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New Home Office entrepreneur test cuts visa numbers

Last year saw a fall in the number of entrepreneur visas granted to non-EU nationalities as the Home Office became more aggressive in challenging applications with its Genuine Entrepreneur Test, said employment and immigration law expert Jill Turner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Mar 2015

The number of entrepreneur visas granted to all non-EU nationalities increased almost six-fold from 189 in 2010 to 1,089 in 2014, according to figures obtained by Pinsent Masons. However, in 2013, the overall figure was 1,166.

"The slight decline in the overall number of entrepreneur visas granted suggests that the new test is beginning to have the desired effect," Turner said.

Turner said that the Genuine Entrepreneur Test introduced in January 2013 is strict, and applicants must prove they are genuinely able to start a business in the UK. They may have to present business plans, undergo English language tests, and attend interviews, and an applicant without a previous UK visa will need to prove they have access to at least £200,000 (US$295,000) in investment funds.

"The entrepreneur test is posing problems for those unprepared for the comprehensive approach employed by the Home Office. Many law firms are currently spending considerable amounts of time preparing applicants in advance of these tests," Turner said. Those who do not seek legal advice "often find they are underprepared and see their applications rejected," she said.

There is growth in one area, however: the number of entrepreneur visas granted to Russians grew from just four in 2010 to 58 in 2014.

Russian entrepreneurs are attracted to the UK because of the comparative ease of setting up new businesses, the lack of bureaucracy in running a business, and the predictable legal system, Turner said.

A large community of Russian expatriates in London also provides an attractive support network and further funding for entrepreneurs coming to the UK from Russia, said Turner.

Turner said that the fall in the value of the rouble over the last few years may also have contributed to the growth in applications for the entrepreneur visa, if people's assets are now worth too little to apply for an investor visa.

The investor visa requires a minimum investment of £2 million, where the entrepreneur visa only requires £200,000 in investment funds. 

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