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10 March 2021
Elite points-based visa for highly skilled migrants
Streamlining Global Talent visa for some applicants
Reviewing Innovator visa
Launching new Global Business Mobility visa
Modernising immigration sponsorship system
User support and marketing measures
On 3 March 2021 Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak presented the Spring Budget 2021 and announced a range of immigration measures designed to:
There are also commitments to improving the system for business users and to marketing the United Kingdom's visa offering more effectively.
The budget reaffirms the government's intention to introduce the previously announced points-based visa for highly skilled migrants and states that this will be in place by March 2022.
A 'scale-up' stream will be included within the highly skilled visa category. This will aim to allow individuals with a job offer from a pre-approved UK scale-up business to access a fast-track process. It is unclear from the budget statement whether this will be fast-track visa processing, fast-track settlement or both.
Recent press reports have referred to the scale-up stream as a 'fintech visa', geared towards boosting this particular sector as suggested in the recent Kalifa review of UK fintech. However, the budget itself appears not to limit the type of scale-up business that may be eligible for approval by the government. No details have been released yet about what criteria businesses will need to meet to qualify for approval; however, it is positive that it may be available to support a wide range of high-growth businesses.
More generally, the government will want to establish measures to avoid a repeat of the failed Tier 1 (General) route. One of the problems encountered in the past with unsponsored schemes for highly skilled migrants has been the entry of participants into low-skilled work in the United Kingdom. The mention of having a job offer to qualify under the scale-up stream may indicate that this could be one way that the government hopes to be able to control the skill level at which highly skilled individuals enter the UK labour market under the new visa.
Holders of certain international prizes and winners of certain scholarships will automatically be eligible under the route, as will participants in recognised programmes for early promise.
The global talent route can be document-heavy and bureaucratic, and this welcome change will make approval much quicker and straightforward for the people covered by it.
The budget confirms that the Innovator visa will be reviewed to make it easier for those with appropriate skills and experience to set up an innovative business in the United Kingdom.
This is another positive development, although it remains to be seen how far the government will go in liberalising the route. So far, the Innovator visa has proven unattractive to established entrepreneurs, as it is necessary in most cases to agree for a business incubator or seed funder to take an investment interest in the enterprise. At present, it is available only to a limited pool of individuals and the eligibility for extension and settlement are so onerous as to make it an unattractive option.
Since the removal of the 10% ownership limit under the skilled worker route in December 2020, it may be that irrespective of any reforms to the innovator route, the skilled worker route may prove to be a more accessible, straightforward and less risky option for business owners, not least because there is no requirement for the business to be rubber-stamped as innovative.
In October 2020 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was commissioned to undertake a general review of the intra-company routes and consider an expansion of the representative of overseas business route to allowing teams to come to the United Kingdom to set up a UK entity or branch (for further details please see "MAC commissioned to report on intra-company transfers"). The MAC is due to deliver its report by the end of October 2021.
The budget confirms that the resulting new immigration category will be called the Global Business Mobility visa and that it will launch by Spring 2022. This will be a short timeframe for civil servants to work with in response to the MAC report. However, it should be achievable as the fundamental aims and international commitments underpinning the route are already known.
It will be interesting to see how this route interacts with the sponsorship system as the current intra-company routes require a sponsor licence, whereas the representative of an overseas business category does not.
This is another policy that has previously been announced, but the budget confirms that there will be a 'delivery roadmap' published during Summer 2021. Once this is available, there should be a more concrete indication of when reforms to the sponsorship system will be made effective, including how and when the outdated sponsor management system will be replaced with newer technology.
Practical support will be provided to small firms needing to use the visa system for the first time. This recognises that more businesses, and, in particular, small and medium-sized enterprises, will now need to engage with the visa system following the end of free movement between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
Initiatives will also be established to raise awareness of the United Kingdom's visa offering and to encourage applications. These include expanding the Global Entrepreneur Programme and running visa-related marketing campaigns. The budget falls short of promising to build an overseas talent network; however, this will be explored.
For further information on this topic please contact Andrew Osborne, Joanna Hunt or Kathryn Denyer at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.
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