants whose business ideas are particularly advanced to match the best-in-class international offers. Applicants that have been accepted on to the Department for International Trade’s Global Entrepreneur Programme will be automatically eligible
- building flexibility – applicants will no longer be required to have at least £50,000 in investment funds to apply for an Innovator visa, provided that the endorsing body is satisfied the applicant has sufficient funds to grow their business. The restriction on doing work outside of the applicant’s primary business will also be removed
The Government’s plans are ambitious. The UK needs a ‘fit for purpose immigration policy’ which allows innovators and top talent speed and flexibility; too often businesses and innovators are hindered due to the visa process. However, the Home Office needs to make sure that the sector is consulted and feedback obtained on how the routes should operate. The introduction of the Innovator visa in 2019 is an example of how the opportunity to create a world class visa offering for entrepreneurs was missed due to lack of consultation. Visa routes must remain adaptable. A good example of this is the Global Talent visa route which is open to those who are leaders or potential leaders in the fields of academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology. This route has been tweaked several times, most recently in May 2021, when a fast-track option was introduced for global prize winners. In addition to the introduction of the new routes, visa costs also need to be looked at. If the UK is serious about attracting top talent, some of these new routes need to cost less and not require visa extensions. The process of visa extensions and the cost and time associated with these can have a negative impact on a business.’’Pat Saini – Co-lead of TLA Immigration Working Group