What is a ‘start-up migrant’?

The 294-page document published by the United Kingdom’s government on March 7th 2019 is not the most exciting thing that you will ever read, for the most part it consists of an endless stream of clarifications, annotations, and updates to already existing definitions in UK immigration processes. However, it does introduce one curious term – the ‘start-up migrant’. The start-up migrant replaces the ‘graduate entrepreneur migrant’, someone who comes to the UK on a Tier 1 visa who has been “officially endorsed as having a genuine and credible business idea” and is from outside of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. This visa costs £363 (3164 DKK), with an additional £363 for every dependent that the visa holder wishes to bring with them. This visa does not allow someone to access public funds, or to settle in the UK. Now that we’ve waded through the appreciably dull definition – why does the ‘start-up migrant’ matter?

In public discourse about immigration we are usually presented with certain stereotypes about what makes an immigrant ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Bad immigrants are typically people who come to a country to ‘steak jobs’ or to ‘live off of welfare’, they are ‘criminals’ and ‘scroungers. By contrast, good immigrants are investors and bring with them wealth and skills. Effectively these descriptions are placeholders for ideas of class and cultural values, by framing the debate like this we typically exclude people who might be from a lower income background and we glorify people who have had the good fortune to be more socioeconomically privileged.

The ‘start-up migrant’ is just another indication of how the British government wishes to differentiate between who is welcome and who is not. The very word ‘start-up’ conjures images of industrious technology companies, it recalls the image of the ideal neo-liberal saviour – a well-dressed and well-educated person with deep pockets who has come to ‘innovate’ and ‘improve’ society. Equally, the obsession with start-ups and worshipping those who are involved in them is just further indicative of an outmoded pattern of thinking about economics which sees perpetual growth, rather than sustainability, as the answer to all problems.

Whenever we move countries we are migrants who are starting up something new, and not all of us are able to leap into founding a new business. Mostly, we work from humble beginnings and just take what work we can. We work in bars, kitchens, or coffee shops. Why is that kind of hard-work not so equally valued? Working in the service industry, or in any line of work which does not involve directing a company, does not make you less valuable as a person. The fact that we see fit to distinguish between ‘start-up migrants’ and other migrant workers speaks volumes about how class prejudice intersects with immigration rights.

By Simon Fern

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