Innovator Founder visa – Everything you need to know

13 April 2023 | Jonathan Martin

The Start-up visa has been closed to new entrants although if you already have an endorsement letter you can still use this route provided you apply within 3 months of the endorsement letter. The Innovator visa has been replaced by the new Innovator Founder Visa route from the 13th April 2023.

 

The Home Office announced the closure of the Start-up visa route and the replacement of the Innovator visa in their Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC1160). The Start-up and Innovator visa categories allowed overseas nationals to seek entry to the UK for the purpose of establishing an innovative business. They replaced the previous Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa routes in March 2019.

From the 13th April 2023, only those who hold a Start-up endorsement issued before this date will be eligible to use the Start-up visa route. From the 13th July 2023, the Start-up visa route will be closed to all new applications.

The introduction of the new Innovator Founder visa route allows individuals to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 3 years. Previously, Start-up visa holders needed to wait 2 years then switch to the Innovator visa and wait a further 3 years before they could apply for indefinite leave to remain (a total of 5 years).

What is the new Innovator Founder visa route?

The UK Innovator Founder visa route replaces the Innovator visa and, with the closure of the Start-up visa, it is the single visa route for foreign entrepreneurs starting a business in the UK.

To be eligible for this visa, the applicant must be able to demonstrate to an approved endorsing body that their business idea is innovative, viable and scalable.

Who is the Innovator Founder visa for?

The UK Innovator Founder visa route is for overseas start-up entrepreneurs and experienced businesspersons looking to start an innovative business in the UK. The business will be a new business that does not already exist or, where it does, it will not yet be trading. If you are looking to work in the UK for a business that is already trading, the Skilled Worker visa may be more suitable.

Innovator Founder visa holders can work as a sole founder, or as part of a founding team. They must be an instrumental member of the founding team to qualify. If you are a senior manager or specialist employee looking to establish a commercial business presence in the UK for an overseas business, then the UK Expansion Worker visa may be more suitable.

To be eligible for this visa, the applicant must be able to demonstrate to an approved endorsing body that their business idea is innovative, viable and scalable.

How does the Innovator Founder visa differ from the Start-up visa and Innovator visa routes?

Removal of the £50,000 Minimum Investment Requirement

Previously, entrepreneurs and start-up founders who did not meet the minimum investment requirement of £50,000 would need to apply for the Start-up visa instead of the Innovator visa. This minimum investment requirement has now been removed and applicants without access to this level of funding may qualify for the Innovator Founder visa route.

This could allow greater flexibility for applicants, especially those who require little investment to kick-start their innovative business. Individuals will still need to gain an endorsement from an approved endorsing body and they may check that there are sufficient funds for the business idea to be viable and scalable for at least the next 12 months.

Changes to Employment Rules

Previously, individuals with an Innovator visa could only work for the Innovator business in the UK. The Innovator Founder visa allows entrepreneurs to take up secondary employment, as long as the secondary role is at a skill level not less than RQF level 3, which is equivalent to A-levels or high school leavers.

This change will support entrepreneurs to earn and maintain life in the UK whilst they are getting their business off the ground. As with the removal of the Minimum Investment Requirement, this change allows greater flexibility for applicants.

Reduced check-in requirement from endorsing bodies

Previously, Innovator applicants were required to participate in  three checkpoints with their Authorising Body at 6, 12 and 24 months. The new Innovator Founder visa only requires a minimum of two ‘contact point meetings’. The contact point meeting is an opportunity for the endorsing body to review progress on the applicant’s business plan.

Requirements for an Innovator Founder visa

General requirements

You will need to satisfy the following qualification requirements:

  • You are at least 18 years old;
  • You have received an endorsement letter from an approved UK endorsing body;
  • Your endorsement letter is dated no more than three months prior to the date of your Innovator Founder visa application;
  • You are competent to at least CEFT Level B2 in English Language (equivalent to IELTS 5.5 in reading, writing, listening and speaking);
  • You have at least £1,270 to support yourself in the UK, plus an additional £385 for a dependant partner, £315 for a first child and £200 for each additional child;
  • Your application does not meet general grounds for refusal; and
  • You have provided a TB test certificate, if necessary.

In order to ensure that you satisfy all these requirements and to plan your individual application appropriately you should discuss this with an Immigration lawyer for expert advice.

New Business Endorsement Requirements

General Requirements

For you to obtain an endorsement letter from a Home Office approved endorsing body, you will need to demonstrate that you meet the following criteria:

  • You are a fit and proper person under the Innovator Founder route;
  • There are no concerns over the source of funds invested in the business; and
  • The endorsing body is satisfied that you and your business are not the beneficiary of any illicit of unexplained wealth.

Business Plan Requirements

You will need to demonstrate to the endorsing body that your business is innovative, viable and scalable and that you have a robust business plan in place; with ideas you have generated or played a significant role in generating. Your business plan should show that you will either be the sole founder or an instrumental member of the founding team carrying out a day-to-day role in conducting business activities. You should also ensure that you include at least two contact point meetings at regular intervals in your plan during your period of stay.

  • Innovative: A genuine, original business idea that meets new or existing market demands and/or creates a competitive advantage
  • Viable: Realistic and achievable with your resources, experience/knowledge and market awareness. You must demonstrate that you have the necessary skills, or that you are developing them to successfully run your business in the UK
  • Scalable: Structured planning for business growth into national and international markets and potential for job creation

Same Business Endorsement Requirements

If you already have an endorsement under the Start-up visa route, Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur or the Innovator visa route and you are looking to switch to the Innovator Founder route, you can apply for a further endorsement by one of the approved endorsement bodies as an Innovator Founder.

You will need to demonstrate that:

  • The business is registered with Companies House and you are a director or member of the business;
  • The business is actively trading and sustainable;
  • You have made progress on your business plan; and
  • You have played a role in the day-to-day activities involved in carrying out your business plan.

Approved UK Endorsing Bodies for the Innovator Founder Visa

Envestors Limited

UK Endorsement Services

Innovator International

The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)

You may still receive support from Legacy Endorsing Bodies if you were endorsed under the previous Innovator route rules, until you reach Indefinite Leave to Remain.

The costs of an Innovator Founder visa

If you are applying from outside the UK you will need to pay an application fee to the Home Office of £1,036. If you are applying to switch to this visa from within the UK, the application fee is £1,292.

You will need to pay the selected endorsing body an endorsement fee of £1,000 (excluding VAT).

These fees also apply to any dependants applying to join you in the UK. Each applicant will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge of £624 per year of stay. Any applicants under the age of 18 will pay a reduced surcharge of £470.

The length of stay with an Innovator Founder visa

There is no maximum time limit for the Innovator Founder category, however, the visa is valid for 3 years and you will need to extend this for periods of 3 years at a time and be re-endorsed each time.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (Settlement)

Your time spent in the UK with an Innovator Founder visa can be counted towards the indefinite leave to remain residence requirement. You can apply for settlement as an Innovator Founder after spending 3 years in the Innovator Founder visa category.

You will need to satisfy to UK Visas & Immigration (UKV&I) that:

  • You have been endorsed by an approved UK endorsing body as showing significant achievements against your business plan, your business is active and trading and appears sustainable for at least the following 12 months, you are registered with Companies House as a Director or Member of your business and you have played a day-to-day role in the management and development of your business against your business plan;
  • You satisfy at least two of the following:
    • At least £50,000 have been invested into the business and used to further business growth or development;
    • The business has created at least 5 full-time jobs for settled workers (or the part-time equivalent) and the jobs have an average salary of £25,000 a year;
    • The business has created at least 10 full-time jobs for resident workers (or the part-time equivalent);
    • The business has doubled its customers in the last 3 years and is currently higher than the mean number of customers for other UK businesses offering the same or similar products and services;
    • The business has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK and has significantly invested in research and development (R&D);
    • The business has generated at least £1 million in annual gross revenue in the last full year, evidenced by its accounts; or
    • The business has generated at least £500,000 in annual gross revenue in the last full year, evidenced by its accounts, with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas.
  • During the 3 years prior to the date of application you have not spent more than 180 day outside the UK in any rolling 12 month period; and
  • You have sufficient knowledge of English life and Language in the UK.

Get in touch

If you have any queries on how these changes will impact your business, or for support and expert advice on obtaining a UK work visa please get in touch.

Disclaimer

Content is for general information purposes only. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive and it does not constitute or contain legal or other advice. If you require assistance in relation to any issue please seek specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances. In particular, no responsibility shall be accepted by the authors or by Abbiss Cadres LLP for any losses occasioned by reliance on any content appearing on or accessible from this article. For further legal information click here.

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