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Entrepreneur Visa UK

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Since the closure of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, there is no longer a single, dedicated entrepreneur visa for the UK. Instead, applicants should take advice on their circumstances to determine which of the current immigration routes are open to you to come to the UK to pursue commercial opportunities.

For example, if you would like to set up or run a UK business, you might be eligible to apply for either a Start up visa or an Innovator visa. As an overseas business owner, you may also be able to deploy representatives to set up a branch in the UK under the UK Expansion Worker visa.

In this guide, we look at each of these different types of entrepreneur visas for the UK, from what they allow and who they are aimed at, to the eligibility requirements that must be met. We also look at how people already in the UK on an existing Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa may be able to extend their stay in the UK.


UK Start up route

The Start up route is specifically aimed at those looking to set up a business in the UK for the first time. The business must be new, where you cannot join a business that is already trading, and you must not have previously established any other business in the UK. You must also meet the other eligibility requirements under this route.

The Start up visa is ideal for first-time business owners looking to establish an innovative business in the UK, and who need to work to support themselves while developing their idea. This is because a Start up visa-holder can work in another job in the UK, at the same time as working for their business, to give them the means to support themselves in the early stages. Establishing a successful business in the UK can also provide new entrepreneurs with the ability to apply for the Innovator visa in due course, which is a route to settlement.

To be eligible for a Start up visa, you must be able to show that your business idea is:


You must have an original business idea, different to anything else on the market, that will meet new or existing market needs and/or create a competitive advantage


The idea must be realistic and achievable given your available resources, and you have or are in the process of developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business


The business has potential for both job creation and growth.


You will need to develop and submit a business plan addressing each of the criteria. To ensure your business proposal is comprehensive, other factors may also need to be addressed. For example, visa holders are not prohibited from undertaking work outside their business venture(s) but you must show you intend to spend the majority of your time under the visa on developing the enterprise.

It is also worth noting that, while the criteria do not include a minimum investment threshold, it is likely that any new enterprise will require some level of capital to deliver against the criteria for scalability and viability.


Start up visa application process

You will first need to be endorsed by an authorised body that is either a business with a track record of supporting UK entrepreneurs or a UK higher education institution.

The guidelines for endorsing bodies allow considerable discretion in how the organisations manage and process applications in practice, which will necessarily lead to variations in documentation, Ts&Cs etc.

One of the critical areas of discretion will be whether the bodies opt to accept start up visa applications only from businesses with whom they are already active or connected with. For example, many universities are limiting applications to recent alumni only.

As such, applicants without prior relationships or involvement with endorsing bodies will need to ascertain which bodies are open to ‘independent’ applications.

The endorsing body will assess your application to ensure that the business idea is innovative, viable and scalable.

The Home Office maintains a list of approved bodies for the start up visa. This includes both business and higher education institutions.

If approved, you will be given an endorsement letter which you must submit with your Start up application to the Home Office within three months.

You must also meet both an English language and financial requirement.

Under the financial requirement, if you are making an application for entry clearance from overseas, or have been in the UK no more than 12 months at the date when you apply, you must have funds of at least £1,270. If you are switching from a different route and have been lawfully living in the UK for 12 months or more, you will meet the financial requirement and do not need to show funds. Where applicable, you must show that you have held the required level of funds for a 28 day period, unless your endorsing body can confirm that you have been awarded funding of at least this amount.

Under the English language requirement, you must show at least level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, unless you are a national of certain English-speaking countries. This level equates to reading, writing, speaking and understanding to level B2 under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale.

This can be done either by:

  • Passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT), or
  • Having a qualification (GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher) gained in English that was started before you were 18 while studying in the UK
  • Having a qualification at degree-level in a course taught in English. If you studied overseas, you will require confirmation through Ecctis that the qualification is at the required level (UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD)

The cost of applying for a Start up visa is £378 from outside the UK, and £508 to switch to this route inside the UK. You will also be required to pay the immigration health surcharge, set at £624 per year of stay, to enable you to access the UK’s National Health Service. If your application is successful, you will be allowed to stay in the UK for 2 years, and although this cannot be extended, you may then be eligible to switch to the Innovator visa.

Start up applications will typically be made from outside the UK. However, in limited circumstances, it will be possible to apply to switch to the new route from within the UK.

You cannot switch to this visa if you are in the UK under any of the following:

  • Visit visa
  • Short-term student visa
  • Parent of a Child Student visa
  • Seasonal worker visa
  • Domestic worker in a private household visa
  • Immigration bail
  • Permission to stay outside the immigration rules, for example on compassionate grounds


UK Innovator route

The Innovator route is for those seeking to establish a business in the UK based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea that they have generated, or to which they have significantly contributed, and who will have a hands-on role in running the business.

As with a Start up visa, you will need endorsement from either a UK higher education provider or a business with a history of supporting UK-based entrepreneurs, and you must meet the financial and English language requirements.

If you are applying for an Innovator visa on the basis of a new idea, you will also be expected to have funds of at least £50,000 to invest, as well as playing a key role in the day-to-day management and development of that business. This is significantly lower than the £200,000 minimum requirement under the previous Entrepreneur visa. The smaller capital requirement was intended to open up the route to a wider pool of candidates and shifts the focus of the application to the merit and potential of the business idea as opposed to focusing on an arbitrary investment level.

The funding requirement is waived for those switching from the Start-up scheme, who have made significant achievements against their business plans.

The Innovator visa application process is in two stages.

The first stage requires applicants to secure endorsement from a relevant endorsing body following an assessment of your business idea against certain criteria. You will be expected to present a comprehensive business plan detailing all aspects of your business idea, including projections for growth, profit, cashflow and job creation, to demonstrate the business meets the endorsement criteria.

There are differences in how endorsing bodies approach their role within the innovator visa application process, largely due to considerable discretion in the Home Office guidelines for endorsing bodies.

This is resulting in variations in application processes, documentation, Ts & Cs etc. One of the critical points of difference is whether bodies are accepting innovator visa applications from independent applicants or whether there must be an existing relationship with the business. Take advice to ensure you have considered all suitable options for endorsing bodies to apply to, based on your circumstances.

The endorsing bodies have been charged with assessing applicants’ business ideas against specific criteria of innovation, viability and scalability. 

Different eligibility criteria apply, depending on whether the business you are relying on for your innovator visa application is classed as a ‘new business’ or a ‘same business’.

Innovator new business requirements

If you are applying to come to the UK for the first time to set up your business, you will be deemed to have a ‘new business’ and will need to meet the specific new business requirements.
As a new business, you will need to produce a business plan that evidences the following criteria are met:


Your business plan should demonstrate the product, service and/or its promotion is genuinely innovative, inventive and original and that it serves new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.

Originality will be the critical factor. The business plan should demonstrate the product, service and/or its promotion is genuinely innovative, inventive and original and that it new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.


You will need to show the business is more than an idea and that it can be made a success. Further, the business itself must be able to show it can maintain cash flow until profitability.

Applicants will also need to show they bring more than a great idea to the table. They must themselves possess and evidence the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.


A key determinant will be potential contribution to the UK economy in the form of job creation and planning for growth into national and international markets.

This is likely to be more challenging for start ups, where projections will need to be relied on.


You will also need to show that you will be fully committed to the business and your time in the UK under the visa will be spent wholly in the developing this specific business venture.

This means the endorsing organisation must be reasonably satisfied that the applicant will spend their entire working time in the UK on developing the business venture and the innovator may not work for another business.


Innovator same business requirements

Innovator visa holders applying to extend their leave by relying on the same business as referred to in their original visa endorsement letter, the ‘same business’ requirements will apply.

You do not need any investment funds if your business is already established and has been endorsed for an earlier visa.

If you are applying to switch from either the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category or Start up route and your application is based on the same business as the previous leave, you will be able to choose to apply under either the new or same business category.

For a ‘same business’, the endorsing body will need to confirm that the applicant has shown significant achievements, judged against the business plan assessed in their previous endorsement; the applicant’s business is registered with Companies House and the applicant is listed as a director or member of that business; the business is active and trading; the business appears to be sustainable for at least the following 12 months, based on its assets and expected income, weighed against its current and planned expenses; and the applicant has demonstrated an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.

It is possible to make a same business application from overseas if the applicant has previously held leave as an innovator or as a start-up migrant.

Visa application 

With endorsement, you can proceed to make your application to the Home Office for the innovator visa. 

Where successful, the body will produce an endorsement letter containing specific information relating to the applicant and their business. The letter is valid for three months. It should be submitted to the Home Office by the applicant within three months of the date of the letter, along with the immigration application.

This will require you to show you:

  • Are endorsed by a ‘trusted’ organisation in the UK.
  • Are in regular contact with the endorsing body, at 6, 12 and 24 month intervals.
  • Satisfy the English Language Requirement, Level B2.

You also have to satisfy the English language requirement to Level B2.

When switching from a Start up visa, proof of investment funds will not be needed, although you must be able to demonstrate that your business is active, trading and sustainable, and that significant progress has been made, based on the original business plan, since its inception.

The cost of applying for an Innovator visa is £1,036 from outside the UK, and £1,292 to switch from another visa inside the UK. You will also have to pay the healthcare surcharge. If your application is successful, an Innovator visa will be granted for 3 years, and can be extended an unlimited number of times. An application for settlement can also be made after 3 years.

ILR from Innovator route?

It may be possible to apply for settlement after three years of continuous residence in the UK if you meet at least two of the following conditions:

  • At least £50,000 has been invested and spent in the business
  • The business has created at least 10 full time jobs for resident workers
  • The business has created the equivalent of at least 5 full time jobs for resident workers paying at least £25,000
  • The business has generated gross revenue of at least £1 million
  • The number of the business’ customers has at least doubled in the 3 years and is higher than the mean number of customers for other UK businesses offering comparable main products or services
  • The business has engaged in significant research and development activity and has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK
  • The business is generating at least £500,000 in revenue with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas


UK Expansion Worker route

The UK Expansion Worker visa is to help owners of an overseas business that has not yet started trading in the UK to set up a UK branch. This will allow you to send either senior or specialist workers to the UK to help you establish a commercial presence. This is one of a number of routes under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella.

Businesses can sponsor up to five people under the Expansion Worker visa, but these must each meet the requirements and be genuinely needed to establish the UK presence.

Expansion worker requirements

To be eligible for a GBM visa under the Expansion Worker route, the applicant must have worked for your overseas business as either a senior manager or specialist employee for at least 12 months.

As a sponsored route, the UK business ‘receiving’ the visa worker must secure a UK Expansion Worker visa sponsor licence from the Home Office. The application must evidence that the entity has an existing presence in the UK, has qualifying links to an overseas business from which it will receive workers and have suitable key personnel to manage the sponsor licence and meet the compliance duties.

With the sponsor licence in place, the sponsor must issue the worker with a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), setting out the minimum skill and salary requirements for their prospective role in the UK. This means that you must have in place a sponsorship licence approved by the UK Home Office to sponsor under this route.

To be eligible to sponsor under the UK Expansion Worker visa, the overseas employer cannot already be trading in the UK, but they have to show they already have a ‘UK footprint’. Evidence of a UK footprint could include evidence of business premises in the UK through a lease or purchase agreement or evidence that the entity has been registered in the UK as either an overseas company branch, or a new company that is a subsidiary of an overseas linked business, through Companies House.

The UK Expansion Worker visa can only be used to move into the UK market by expanding an existing overseas business. It cannot be used to set up a new business venture in a new line of work. The UK based business must be owned in full by the overseas business or at least part of the same legal entity such as a branch.

The Home Office will require sight of the business’ expansion plan as proof that the visa applicant personnel is needed in the UK to implement the expansion plan and that the business is capable of successfully expanding into the UK.

The Home Office will also consider the credibility of the overseas trading business, requiring evidence that it has been trading for the three years previous to the submission of the sponsor licence application through documents such as Corporate business bank statements for the full period of 3 years, audited accounts.

Expansion worker application process

The cost of applying for a UK Expansion Worker visa is £259, from either overseas or within the UK. The visa applicant will also be liable to pay the healthcare surcharge and, where applicable, must have funds of at least £1,270 to show that they can support themselves. As the sponsor of a UK Expansion Worker, you will be required to pay a £21 fee to issue an CoS, while the cost of applying for a Home Office approved sponsorship licence will be £536.

If the application for a UK Expansion Worker visa is successful, your UK representative will be granted a visa for a period of just 12 months, although this can be extended for a further 12 months. However, the maximum permitted length of stay on this visa is 2 years. This GBM route will not provide the visa-holder with a path to settlement in the UK, although they may be eligible to apply for leave to remain under a different immigration route.


Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route extension 

The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa is now closed to new entrants. However, if you have already been granted leave on this route, you can still apply for an extension of stay. You may also be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, providing you with lawful permanent residency.

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrants making an extension application will be subject to a genuine entrepreneur test. This means that the Home Office must be satisfied that you:

  • have established, taken over or been appointed a director of one or more genuine UK businesses, and have genuinely operated that business or businesses
  • have invested at least £200,000 in cash (or £50,000 if points were awarded for £50,000 funding or investment in your last grant of leave) into one or more genuine businesses in the UK, or have been responsible for that investment being made by one or more third parties
  • have registered your business, either with HMRC if self-employed, or with Companies House as a director of a UK company or member of a UK partnership, within 6 months of being granted permission to stay in the UK under this route
  • can evidence that you have been self-employed, working as a director of a business or a member of a partnership 3 months before you apply
  • have created the equivalent of at least two brand new full time jobs for settled workers in a new or existing business or businesses, and these jobs must have existed for at least 12 months during your most recent grant of leave
  • intend to continue operating one or more genuine businesses in the UK, and
  • do not intend to take employment other than working for the UK business or businesses which you have established, taken over or joined.

To be eligible to extend your visa as a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrant, you will therefore need evidence that you have registered your business, invested your funds and created at least two full time jobs for resident workers. You must also be able to show that you can continue to support yourself in the UK. If you are applying from overseas, you must have at least £3,310 of personal savings, lowered to £945 of savings if you are applying from inside the UK. In either case, you must have held the required level of funds for a consecutive 90 day period.

To extend your visa, you must apply prior to expiry of your existing visa. You must also take into account the closing dates for extension or settlement applications under this route, where existing Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrants who have not held leave as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) can apply to extend their stay before 6 April 2023, or to settle before 6 April 2025. Applicants who have previously held leave as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) before switching into Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) can apply to extend their stay before 6 July 2025, and to settle after switching into Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) before 6 July 2027.

The cost of applying for an extension as a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrant is £1,292 if you apply when you are in the UK, and £1,036 if you apply when you are outside the UK. If your application is successful, an extension will normally be granted for 2 years. You can apply to settle in the UK after 5 years on this route. Accelerated settlement is also available within 3 years for the most successful entrepreneurs who create the equivalent of ten or more full-time jobs or a gross income from business activity of at least £5 million.


Need assistance?

As an overseas entrepreneur looking to start a UK business, or an overseas business owner looking to establish a commercial presence in the UK, expert advice from an immigration specialist can help ensure you have explored all options for an entrepreneur visa for the UK to inform your decision on the best available route in your particular circumstances.

DavidsonMorris are UK business immigration specialists. We advise entrepreneurs on visa routes to pursue UK-based business opportunities, providing expert application support and guidance on the complex evidential requirements to maximise your chances of a successful outcome. Contact us for advice.


Entrepreneur visa UK FAQs

What is an Entrepreneur visa in UK?

You can no longer apply for a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, but there are various other visa options to choose from as an entrepreneur, including the Start up visa, the Innovator visa and the UK Expansion Worker visa.

How much money is needed for UK business visa?

The amount of money that you will need for a UK business visa will depend on the category of visa sought, for example, for an Innovator visa, you will need at least £50,000 to invest in a new venture.

How much money do I need to invest to get permanent residency in UK?

To obtain permanent residency in the UK as a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrant, you must have invested either £200,000 or £50,000 cash into one or more UK businesses, depending on the level of funds your initial application was based on.

How do entrepreneurs get visas?

To obtain an Entrepreneur visa UK, you will need to submit an online application, pay the relevant fee and provide evidence that you meet the requirements of the route, eg, the Start Up route or the Innovator route.

Last updated: 9 January 2023

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