Policy will launch next spring but experts say few people will benefit from change
Foreign entrepreneurs could find it easier to come to the UK to set up businesses after the government confirmed plans to introduce a new startup visa, which it said would begin welcoming people without a university education and improve the application process.
The announcement came in the wake of Theresa May, the architect of the “hostile environment” immigration policy, defending her government’s response to the Windrush scandal.
The Home Office, which revealed the plans on Tuesday evening, said the new visa would launch from next spring and, unlike the current version, would be open to people who do not have a degree.
But the department could not immediately say how it intended to “make the visa process faster and smoother”.
One immigration expert also cast doubt on whether many more people would benefit as a result of the changes. Sonali Naik QC, who specialises in immigration law at Garden Court Chambers, said: “They want to make it easier for entrepreneurs. The problem is most do not have any difficulty satisfying the educational requirement. It is more the investment [they struggle with].”
Another leading pro-immigration group said they did not go far enough. Rita Chadha, the interim director of the Migrants’ Rights Network, said the campaigners were “glad to see the government is prepared to invest in migration”.
But she added: “Our concern is that this should not be restricted to those who have the ability to, and are prepared to invest or start up businesses in the UK.
“The hostile environment, in all its cruelty, is currently being exposed. We remain concerned that future generations of migrants will continue to be met with laws and practices that limit their rights and access to services.”
The Home Office was unable to say on Tuesday how many additional people it expected would come to the UK as a result of the proposed changes, though it said the pool of eligible people would be widened “significantly”.
It said that, in the year to March, 839 of a possible 2,000 places were taken up on the existing visa scheme. While that cap would remain, any additional applications granted under the new system would not count towards the total. More details would be revealed in due course, the Home Office added.
As part of London Tech Week, Downing Street also announced it would set up a £2.5bn fund to provide investment in new UK tech firms, with private companies pledging a further £2.3bn.
As part of the government’s British Patient Capital programme, small firms will also be given free access to the Ordnance Survey’s mapping data. Among the companies setting out new private investment, are the software specialist Salesforce, which will plough in £1.9bn over the next five years; investment firm Mubadala, which is launching a £300m European venture fund based in the UK; and the IT group NTT Data, which has earmarked £41m for expansions plans.
The announcements followed May’s insistence that the British public had supported tough action on immigration. “If you talk to members of the public, what they want to know is that we are dealing with people who come to the UK illegally,” she said at the G7 summit.
“I think what we need to do is to ensure that we are able to deal with those people who are in the UK illegally, but ensuring that people who are in the UK legally do not find themselves, as the Windrush generation did, mistakenly caught up in that.”
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has sought to distance the department from May’s policies during her time there, telling parliament in his first Commons speech in the job that he disliked the term “hostile environment”, calling it a “phrase that is unhelpful and does not represent the values as a country”.