A close-up of a microphone in a conference room

The Chancellor has set out the Government’s vision for the UK to become ‘the next Silicon Valley’. But what is the Government doing to attract the brightest and best to make it a reality?

The chancellor set out a vision

In a speech to City executives on Friday 27th January, the Chancellor set out a vision of the UK becoming the next Silicon Valley. He wants to make the UK an attractive site for innovators and entrepreneurs.

A statement from the Treasury accompanied the speech reiterating the Chancellor’s ambitions and committing to new laws to “transform digital markets, free up businesses to innovate with data, and set out our strategy for globally important semiconductors.”

These announcements are a prelude to the 2023 Spring Budget and give strong indications of what we can expect.

The Chancellor said: “I want the world’s tech entrepreneurs, life science innovators and green tech companies to come to the UK because it offers the best possible place to make their visions happen.”

What is the Government currently doing to attract these entrepreneurs and innovators? And what can we expect in the future?

To attract the right talent and investment from abroad, you need the right immigration routes. Without freedom of movement, entrepreneurs are restricted to the Home Office’s various visa options.

The UK has two main options for those looking to start a business in the UK. The ‘start-up’ and ‘innovator’ routes. These two options are open to people with business ideas that are ‘innovative, viable and scalable’ and have endorsement from one of the 50 plus approved bodies.

These routes have typically underperformed since their creation in 2019. Combined there were under a thousand visa grants for the innovator and start-up routes in the year ending September 2022. Given that there were more than 145,000 worker visa grants for the same period, there is room for improvement.

Whilst these figures are concerning, it is generally understood amongst practitioners that businesses will elect to use the other worker routes as an alternative. However, these worker routes are compliance heavy and costly. Not ideal for innovative, new businesses investing in the UK.

For the Chancellor’s vision to become a reality change is required

This poor performance in the start-up and innovator routes and need for change appears to have been anticipated by the Home Office. A tender was launched last year seeking organisations to put the endorsing body scheme onto a “commercial footing allowing the system to be streamlined and scaled to ensure the best candidate business founders are identified”.

That tender concluded in November 2022 with three businesses being awarded the contract. It is understood that a revamped innovator/start-up scheme will be announced in the spring which should coincide with the Chancellor’s spring budget. Such changes will likely accompany other economic incentives that will be detailed in the coming budget.

Will it be enough to deliver a Silicon Valley UK style renaissance? We shall see, but things appear in motion for significant changes to the current visa routes for entrepreneurs looking to start a business in the UK.

Please contact our immigration team if you would like to know more about the visa options discussed in this piece and the details currently available about the future for the start-up and innovator routes.