Britain is preparing to launch “the most generous visa system in the world” for company founders and high-skilled workers in an attempt to drive up productivity and economic growth.

Government officials are due to open a “scale-up visa” scheme for applications in the next few months that will allow fast-growing companies to automatically hire overseas workers if they have a headcount of at least ten staff and are growing by 20 per cent a year for three years in terms of revenue or employee numbers.

A “high-potential individual” visa that it is understood will allow graduates from the world’s top 100 universities to be able to get a visa to live in the UK, even if they don’t have a job offer, is also due to be launched in the spring.

A new “innovator” visa is planned this year that will make it easier for entrepreneurs from overseas with venture capital backing to start and operate a business in Britain. Existing requirements, including that an applicant must have at least £50,000 of investment funds and cannot do work outside their primary business, will be dropped.

Rishi Sunak said at the Bayes Business School in London last week that he believed the government had the public’s backing to create one of the world’s most attractive visa regimes for entrepreneurs and highly skilled people. The chancellor said that it would “have a significant impact on our levels of innovation” and pledged to foster a “new culture of enterprise”.

Ian Robinson, an immigration expert at Fragomen, the law firm, said: “I’m not aware of anywhere that would be more generous.”

Brent Hoberman, co-founder of Made.com and lastminute.com, the British unicorns, said: “It will make it much easier for technology companies and fast-growing companies to hire foreign talent from anywhere in the world.” Britain has 115 unicorns, or technology companies valued at more than $1 billion, of which a quarter were created last year, according to the Digital Economy Council. France has 31 unicorns and Germany has 56.

Many fast-growing businesses say that there are not enough skilled workers in Britain to meet their needs, with Brexit and the pandemic exacerbating a talent shortage. A “highly skilled migrants programme” scheme that operated in the early 2000s was scrapped in 2008 amid concerns about net migration.

Dom Hallas, executive director of the Coalition for a Digital Economy, which campaigns for policies to support digital start-ups, said the skills shortage was so great that a more generous visa scheme and policies to train domestic workers were needed. Challenges with the visa system would remain, including Home Office bureaucracy and the average £5,500 cost of applying for a skilled worker visa, he said. However, he expected a “big take-up”.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office confirmed the visa plans.

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Britain launches ‘most generous’ visas to attract talent

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