The Home Secretary, Theresa May announced on 6 November 2013, a new pilot initiative lasting for 12 months to offer dedicated VIP immigration services to “100 Global Business Leaders” by invitation. These business leaders will already have a strong business link to the UK. The “Great Club” as this is called, is part of the on-going initiative to attract further international businesses to the UK.
A preview of this club indicates that it will include a personalised premium fast-track service for its members. Club members will be provided with a dedicated account manager to assist them through the visa and immigration process. These account managers will also tailor visa services in accordance with the individual’s needs at no extra cost during the 12 month pilot.
Apart from the above, not much else has yet been revealed. The Home Office is still to announce the criteria for the selection of these elite “global business leaders”. As expected, invited members will likely be large corporate entities. The list of members is not likely to be revealed as with other pilots that have taken place in the past.
In principle, this club will be perfect for international businesses and their assignees wishing to come to the UK. In particular, many businesses that require urgent assigness for their UK business will no doubt benefit under the initiative. Not least in avoiding the long queues at visa application centres and long waiting times for visas to be processed in some countries.
Playing devil’s advocate, whilst a controlled service with 100 business leaders may work seamlessly, can and will the service standards be maintained if everyone joins the scheme following the 12 month pilot.
Also, this scheme starkly resembles another one of the Home Office’s attempt to entice international businesses. The Premium Sponsor scheme for Tier 2 and Tier 5 also provides UK sponsors with a “fast-track” and “dedicated” service with their assignees immigration process within the UK or outside the UK and to respond to any queries a sponsor may have. A sponsor can join the scheme by paying £8,000 per year for a reduced service or £25,000 per annum for the full range of exciting services.
However, it appears so far that the take up on the Premium Sponsor service is nothing to shout home about. Sponsors failed to see the real value of the service and have commented that the membership price is simply too high to balance against its benefits.
We can only hope that as the Home Secretary has yet to provide full details of the new scheme, she may have learned from past mistakes and this scheme may prove to be a flagship product she can be proud of.
For those that are optimistic about the scheme but have not yet received an invitation from the Home Secretary, there are other alternatives to look at in the meantime. Many UK visa centres around the globe are already offering piecemeal VIP service for a small fee such as in India and China where a mobile-biometric service is already available in some of its key cities and a fast-track processing service is available for certain visa application types.
For now, only time will tell if the “Great Club” lives up to its name or whether it will become another dismal attempt to provide a product for businesses and migrants that in all truth, they should already be receiving.