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A moment of Clarity

Could the expected changes to visas limit high value migrants?

It is easy, amidst the confusion surrounding the post-Brexit immigration status of EU citizens, to overlook the pending changes to the Tier 1 visa routes for non-EEA nationals announced towards the end of last year.

While these routes are designed to attract the best global talent and “do more to attract businesses to the UK” as stated by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the uncertainty and lack of detail about their prospective design is making forward planning difficult. Taking into account recent events and announcements, we provide an overview of the proposed changes below, and what they could mean non-EEA nationals.

Start-up visa

In June last year Sajid Javid, barely six weeks after his appointment as Home Secretary, announced the creation of a new “Start-up” visa route, which is to replace the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa route.

Previously an exclusive route for graduates, the Start-up visa would open up to a wider pool of talented business founders. It will require applicants to have acquired an endorsement from a university or approved business sponsor, including accelerators.

The updated route, which had been designed following advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, and feedback from the tech sector and other stakeholders, is expected to launch in Spring 2019.

Innovator route

In December last year Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, announced the introduction of a new Innovator route for more experienced business people, having a similar emphasis on endorsement by a business sponsor who will assess applicant’s business ideas for their innovation, viability and scalability. This is to replace the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, again this is expected to launch in Spring 2019, however there has been a lack of transparency from the Home Office to exact dates.

Investor v.2

At the same time Caroline Nokes said that, alongside the Start-up and Innovator visas, the government would reform the existing Tier 1 (Investor) route; however no details were given of the expected changes.

In her announcement she said that the reforms will be introduced in the spring, and will “ensure the UK remains a world-leading destination for investment and innovation”. She would shortly be publishing a Statement of Intent setting out the details of how the reformed routes will work, which is still yet to be published.

The suspension of the Investor visa that wasn’t

It all descended into chaos barely a week later; on Thursday 6 December the mainstream press all ran stories, quoting the immigration minister, announcing the suspension within 24 hours of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa, due to concerns over money laundering. However the Home Office did not officially confirm the suspension, only issuing on Tuesday 11 December a statement confirming that “the Tier 1 (Investor) visa is not currently suspended, however we remain committed to reforming the route. A further announcement will be made in due course. Any suspension would be implemented through changes to the Immigration Rules.”

The next day there were press reports that Sajid Javid had been forced to apologise for failing to secure Cabinet approval before his department announced the suspension of the investor visa scheme.

The White Paper - The UK’s future skills-based immigration system

The following week, on 19 December, the long awaited White Paper on immigration was finally published. However it still didn’t contain any greater details about the makeup of the new Tier 1 visas, despite the fact that the Government thinking about changes to the Tier 1 (Investor) visa had been revealed by the immigration minister in the press release that originally triggered the suspension debacle, in which she said:

“The reformed visa will require applicants to provide comprehensive audits of their financial and business interests, and show they have had control of the £2m of investment funds required to obtain the tier 1 visa for at least two years. Applicants will no longer be able to invest in government bonds as part of the reforms, and must invest in active and trading UK companies.”

What does all this mean?

Pending the publication of the government’s promised Statement of Intent setting out the details of how the reformed routes will work, what should prospective High Value migrants do?

Our advice is that those who meet the requirements of the current Tier 1 visa routes should consider bringing forward their plans and file their applications as soon as practical, while the rules remain unchanged.

When visa routes are materially changed or replaced, the changes generally only affect new entrants to the visas. The rules generally remain unchanged for those who have already applied or been issued with their visas before the changes happen, and permit them to continue their journey to indefinite leave to remain.

In particular, prospective Entrepreneurs whose business ideas relate to existing business methods or concepts should consider applying soon to avoid what may be an over-riding emphasis on innovation over traditional but nevertheless viable business models. And prospective Investors who might otherwise have to restructure their finances and wait up to two years should consider accelerating their applications.

Published: 21 February 2019

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