The London Visa - A New Immigration Alternative?

Fresh from the success of London Fashion Week and with the Tech Entrepreneurs week also off to a flying start, you have to ask yourself whether or not the proposed 'London Visa' by Boris Johnson is necessary or warranted.

Fresh from the success of London Fashion Week and with the Tech Entrepreneurs week also off to a flying start, you have to ask yourself whether or not the proposed 'London Visa' by Boris Johnson is necessary or warranted.

On 8 September, the Mayor of London proposed a new "London visa" targeted at talented tech experts and fashion designers, giving them an "easier" route to obtain immigration permission to work in London. The proposal by the Mayor to the Home Secretary is that City Hall be given a yearly allocation of 100 of the government's existing 1,000 exceptional talent visas. The exceptional talent category is open to world-class or potential world-class individuals in the fields of science and the arts. As part of the application process, the applicant must receive an endorsement from a specified, designated competent body. Each body has its own specific criteria that must be met to be given the required endorsement.

So what are the current options available for young artists and tech individuals who are not yet considered exceptional or potential world-class individuals?

The main Tier 1 Entrepreneur category is available for individuals who can demonstrate access to £200,000, or that they have access to at least £50,000 from regulated venture capital firms, specific UK entrepreneurial seed funding competitions or UK government departments and will be able to create at least 2 full time positions over time within the UK business. The financial threshold is a significant block to many new and young entrepreneurs within these fields.

2,000 specific visa opportunities are available under the Graduate Entrepreneur category. This route is open to MBA and other UK graduates who have been identified as having developed genuine and credible business ideas and entrepreneurial skills to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish a UK business. Of the 2,000 endorsements on offer to entrepreneurs graduating from within the UK, 100 of these visa endorsement (known as Global endorsements) are available through the UK Trade and Investment and are 'won' through robust competitions. This is a savvy approach by the UK Trade and Investment in being able to identify elite global graduate entrepreneurs who wish to establish one or more businesses in the UK. This is certainly a current idea for so few global endorsements. Are we likely to see a similar approach taken by Boris?

The previous simplicity of the UK immigration system under the Points Based System meant being able to self-assess whether or not your application is likely to be successful - do I meet the points criteria? Self-assessment is now more challenging with a new dimension of discretion being written into the rules by the Home Office. The introduction of a genuine entrepreneur test in January 2013 and again with current immigration amendments (effective on 1 October), is evidence that the Home Office is giving its entry clearance officers an increased level of discretion to ensure applications are genuine, the business will be viable and the applicant's experience is credible. Whilst the purpose of this is to tackle the abuse that was occurring under these categories, applications have been refused due to lack of experience, and in one instance, the applicant's LinkedIn profile did not match the skill set required by the business.

The tech industry is striving hard to make sure that the UK is able to attract and retain skilled entrepreneurs within their industry and therefore welcomes the concept of a London visa. Such a concept would help, in part, accelerator spaces such as Level39 to help London become the digital capital of Europe. Therefore, positioning London as a prime location for young tech start-ups is integral. Since opening their doors in March, almost one third of all applications received are from overseas entrepreneurs, keen to come to London.

Eric Van der Kleij head of Level 39 states "It's good to see that city leaders, like Boris Johnson, are trying to ensure that the brightest and best global talent choose London as their destination for growth. It never hurts to pay even more attention to this subject because talent - both home grown and inbound - is essential to fuelling the growth of the tech sector. What London and the UK needs is a robust system that works, and does not inadvertently shut out skilled workers."

The theme of 'nurturing' such individuals is strong throughout the business sector to ensure success of such young vibrant migrant entrepreneurs. Whilst the full details of what will be required to achieve a 'London visa,' if approved by the Home Secretary, are not known, the concept of the visa itself has been received in a positive light by the industry. That said, maybe a more suitable name should be given so as not to offend those based out of London.


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