Following a sudden announcement from the UK's Immigration Minister, the UK Border Agency are to implement a version of the hit BBC programme, Dragon's Den, into the immigration rules.
For those unfamiliar with the programme, budding entrepreneurs get to pitch their business ideas to five highly experienced 'dragons' who then decide whether to invest in the business idea. Some budding entrepreneurs survive the den and go on to become very successful in their field, such as Levi Roots with his tasty Reggae Reggae Sauce (following investment from tycoon Peter Jones). However, others are savaged by the dragons and, as one of the programme's catchphrases says, "leave with nothing".
The popular programme has now caught the imagination of the UK Immigration Minister, Mark Harper. In yet another change to the Immigration Rules, brought into force with practically no consultation or notice, a genuineness test has been introduced to the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category of the immigration rules.
The rules are there to recognise the entrepreneurial spirit which can be seen amongst migrant groups and to encourage investment and growth in the British economy. The rules require that a budding entrepreneur has £200,000 to invest in either an existing UK business or in establishing a new UK business. Other safeguards are built into the rules, including the need for the business to create roles for two full time local staff. This is one of the immigration categories where everyone clearly benefits from the migrant's presence in the UK.
However, the changes have now introduced a "genuineness" test to the rules. This is where a civil servant at the UK Border Agency will now look in more detail at the entrepreneur's ability to actually run a business, in a Duncan Bannatyne or Theo Paphitis style. To do this, they clearly say that they will consider the "viability and credibility" of the business plans as well as the budding entrepreneur's "previous business and educational experience". At the risk of mixing my programmes, I can only imagine the reaction from Sir Alan/Lord Sugar in the Apprentice's dreaded boardroom when someone at UKBA refuses an application because the budding entrepreneur with an innovative and ingenious business idea is refused because of the lack of a MBA degree from Harvard Business School.
How the rules will work in practice is anyone's guess. In the time being, it seems that budding entrepreneurs will continue to find the uncertainty around the ever changing immigration unappealing and will be looking at other jurisdictions, such as Canada, where the importance to the economy of entrepreneurs is well recognised.
Having considered the new rules in detail and having considered the impact of the changes on our fragile economy, I can only tell the Immigration Minister that, as the dragons say, "I'm out".