Ireland was one of the first in the EU to target migrant entrepreneurs, but the number of applicants is low

New EMN Ireland/ESRI research finds that a scheme designed to attract entrepreneurs to Ireland from outside the EU, was one of the first of its kind established in Member States. However, the number of applications to the Start-up Entrepreneurs Programme (STEP) has been low relative to comparable schemes elsewhere. This research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network, which is funded by the European Commission and the Department of Justice and Equality.

 Launched in 2012, STEP aims to stimulate productive investment in Ireland by attracting ‘High Potential Start-Ups’. Under STEP, start-up founders and their family members may relocate to Ireland for an initial two years, renewable for three- and five-year periods. The scheme targets ventures that are less than six years old and which introduce an innovative product or service to international markets.

 Applicants are required have €50,000 to invest in the business and their business plan should demonstrate capacity to reach €1 million in sales within three to four years. Start-ups must be headquartered, controlled and show potential to create employment, in Ireland.

 In the study period 2014-2018, 435 applications were made to STEP and 129 were accepted. In 2018, 42 applications were received and 18 were approved. Key countries of origin of applicants during the study period included Russia, China, India, Pakistan and USA.

 Both successful applicants and accompanying family members receive a stamp 4 residence permission, which allows holders to work without an employment permit. However, the number of family members accompanying successful STEP applicants is low.

 Ireland’s start-up landscape benefits from well-developed and active incubators and accelerators, which support developing enterprises. However, awareness of STEP among incubators and accelerators in Ireland is low. Ireland does not undertake any dedicated promotion of STEP abroad, other than Enterprise Ireland’s general outreach activities.

 Planned new reforms will require applicants to join a 12-month accelerator programme prior to preparing a STEP application. The Department of Justice and Equality hopes this will grow the number of successful applications and increase awareness of the programme in Ireland. A similar approach is already mandatory in the Netherlands, Portugal and UK and optional in Austria, Estonia, France and Lithuania.

 The EU level synthesis report for this study shows that promoting start-ups and innovative entrepreneurship is a national policy priority in most EU Member States; 13 now have a special scheme in place to facilitate the migration of founders and innovative entrepreneurs from outside the EU.