FIGURES from the 2011 census revealed that 27 per cent of London’s population – some 1.9m people – is foreign-born. Hedge funds, banks, professional services firms, so much of London’s economy depends on its ability to attract and retain skilled international talent. Many come from inside the EU. There are now 579,000 Polish-born immigrants in England and Wales. But large numbers of Americans, South Africans and Indians are also arriving.
Small start-ups, as much as the biggest firms, rely on foreign-born talent to plug the gaps left by Britain’s creaking education system. But the rules are set against them. Immigration caps and difficulty getting visas are common causes for complaint, and can easily act as a serious break on effective business development.
But this may be changing and perhaps 2013 will be a better year for businesses looking abroad for expertise. On 13 December, the UK Border Agency announced a number of minor changes to immigration rules that may give a small but welcome boost to employers.
First, from April 2013, all PhD students will be able to stay for a year after their courses have finished – to find work, or to set up as an entrepreneur. The stunning growth of entrepreneurial clusters around universities like Cambridge shows the vibrant link between universities and innovation, so this particular change could open another vital talent pipeline.
Secondly, rules on indefinite leave to remain have been changed. Previously, anyone with this kind of residency could only be absent from the UK for a total of six months (in five years) without drawing suspicion. This was widely recognised as impractical, given the need for many to travel widely in their work.
But unfortunately, the system still doesn't work efficiently enough – and many start-ups will find application processing delays challenging. The best advice is to plan well in advance. Taylor Wessing, the law firm, advises contacting a lawyer at least four months before an existing visa expires.