Home secretary, Theresa May has announced that she plans to will overhaul Britain’s visa system to make the nation more attractive to businesses.

The proposed reforms will reduce the number of visa types available to foreign business travellers and performing artists from 15 to 4 from starting in April. The changes aim to cut red tape for businesses and reduce visa processing times.

Under the reforms, for the first time ever business travellers will be permitted to take a holiday alongside business meetings – under the current system twvisas are required.

The Home Secretary’s announcement is as a result of months of lobbying by business chiefs who have long argued that Britain’s economic recovery is being hampered by the complexities of the visa system.

Mrs May said:

“Fine-tuning the immigration system will help ensure we are demonstrating to the rest of the world that Britain remains open for business and that visitors are always welcome in the UK, whether they come for leisure or work.”

She further stressed the importance of ensuring Britain remains competitive in global marketplace and the need to attract both business and leisure travellers in order to help grow our economy.

The Home Office consulted with over 100 organisations, including business groups and tourism bodies on what changes they believed were required to be made to the current system.

It was not only pressure from business leaders that stimulated the change but also calls from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that has urged the UK government to loosen immigration controls relating to highly skilled workers. The comments formed part of the OECD survey of the UK which is taken every two years. The OECD said that the current regulations are “too restrictive” and are counterproductive boosting the country’s productivity.

The OECD stated that UK quotas for company-sponsored visas, introduced after the financial crisis, are now hampering efforts to expand the economy now that unemployment is falling and the UK has returned to growth.

This message is in line with the opinion of businesses that complain that the UK limit of 20,700 visas per year for non-EU workers in skilled jobs harmed the country’s economic growth.

It is not only the limit itself that acts as a barrier to growth, but also the additional legal and administrative burdens of securing a visa for non-EU workers have made the process incredibly difficult say employers.

It has been a particular problem for small tech companies in London who complain of being unable to secure specialist from the US or Asia that they require for certain projects within the time frame that they require them and also they are not able to pay them enough salary to meet the home office threshold. The OECD said:

“Policies to favour a knowledge-based economy could include encouraging highly qualified immigrants to work and live in the UK, which would help to address skill shortages and to boost labour productivity,”

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