Under the rules of the UK’s Innovator Founder visa, applicants must first secure endorsement for their business before they can apply to the Home Office for their visa.
In this innovator founder visa endorsement guide, we look at the requirements you will need to meet to be endorsed for your business idea.
What is the innovator founder visa endorsement requirement?
The innovator founder visa is for those seeking to establish an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK. However, this new visa is aimed at making it easier for overseas entrepreneurs to establish and run an innovative UK business, where various positive changes have been made, including removal of the £50,000 minimum investment requirement and relaxation of the secondary employment rules.
However, as with the former routes which the innovator founder visa replaces, when applying for permission to set up and run an innovative business in the UK, applicants are first required to have their business or business idea endorsed by an approved body, also known as an endorsing body. Even though a visa application must still be made to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) once the venture has been verified as eligible, the endorsement part of the process is based on the principle that it is the endorsing body, rather than UKVI, who are best placed to assess businesses and identify innovative business ideas and talent.
Having received a positive endorsement letter and been subsequently approved for a visa, provided the applicant meets all of the other eligibility requirements, the successful innovator founder will be granted leave for 3 years and can bring their immediate family to the UK. After 3 years, the visa-holder can either apply to extend their stay for another 3 years or to permanently settle in the UK, where each of these 3 stages — the initial application, extension and settlement — will require endorsement from an endorsing body.
How do you get endorsed for an innovator founder visa?
To get endorsed for a new innovator founder visa, the applicant will need to approach one of the endorsing bodies that are approved under this immigration route, providing detailed information as to their business or business idea, including a detailed business plan.
The endorsing body will not be required to make any immigration decision — where the necessary immigration related checks will be conducted by UKVI — but rather their role in endorsing applicants is to assess the applicants’ business or business idea, and its’ viability, as well as to carry out a due diligence assessment. This means that the endorsing body must have before it sufficient information from the prospective applicant to make these decisions.
Who are the innovator founder visa endorsing bodies?
The organisations currently engaged as endorsing bodies are listed online at GOV.UK, where applicants should refer to this list to find out who can endorse their application for an innovator founder visa. Under the section entitled ‘Business Endorsing Bodies’, the following 4 organisations are listed as endorsing bodies for the innovator founder route:
- Envestors Limited
- UK Endorsing Services
- Innovator International
- The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)
Importantly, the ‘Legacy Innovator Endorsing Bodies’ as listed online cannot accept applications for endorsements under the innovator founder route, nor new applications under the former innovator or start-up routes, although they are currently authorised to continue maintaining and monitoring their existing endorsed migrants under these routes. As such, applicants should not approach these organisations unless as an existing endorsee.
Innovator founder visa endorsement criteria
Under the innovator founder route, there are 3 types of endorsement:
- a new business endorsement
- the same business endorsement
- a settlement application endorsement.
New business endorsement
This type of endorsement is for foreign entrepreneurs wishing to apply for a visa for the purpose of setting up a new company in the UK, where the applicant must be able to show that they have a business venture which meets the following 3 requirements:
- Innovation: the applicant has created a genuine, original business plan meeting new or existing market needs and/or creating a competitive advantage
- Viability: the business plan is realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources, where the applicant must have the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and market awareness to be able to successfully run the business in question
- Scalability: there must be clear evidence of structured planning, and of potential for both job creation, as well as growth into national and international markets.
Additionally, the endorsing body must be satisfied that the applicant has generated or made a significant contribution to the ideas contained in the business plan and will have a day-to-day role in carrying out that plan. The applicant must also be either the sole founder or an instrumental founding member, where this route is not designed to facilitate investment in a pre-existing business, but rather to support the applicant’s entrepreneurial journey.
Same business endorsement
This type of endorsement is for entrepreneurs who have already had leave in either the start-up or innovator categories and are continuing as a founder pursuing a previously endorsed business venture. As such, the endorsing body must be satisfied that:
- the applicant’s business is active, trading and sustainable
- the applicant has made significant progress against a previously endorsed business plan
- the business is registered with Companies House and the applicant is listed as either a director or member of that business
- the applicant is involved in the day-to-day development and management of the business, and will continue working on developing their business venture.
There is no limit to how many times an applicant can be endorsed under the same business criteria although, at each stage, the endorsing body will expect to see further progress and achievements from when the previous endorsement was last given.
This type of endorsement is for successful entrepreneurs who have spent at least 3 years on the innovator route, having founded their own business and achieved a level of business success which meets the endorsement criteria for settlement. To be eligible for settlement, in addition to meeting the ‘same business’ criteria above, the endorsing body must be satisfied that the applicant has held leave as an innovator migrant for at least 3 years, although time spent in the start-up category does not count towards this period.
The applicant will also need to meet at least 2 of the following success criteria:
- £50,000 investment in the business: although an applicant cannot rely on the same criterion twice, for example, an applicant who has invested £100,000 (2 x £50,000) in their business venture will be considered to have met just 1 criterion;
- customer base increase: where the business has at least doubled its customer base within the last 3 years and currently has a number of customers higher than the mean for other UK businesses offering comparable main products or services;
- research and development (R&D): where the business has engaged in significant R&D activity and has made an application for intellectual property protection in the UK;
- gross revenue increase: where the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of at least £1 million in the last full year that is covered by its accounts;
- gross revenue with overseas export: where the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of no less than £500,000 in the last full year covered by its accounts, with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas;
- job creation: where the business has created 10 or more full-time jobs for settled workers, or the equivalent thereof, or at least 5 full-time jobs with a mean annual gross salary of at least £25,000, where each job has existed for at least 12 months and meets the relevant legislation relating to minimum wage and maximum working time hours.
Innovator founder due diligence requirement
If an applicant wants to set up a new business, they will need to satisfy the endorsing body that they have enough funding and where this is from, although investment funds are not needed if a business is established and has already been endorsed for an earlier visa.
One of the key changes to the previous innovator route now requires an endorsing body to undertake due diligence checks to ensure that the applicant is a fit and proper person whose source of wealth is legitimate and that any funds associated with the applicant’s endorsed business activities can also be legitimately accounted for.
In particular, the endorsing body must have identified no reason to suspect that the applicant or their endorsed business is the possible beneficiary of illicit or otherwise unsatisfactorily explained wealth ‘and’ has identified no concerns over the legitimacy of either the source(s) or mode(s) of transfer of funds invested into the endorsed business.
In addition to the checks undertaken by the endorsing body, the applicant will also be asked to confirm that they are a fit and proper person before being issued with an endorsement letter. When it comes to being a fit and proper person, activities that would make an applicant unsuitable for endorsement as an innovator founder include, for example, if they have any prior convictions related to tax evasion, corruption or money laundering, or they have been previously struck off as a director in the UK and/or their country of origin.
Innovator founder contact point meetings requirement
As part of being successfully endorsed for an innovator founder visa, the applicant must confirm that they will have two contact point meetings at regular intervals with their endorsing body during their grant of leave. Also known as checkpoint meetings, these will be at 12 months and 24 months to enable the endorsing body to regularly monitor the progress of the business. The endorsing body will not endorse an applicant if it does not think that they will attend, for example, if they are applying for a business for which they have already been endorsed but they failed to turn up to previous contact point meetings.
It is therefore crucial that an innovator founder complies with this requirement, otherwise risk being unable to run their business on a permanent basis. Failing to attend a check-in meeting with the endorsing body may also result in revocation of their visa.
Innovator founder visa endorsement letter
If an application is successful — whether for a new business, the same business or settlement — the applicant will be given an endorsement letter, a template for which can be found in Annex A of the online Home Office guidance. The endorsing body will also make a copy of the letter available via an online portal and notify UKVI of their endorsement decision, enabling UKVI to easily assess whether an applicant is legitimate.
In addition to confirming that the applicant meets the endorsement criteria, the letter will include a secure endorsement reference number, unique to the endorsement of a particular individual. This reference number will remain valid for 3 months after issue, where the individual must use it to make an application for a visa during this time.
Innovator founder team applications
To apply for an innovator founder visa, an applicant does not need to be the sole founder of their business, but may instead be part of an entrepreneurial team. However, the applicant must have a significant role within this team, where each team member will need to receive individual endorsements from an endorsing body. Equally, if other founding team members are also being endorsed under the innovator founder category, this may affect some details of the endorsement criteria when it comes to settlement applications.
When applying for settlement as an innovator founder, but there are other team members who are also applying for, or have been granted, this type of endorsement, they cannot share the same means of meeting these criteria. For example, if two applicants are both relying on the requirement to have created 10 jobs in the UK, then 20 jobs must have been created in total for them both the satisfy the success criteria. Equally, the same intellectual property cannot be relied upon by multiple migrants. Where intellectual property is used in two applications within the same business, each must demonstrate clearly different research and development projects leading to the development of a further product.
DavidsonMorris are recognised leaders in UK business immigration. For specialist advice on the Innovator Founder route endorsement requirements and visa applications, contact us.
Innovator founder visa endorsement FAQs
How do I get an innovator visa endorsement?
To get an innovator visa endorsement, you will need to approach one of the four approved endorsing bodies, where they will provide an endorsement letter if they are satisfied, amongst other things, that the business is innovative, viable and scalable.
What is innovator founder endorsement UK?
When applying for permission to set up and run an innovative business in the UK, applicants are first required to have their business or business idea endorsed by an approved body, also known as an endorsing body.
How do I get an endorsement letter for an innovator visa UK?
An endorsement letter will be issued by an endorsing body if they are satisfied, based on information that you have provided, and their own due diligence checks, that both you and your business idea or business are suitable for endorsement.
How do you become an innovator endorsing body?
Only Home Office authorised organisations can become Innovator Founder endorsing bodies.
Last updated: 24 May 2023