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To sustain the startup ecosystem we need better-designed immigration policies

Most entrepreneurs I meet in London are foreigners. They come from Denmark, India, Germany or the US. Statistics on Foreign Entrepreneurs in the UK confirms this impression: one out of seven businesses in the UK is owned by a foreigner; 190,000 of which are based in London.

When I ask them why they came here to start a business the multicultural character of the city is always the one key reason given, alongside access to capital and given UK’s friendly business environment.

London’s multiculturalism was supported by the immigration policies of the 2000’s. It brought to the UK the founders of Seedcamp, Connect Ventures, TransferWise and recently DueDil.

Unfortunately, this successful foreign talent pool is in danger of extinction since the introduction of stricter immigration rules in 2011.

Restrictions on talent

Post-study visas for students no longer exist, the Highly Skilled Migrant Program for those without a job offer has been removed, and there is now a cap on the number of work visas granted.

This has cause the numbers of student coming from India to drop by 51%, numbers of overall migrants coming to the UK to drop down from 252,000 in 2010 to 177,000 in 2012, and for the UK to register a record of 50% failure from foreign entrepreneurs to get a visa in 2013.

Research shows that the UK has benefited from migrants in terms of tax revenues over the last decade and a recent survey by YouGov confirms the positive perception of British people towards the economic contribution of highly-skilled migrants.

Statistics show that migrants are twice as likely to start a business as UK nationals, and business leaders from different industries have repeatedly warned that refraining access to the UK to immigrants, highly and low-skilled ones, hurts the economy.

With those numbers in mind, it’s fair to say the current visa system is failing to support the economic growth of a globalised city like London.

Fixing Immigration for Growth

The current system – characterised by red-tape, bureaucracy and inadequate immigration rules –  is failing SMEs trying to recruit international talents and is causing a shortage of skills in UK’s most dynamic sectors.

Take the entrepreneur visa application as an example. An independent report found, that applying to the visa, entrepreneurs are unable to travel for business for several months as the visa process holds onto their passport; are asked documents that a start-up, a bank or investors cannot provide and the funding requirement (£200K minimum) is inadequate to the reality of most entrepreneurs starting-fund in the UK.

 

The current UK immigration system is based on a century old legacy of administrative rules. The application process checks the conformity of papers to the official templates; not the potential of the business venture. It does not support the growth of a diverse talent pool which the UK needs to sustain its leadership and prepare the future.

Other countries, like Canada and Chile, have recognized that immigration is a key element of their future growth. Germany has created a jobseeker visa for graduates who want to come and look for a job for up to 6 months, welcoming skilled migrants with open arms. The US is currently reviewing a reform led by the tech sector with Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg at its top lead.

Roundtable on ways to ease the immigration process of foreign entrepreneurs to the UK, including Matt Smith from Centre for Entrepreneurs, John McGee, Head of Migration for the Department of Business Innovation and Josephine Goube from Migreat.
Roundtable on ways to ease the immigration process of foreign entrepreneurs to the UK, including Matt Smith from Centre for Entrepreneurs, John McGee, Head of Migration for the Department of Business Innovation and Josephine Goube from Migreat.

A constructive momentum

Reports and data on migrant entrepreneurship have formed a starting point of discussion for actors from the Government such as BIS & UKTI, business sector leaders and representatives like TLA and CFE to start take action.

Migreat opened its blog to spread UK visa stories of foreign entrepreneurs and share their tips. Start-up Britain is working at a campaign to help international student start businesses after graduation. The Home Office launched Home Office Hours at Google Campus in May.

These initiatives want to raise awareness of the existing immigration solutions. Yet, these efforts are not much known and rely on foreigners facing immigration issues to speak up constructively with the authorities.

A new visa route was opened this year for talents in the Digital sector. If the visa gets a lot of demand, I have no doubt it will provide evidence that the world best and brightest want to come here, and they are just waiting for relevant immigration rules to be set.

There is a real appetite for business and talents in the UK. I am confident, the UK will be able to be home of talents again. It just needs more of us to voice out in a constructive way what needs improvement in the immigration process. Meanwhile, free online immigration information & services like www.migreat.com always come as handy if you need clarification of your immigration questions.