Boris Johnson is in talks with the Home Office over setting up a “London visa” to attract business talent to the capital reports Pippa Crerar in tonights Evening Standard.
The Mayor’s office has submitted plans to Theresa May’s department for a yearly allocation of 100 “exceptional talent” visas.
The Home Office currently issues 1,000 such visas a year for world-class artists, scientists and performers. But the Mayor wants to help hi-tech start-ups and fashion houses in particular because they often struggle with Britain’s costly and bureaucratic visa system.
He said the plan was about attracting the “best and brightest” talent to the capital.
“It is a clear message to the elite of Silicon Valley or the fashionistas of Beijing that London is the place they should come to develop ideas, build new businesses and be part of an epicentre for global talent,” he told the Financial Times.
His deputy mayor for business Kit Malthouse admitted that 100 visas was a low starting point but suggested that there was room for growth. Mr Malthouse, the new chairman of the promotional body London & Partners, said: “If it goes well, hopefully we might be able to apply to the Government to expand it in future.”
He criticised the UK’s “sclerotic” visa system, which has resulted in Chinese tourists spending eight times more in Paris than London and a “disappointing” drop in the number of foreign further education students.
“Having a system which is difficult, bureaucratic, especially for some of those countries where there’s a growing middle class that wants to travel, it seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face,” he told the Standard.
Mr Johnson first raised the prospect of a London business visa last year but the Home Office poured cold water on the plan, with sources saying that it was “unworkable”. As a result, City Hall aides have been working hard to make sure that Whitehall does not feel the latest bid is a power grab. The Mayor has regularly clashed with No 10 over immigration, arguing that it is crucial to London’s economy to keep the door open to foreign businesses.
Mr Johnson is expected to bring up the issue again on his trip to China next month because investors there have struggled with the bureaucracy of the UK visa system.
It has also had an impact on the number of tourists and students coming to Britain. On a trip to India last year, Mr Johnson attacked the Government’s visa policy, saying that it sent out the “wrong signals” and had damaged London’s reputation for higher education.