The UK is often hailed as a place of opportunity for entrepreneurs and the government is quick to show its support for new business owners as it strives for the ‘brightest and best’ Britain we can possibly have. However, even some of our most recognised names seem to be despairing at the government’s current Brexit course.
Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden is an active voice on Twitter in support of rethinking the referendum and recently Claude Littner of The Apprentice vocalised his criticism of the government’s future immigration policy on an episode of BBC Question Time.
With the current government thinking set dead against any reversal on Brexit, what does a non-EU future look like for budding business owners in the UK?
For any business looking to break into the international market, foreign language skills are a vital resource. As we gear up to leave the single market, however, these skills may soon be in much shorter supply.
Data from job site Adzuna reveals that a knowledge of German could increase a graduate’s average salary to £34,534 and French speakers could benefit from an average of £32,646. Yet UK language graduates are among the lowest employed of any discipline post-graduation. This is assumedly a result of employers more often opting for native speakers whose abilities are much more advanced than those studying languages in the UK.
After Brexit, however, as migration from the EU is dramatically reduced, the employability of UK language graduates could increase as they become a much cheaper alternative to sponsoring foreign workers. This will most likely see language studies rising across further and higher education as people seek to take advantage of the skills gap the breakup with the EU will open.
The downside to this is that, although there should be more Brits willing to study new languages, foreign language teachers could also become scarce, denied entry to the country due to the strict requirements of the Tier 2 Visa application.
Presently, the Tier 2 Visa requires non-EEA workers to have a job offer in place with a minimum salary of at least £30,000 before they are able to enter for work. While this may cover some more experienced teachers, many will not reach this limit and therefore will not qualify.
Europeans already in the UK have been guaranteed the right to stay in the event of either a deal or no deal, so there may be opportunities for these citizens to take roles teaching much-needed language skills. However, many of these will most likely not qualify to formally teach languages and so the necessary skills will still be missing from our labour market.
New, small businesses may struggle to find the necessary candidates who can provide these skills in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. There is the opportunity to apply for a Sponsor Licence, the cost of which is usually £536 for businesses of 50 employees or fewer, but for a business in its early stages, this may not be within budget.
Home secretary Sajid Javid has announced a new route for business hopefuls due to start early next year which could give a great boost to the UK workforce. The ‘Start-up’ Visa is set to replace the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, extending the opportunity to non-graduates with endorsement from a more varied number of official bodies than the current route allows.
The Start-up Visa will most likely involve an investment requirement similar to the current route. This stands at £50,000. Foreign nationals looking to start a company in the UK will have a natural advantage in interacting with overseas clients which could encourage a business culture more focused on the international. British-owned businesses will need to make sure they devote some time to maintaining a welcoming presence to potential overseas clients.
Should the UK’s immigration system hinder workers’ ability to learn languages it could come at the cost of demoralisation of British entrepreneurs. The Confederation of British Industry has described the current immigration system as ‘unworkable’ for European citizens, but the government has insisted that it will not be making any major changes.
The potential skills gaps that could materialise after Brexit might be a huge opportunity for UK graduates and start-up business owners, but the potholes of our immigration system could lead many to stumble before they’re even started.
Damon Culbert is a political writer for the Immigration Advice Service, a leading group of immigration lawyers in the UK.
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