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Highly skilled migration and the promotion of entrepreneurship in the UK

Whilst we are fundamentally an immigration law firm, helping universities and academics is also a key priority. In 2012, we embarked on our first co-funded PhD with Loughborough University to explore the UK’s entrepreneurial landscape. This PhD fused together the themes of economic and political geography to assess how the movement of people for knowledge transfer and trade influences the narrative portrayed in certain right-wing media outlets (at that time). The PhD tackled the notion that migrants come to the UK take jobs and claim benefits to show how in fact, migrants contribute more to the exchequer than being a burden on the state. 

Undoubtedly, George’s selection was influenced by his academic ability and initial application. However, as the application process progressed, his passion for the topic became clear and his values were overwhelming similar to our own which was the tipping point in his success. Although we couldn’t predict which path George would pursue after the PhD, he showed all the promise of being a world-leading researcher, and so, are unsurprised at how his career has developed and flourished. 

George Windsor, Head of Insights at Tech Nation, and former PhD student tells us about his experience working with Paragon Law on his PhD entitled 'Highly skilled migration and the promotion of entrepreneurship in the UK'.

The importance of the research 
The research looked at highly skilled migration and the promotion of entrepreneurship in the UK. To do so, the research evaluated whether the UK’s migration policy was fit for purpose when it came to promoting entrepreneurship and interrogating whether the entrepreneur and graduate entrepreneur visas actually encouraged entrepreneurs and businesses to come to the UK.

Prior to this research, the topic of highly skilled migration and entrepreneurship in the UK context was chronically under-evidenced, and so, this research was a way to provide much needed evidence. This lack of evidence was potentially damaging the UK economy as the policies around entrepreneurship (at the time) were largely acting as an economic barrier as to benefit from the entrepreneur visa, individuals had to prove that they had £200,000 in their bank account. Therefore, at the time of study, the Entrepreneur Visa was discouraging individuals to come to the UK, meaning that the UK missed out on the talent and business ventures in which these individuals could have brought to the UK.

Additionally, this research was important both from a theoretical and policy perspective. From a theoretical perspective, the research assessed whether entrepreneurs were able to engage in agency when it came to negotiating their way around immigration. Whereas, from a policy and practical perspective, this research was needed to ensure that the UK was viewed in the right light globally when it came to entrepreneurship. Not only was the reputational aspect important, but through monitoring public perception and international entrepreneurship, this research would prove valuable to the economy, society and culture.

The impacts of this research
Since this research was published there have been several policy changes in relation to migrant entrepreneurs: the Entrepreneur Visa has been abolished and the Start-Up and Innovator Visas have been introduced. Whilst these changes were not solely caused by this research, as part of a larger body of research, this PhD was able to provide a pool of evidence to help influence these changes. For instance, through my current and previous roles I have been able to work with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as well as the Home Office to help make the visa system more accessible and effective for migrant entrepreneurs and a large part of this revolved around the findings of my research. To this day I continue to work towards migration policy, at Tech Nation we focus largely on the Global Talent Visa and in particular, the technology side of it, to see how tech entrepreneurs and exceptionally talented workers can be encouraged to come to the UK.

Why did you pick this PhD
This PhD in particular appealed to me because it was industry specific and had the ability to make a tangible different to the world and society. I was conscious to not pick a PhD that would only be read by academics because whilst I enjoyed the sense of curiosity within academia, I knew it was not something I wanted to pursue in the long-term. Instead, I wanted to do something that would be read by people within the Government and lead to change because of it.

Aside from the practical motivations of the research, I wanted to pursue this PhD because the topic area was interesting and something which reflected my values and views. This PhD gave me the opportunity to speak to some incredible entrepreneurs from all over the world about the adversities in which they have overcome, and their journey to entrepreneurship in the UK – something of which I would have not had experienced without this!

Whilst I may not be in academia anymore, through pursuing this PhD I have been able to experience many interesting things. For instance, my first job outside of this PhD was for a thinktank called Nesta whereby I headed up the policy research in relation to the creative industries and through that I managed to get a job at my current organisation, Tech Nation. In my current role I head up a team and a department which works with both the public and private sectors to provide research which will help them in some way. In recent years I have worked with governmental departments, the NHS, Barclays, JAL, and BT to name a few. It is this variety of work which attracted me to pursue a career outside of academia. The work of the PhD has helped me significantly in these projects – it taught me the importance of being actively curious and acting on ideas, it taught me how to manage my time (and other people’s), and lastly, it tested my ability to be thrown in the deep end and manage to keep my head afloat.

Lastly, what reflections do you make (if any) when looking back on this PhD?
This PhD was an invaluable experience, it gave me many transferable skills and has ultimately influenced where I am today. Looking back, I wish I appreciated the opportunity a bit more as at the time you can often neglect just how fortunate you are to be pursuing that opportunity and being selected to do so out of 100 applicants. Whilst there were challenges along the way, ultimately it was a great experience.

I would like to express my gratitude to Thal Vasishta of Paragon Law and to Dr. Elizabeth Mavroudi and Dr. Adam Warren for their support throughout the PhD process. My time spent in Nottingham working on this research and with Paragon Law has influenced my decision to buy a house in the region, so I guess that not only has it influenced my career, but it’s influenced my life…it’s been important!


You can find George’s PhD thesis here.
You can connect with George here.

Alternatively, if you want to see our latest PhD opportunity in relation to Refugee Law and Climate Change then head over to this link.