Action on Visas

Former MP Lembit Öpik reports on the economic statistics, the issues relating to visas and what the Association of Relocation Professionals is doing to turn a potential problem into a plus point for the UK relocation status.

Action on Visas
Think Global People Spring 2022 Issue
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People magazine.
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The ARP seeks your input:
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I was in Frankfurt airport recently. At the border control, the official took an unusually long time to inspect my passport. Then he asked me how many days I’d spent in the European Union during the previous six months. Responding that I had no idea, he gleefully informed me that if I’d spent over 90 days out of the last 180-day period in the EU, I was liable to pay a fine.  I didn’t know that: did you?I left the desk aware that the current visa and travel regulations are a potential barrier to entering the EU from the UK. The same can be said for the UK visa system for those coming here. In both cases, there’s clearly a benefit to resolving matters that could otherwise act as a block to inward investment, for the self-evident reason that in a competitive environment one key consideration about where you put your people is where you can do it most speedily and inexpensively.
One key consideration about where you put your people is where you can do it most speedily and inexpensivelyLembit Opik
A lot has been written about the ‘hostile environment’ some accuse the UK of engendering for migration to Britain. There’s a larger debate to be had on this. All that really concerns professional relocation is that element pertaining to business people coming here for any length of time to work. Thus, this has been an area of focus for the Association of Relocation Professionals (ARP).

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It’s clear a good visa system facilitates entry of employees across a very wide range of skill and qualification levels. We don’t only need captains of industry. Ask anyone in the catering and hospitality sectors and they’ll tell you they primarily need staff where the primary qualities are specific technical knowledge of a particular task or generally good people skills. At present, filling those types of vacancies has turned into something of a nightmare because it’s challenging to get workers into the country, the visa system being an obstacle in that process. For all these reasons, the ARP is seeking to enhance the visa relocation process into an asset, not an albatross.

Simplifying the visa and immigration system will increase the size of the relocation market

It must be said that if you know your way ‘around the system,’ then its complexity might actually be something of an advantage to your relocation business. Since not everyone understands it, this can give you a head start in attracting trade from those in need of professional assistance. However, small and medium sized firms in particular may recoil from the time and cost of attempting to navigate a visa regime which partly responds to how one answers certain questions, rather than merely to the content of those answers. From a strategic point of view, if we get the visa system right as a whole, this will increase the size of the relocation market in a way that assists the sector more than any local advantage gained from the system’s complexity. Simplification will yield a bounty of opportunity for firms with the initiative to capitalise on the increased fluidity a more user-friendly application processes offers.

What's inward investment of the relocation sector to the UK economy? 

What do the economic numbers tell us? ARP figures indicate the total direct value of the inward investment relocation sector to the UK economy is around £7bn per annum. This figure is based on the number of individuals who are relocated into the UK per annum, together with their average salary. When the net value these individuals add to their businesses is factored in, the total added value is in the region of £21bn.London alone benefits from inward relocation to the tune of about £4bn per annum, a net addition of around 0.8% to the £500bn annual GDP of the Capital – meaning that relocation makes a large continuous contribution to turnover in London. This also illustrates how a sensible relocation strategy could also add a substantial boost to the much vaunted ‘levelling up’ policy so often mentioned of Ministers. It goes without saying that the Government’s tax take is pretty considerable from all this – amounting to billions a year. We’re doing research to learn even more about this, but it’s already evident that the financial case for getting this right is compelling.

Partnership between the Home Office and relocation practitioners + ARP Relocation Working Group

So, what’s the plan? It’s simple: to reach out to the Home Office and offer a strategic, expert-based partnership between relocation practitioners and the Ministry to create time-saving improvements to the visa application process and categories – without compromising the integrity of the relocation system in terms of protecting the interests of UK border security. To achieve this, the ARP has set up a relocation working group to identify the issues, explore solutions and converge on next steps. Our touchstone for any improvements is proportionality between rigorous checking in the system balanced against the resistance this creates. The working group is composed of volunteers from various relocation firms that have agreed to supply people to act together in the common interest of creating a more user-friendly visa system. The terms of reference of the group ensure nobody needs to share any commercially sensitive information with competitors. This enables us to benefit from collective wisdom and experience in the group, which drives the project forwards. Everyone can continue to compete in the market without compromise, even as the working group does its job.The timescale for solid results is to get provisional agreement to change in the system this year. By Christmas 2022 we intend to have a route map agreed with Ministers. We seek the smallest changes necessary to get the best improvement in the visa system’s regulatory infrastructure. 

It will be difficult for the UK government to attain their intention to make the UK the go-to destination for inward investment without overcoming visa and immigration obstacles

Is the timetable ambitious? Yes – it’s just as ambitious as the Government’s own stated intention to make the UK the go-to destination for inward investment. Indeed, it’s hard to see how they can achieve their objectives without also dealing with the barriers to entry facing business folk who are needed here in the UK to make the Government’s vision a reality. As an indication of the areas of interest to the working group, these include the burden of evidence required for visa approval, the cost structure, the simplicity of the whole process and that central strategic question of proportionality – making sure the checks don’t outbalance the benefit.

Make it wasy for for international companies to say "yes" to the UK

In my 13 years as an MP I came to realise how easy it is for Government and civil servants to become risk averse to the point of ‘killing the goose that lays the golden egg’ - by suffocating it with bureaucracy. Arguably, that’s where we risk being with the visa system. We’ve just got to make it easy for companies in the EU and the rest of the world to say ‘yes’ to the UK as their destination country.I’m confident we’re going to get a very good outcome in this project. Governments want to do a good job, and it’s our duty to help them do that for relocation. Everybody wins. And who knows what other successes we can achieve after this one. In a world where a lot seems to be going wrong at present, here’s a chance for us all to do something right. That on its own is reason enough for you to get involved.So, the question I put to you is: are you interested in contributing to the working group? What do you feel will making the system work better? Let us know at or call 01379651671 and we’ll be delighted to include your input, and talk directly to hear your opinions. Remember, there’s no need to share anything commercially confidential. We want your wisdom, not your secrets. Here’s your chance to make your views known and build your business in a growing sector. I hope you get in touch as soon as you can.
Lembit Öpik was born in Northern Ireland to Estonian parents. After graduating from Bristol University, he worked in Procter & Gamble in a global HR role. Lembit then served for 13 years as an MP, as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Shadow Energy Minister. Now he’s Strategic Consultant for Political Engagement for the Association of Relocation Professionals.Association of Relocation ProfessionalsThe Association of Relocation Professionals (ARP) has been focussing on a significant chance to improve the UK’s status in the global mobility market. Growth comes with inward investment, and the visa system is a factor in defining Britain’s attractiveness to international employers.  The ARP represents the business relocation sector in the UK, reaching out to politicians and Government in the interests of promoting sensible, economically sustainable policies in the interests of the country. The ARP is eager to welcome all relocation practitioners as members. If you’d like to join, or to know more about ARP’s work, get in touch as or call 01379651671. We’d be delighted to hear from you.
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