November 7, 2016

Italia Startup Visa

Europe
Tested policy
Description of the core change(s) brought by this policy instrument

Introduces a new, simplified path to obtain a self-employment visa, for non-EU entrepreneurs who plan to set up an “innovative startup” entreprise in Italy (as defined by Decree-law n.179/2012, art. 25.2).

 

Please list the implementing agencies

Main responsibility: Italian Ministry of Economic Development, Directorate General for Industrial Policy, Competitiveness and SMEs – Hosts and coordinators of the Italia Startup Visa Committee, composed of six members:  five executives of representative bodies of the Italian startup ecosystem (university incubators, venture capitalist, business angels, science and technology parks, technological transfer centres), and the Director General of DG Industrial Policy as chairman.

Other bodies involved:

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs – through diplomatic representation abroad and the national Visa Centre
  • Ministry of Interior (Home Affairs) – through local Central Police Offices (Questure), Immigration Offices
  • Ministry of Labour and Social Policies
Please name the policy advisor(s) or leader(s) who have been key in introducing and/or designing this policy instrument

In 2014, after vast consultation with the main national business organisations, universities and experts in the field of economics and innovation, the Italian Government launched a comprehensive plan which envisioned new measures aimed to the attraction of foreign investment in the country: Destinazione Italia (document, in English). Measure 44 is titled “Visas as a means of attraction” and reads: “Introduce fast-track procedures to issue visas to certain categories of applicants to avoid the need to create new types of visa and therefore new procedures and legislative provisions that would take years to produce their full effects” (p. 45)
Among those, “startup visas for anyone choosing to set up an innovative business in Italy and able to produce a business plan and show that they have access to the minimum funds required (venture capital, angel investors, investor’s own funds etc.)

Stefano Firpo, who at that time was the Chief of the Minister of Economic Development’s Technical Secretariat, and Mattia Corbetta, member of such office, have been key in designing and subsequently implementing the programme.   
 

Lifecycle of target firms for this policy instrument
Start-up firms
If you marked "start-up" and/or "scale-up" firms, please provide the specific definitions used

As defined by decree-law 179/2012 (the Italian Startup Act), art. 25.2. The requirements to be registered as a startup company are:

be a company with shared capital (i.e. limited companies), including cooperatives, the shares or significant registered capital shares of which are not listed on a regulated market nor on a multilateral negotiation system.
These companies must also meet the following requirements:
- be new or have been operational for less than 5 years;
- have their headquarters in Italy or in another EU country, but with at least a production site branch in Italy;
- have a yearly turnover lower than 5 million Euros;
- do not distribute profits;
- produce, develop and commercialize innovative goods or services of high technological value;
- are not the result of a merger, split-up or selling-off of a company or branch;
- be of innovative character, which can be identified by at least one of the following criteria:
1. at least 15% of the company’s expenses can be attributed to R&D activities;
2. at least 1/3 of the total workforce are PhD students, the holders of a PhD or researchers; alternatively, 2/3 of the total workforce must hold a Master’s degree;
3. the enterprise is the holder, depositary or licensee of a registered patent (industrial property) or the owner of a program for original registered computers.

Support measures apply to newly established companies for the first 5 years of activity, provided that they meet the aforementioned requirements. 

Support offered
Non-financial Support
Level of intervention
Entrepreneur-level
Barrier(s) addressed with this policy tool
Regulatory/policy: startup-tailored measures
Skills & training: access to talent pool
Abstract summary of this Policy resource

The Italia Startup Visa programme allows potential startup entrepreneurs to get the authorisation to collect a self-employment visa – usually a lengthy procedure that must take place in Italy at the Chambers of Commerce, thus requiring at least previous contacts in the country, knowledge of the Italian legal system, and it is subject to regional variation and discretionary evaluation from the Chambers themselves – through an onlinefast-track channel (the applicant gets a final reply in less than 30 days), and with no application costs. The requirements are a business plan proposal that fits the requirements that qualify “innovative startups” according to the Italian law (Italian Startup Act, summed up here: executive summary), and financial resources, which is to be invested in the future innovative startup, amounting to no less than 50,000 euros.

The procedure takes place as follows:

  • The applicant sends his or her application form, passport, demonstration of financial resources and optional additional supporting documentation to the email address italiastartupvisa@mise.gov.it, managed by the DG Industrial Policy of the Ministry of Economic Development;
  • The application is deferred digitally to the Italia Startup Visa Committee (made up of VCs, business angels representatives, and other key players of the Italian startup ecosystem), which, by majority vote, assesses the suitability of the business plan, its consistency with the educational and employment background of the applicant, and the solidity of the financial resources proposed;
  • At the same time, the Ministry contacts the Immigration Office at the Central Police Office of the province (intermediate local authority similar to British counties and French départements) where the applicant intends to settle, for a preliminary security check;
  • When both authorisations are received, the Ministry sends to the applicant a digital copy of a Certificate of No Impediment to the issuance of a 1-year visa for “startup” self-employment. By rule, the procedure never takes more than 30 days, with the possible exception of problematic cases that require multiple rounds of evaluation.
  • With that certificate, the applicant has a 3-months’ time to go to an Italian diplomatic representation abroad in the country of his or her permanent residency and collect the visa. The visa must then be converted to a residence permit no more than 8 days after the visa holder enters Italy.
Policy timeline

The legal basis of this policy lies in a provision included in the decree of the President of the Council of Ministers enacted on 15 November 2013, “Provisional programming of entry-flows of non EU workers to Italian territory for non-seasonal work for 2013” (so-called Flows Decree 2013). The decree, on Article 3, introduces a new category of entry to Italy for self-employment: “foreign citizens [intending] to establish innovative startups in accordance with law 221 of 17 December 2012, who meet the requirements envisaged by that same law and who will be entering into a self-employment relationship with the enterprise concerned”. This provision has been renewed, unchanged, in the corresponding decrees on migration inflows for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The policy factually entered into force in III quarter 2014, after the publication of dedicated guidelines, website and email address.

General regulations on self-employment visas, whose startup visas remain broadly subjected to, are found in Article 26 of the Consolidated Law on Immigration (Legislative Decree 286 of 25 July 1998), Article 39 of Presidential Decree 394/1999 and Inter-ministerial Decree 850/2011.

Stated goal/metrics of the policy instrument

As the programme is highly experimental (nowadays, only 14 countries in the world have enacted comparable policies - source), no explicit quantitative targets were set at time of developing the policy. In principle, the goal is to stimulate the attraction and retention of talent from anywhere in the world, and to favour the contamination of different entrepreneurial cultures, holding the belief that diversity makes the Italian startup ecosystem stronger.

Italia Startup Visa is part of the Italian Startup Act, the comprehensive package of legislation aimed at making the Italian entrepreneurial environment more conducive of innovation and more friendly for young innovative enterprises, regardless their geographical origin.

Evidence of results

132 applications received up to 24 August 2016. 88 were accepted, 33 rejected, 11 are currently pending. Most applications (71) have been received during 2016, showing a clear acceleration of trends, in particular due to increased interest from South and East Asia (China, Pakistan, India). Many applicants come from countries of the former Soviet Bloc, Russia in particular (30); the United States are also well represented (17).

92 applicants are male, 40 female. 56 applicants chose Lombardy as their region of destination (40 were successful) and, in particular, the Milan area (39 applicants, 26 successful). Most of them (72) were already entrepreneurs before applying for an Italian self-employment visa, while 58 were employees. Concerning their educational background, 73 of them hold a Master’s degree or higher – 10 are PhD holders – and, overall, 115 hold some kind of university degree. Their professional and educational experiences are very diverse: a significant number has formal training and professional activities in IT and engineering, while marketing and business administration are also well represented.

Here’s a few examples of startups set up by ISV holders, dealing respectively with fashion, food and tourism:

Challenges, criticisms and lessons

While the issuance process for entry visas has been drastically simplified, regulations on residence permits – outside the domain of competence of our Ministry – have remained unchanged. The latter procedure takes a longer time to be completed: until then all of the formal steps required to incorporate the new business cannot be taken. The applicants have also experienced problems in everyday life activities – e.g. booking an apartment or hiring a car – during this waiting period, and a few ones renounced to start the business and moved elsewhere.

The applicants often choose Italy out of individual initiative and they have little or no previous contacts with the Italian startup ecosystem. We call Italia Startup Visa a “programme”, besides being a “procedure”, because our support initiatives extend beyond the issuance of the visa: we encourage visa holders to see us as a “help desk” and arrange other kinds of information activities, such as a webinar cycle planned for September 2016. More intensive support activities, especially in the event of a further acceleration in application trends, will require more time and personnel resources than those available at the moment. 

Notes and additional context

Introduces a new, simplified path to obtain a self-employment visa, for non-EU entrepreneurs who plan to set up an “innovative startup” entreprise in Italy (as defined by Decree-law n.179/2012, art. 25.2).

The Italia Startup Visa programme allows potential startup entrepreneurs to get the authorisation to collect a self-employment visa – usually a lengthy procedure that must take place in Italy at the Chambers of Commerce, thus requiring at least previous contacts in the country, knowledge of the Italian legal system, and it is subject to regional variation and discretionary evaluation from the Chambers themselves – through an online, fast-track channel (the applicant gets a final reply in less than 30 days), and with no application costs. The requirements are a business plan proposal that fits the requirements that qualify “innovative startups” according to the Italian law (Italian Startup Act, summed up here: executive summary), and financial resources, which is to be invested in the future innovative startup, amounting to no less than 50,000 euros.

The procedure takes place as follows:

  • The applicant sends his or her application form, passport, demonstration of financial resources and optional additional supporting documentation to the email address italiastartupvisa@mise.gov.it, managed by the DG Industrial Policy of the Ministry of Economic Development;
  • The application is deferred digitally to the Italia Startup Visa Committee (made up of VCs, business angels representatives, and other key players of the Italian startup ecosystem), which, by majority vote, assesses the suitability of the business plan, its consistency with the educational and employment background of the applicant, and the solidity of the financial resources proposed;
  • At the same time, the Ministry contacts the Immigration Office at the Central Police Office of the province (intermediate local authority similar to British counties and French départements) where the applicant intends to settle, for a preliminary security check;
  • When both authorisations are received, the Ministry sends to the applicant a digital copy of a Certificate of No Impediment to the issuance of a 1-year visa for “startup” self-employment. By rule, the procedure never takes more than 30 days, with the possible exception of problematic cases that require multiple rounds of evaluation.
  • With that certificate, the applicant has a 3-months’ time to go to an Italian diplomatic representation abroad in the country of his or her permanent residency and collect the visa. The visa must then be converted to a residence permit no more than 8 days after the visa holder enters Italy.

Main responsibility: Italian Ministry of Economic Development, Directorate General for Industrial Policy, Competitiveness and SMEs –
Hosts and coordinators of the Italia Startup Visa Committee, composed of six members:  five executives of representative bodies of the Italian startup ecosystem (university incubators, venture capitalist, business angels, science and technology parks, technological transfer centres), and the Director General of DG Industrial Policy as chairman.

Other bodies involved:

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs – through diplomatic representation abroad and the national Visa Centre
  • Ministry of Interior (Home Affairs) – through local Central Police Offices (Questure), Immigration Offices
  • Ministry of Labour and Social Policies

In 2014, after vast consultation with the main national business organisations, universities and experts in the field of economics and innovation, the Italian Government launched a comprehensive plan which envisioned new measures aimed to the attraction of foreign investment in the country: Destinazione Italia (document, in English). Measure 44 is titled “Visas as a means of attraction” and reads: “Introduce fast-track procedures to issue visas to certain categories of applicants to avoid the need to create new types of visa and therefore new procedures and legislative provisions that would take years to produce their full effects” (p. 45)
Among those, “startup visas for anyone choosing to set up an innovative business in Italy and able to produce a business plan and show that they have access to the minimum funds required (venture capital, angel investors, investor’s own funds etc.)

Stefano Firpo, who at that time was the Chief of the Minister of Economic Development’s Technical Secretariat, and Mattia Corbetta, member of such office, have been key in designing and subsequently implementing the programme.         

The legal basis of this policy lies in a provision included in the decree of the President of the Council of Ministers enacted on 15 November 2013, “Provisional programming of entry-flows of non EU workers to Italian territory for non-seasonal work for 2013” (so-called Flows Decree 2013). The decree, on Article 3, introduces a new category of entry to Italy for self-employment: “foreign citizens [intending] to establish innovative startups in accordance with law 221 of 17 December 2012, who meet the requirements envisaged by that same law and who will be entering into a self-employment relationship with the enterprise concerned”. This provision has been renewed, unchanged, in the corresponding decrees on migration inflows for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The policy factually entered into force in III quarter 2014, after the publication of dedicated guidelines, website and email address.

General regulations on self-employment visas, whose startup visas remain broadly subjected to, are found in Article 26 of the Consolidated Law on Immigration (Legislative Decree 286 of 25 July 1998), Article 39 of Presidential Decree 394/1999 and Inter-ministerial Decree 850/2011.

More information on the Italian Startup Act: http://www.mise.gov.it/images/stories/documenti/Executive_Summary_Italy_Startup_Act_02_05_2016.pdf

Second four-monthly report on the Italia Startup Visa and Italia Startup Hub migrant entrepreneurship programmes – 1st Four-monthly report, 2016 (Updated to 30 April 2016):     http://www.mise.gov.it/images/stories/documenti/Sintesi_dati_Italia_Startup_Visa_e_Hub_30_04_2016.pdf

Geographic scope
National-level