UK Innovator Founder Visa
Start up your business in the UK with the Innovator Founder visa.
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UK Innovator Founder Visa
If you’re an overseas entrepreneur looking to start a business in the UK, you may need to apply for the new innovator founder route.
What is the UK Innovator Founder Route?
The innovator founder visa opened in April 2023 for non-UK residents to come to the UK to set up a business.
It effectively replaces the Innovator route and Start up visa, and is now the primary visa category for foreign entrepreneurs looking to set up a business in the UK.
The innovator founder visa could be seen as offering the most attractive parts of both of its predecessor routes, including:
- No £50,000 minimum investment requirement
- Reduced ‘check in’ requirement with endorsing body – only two, down from 3 under the start up rules
- Secondary employment permitted in certain conditions
- Path to UK settlement – time spent in the UK under this route can count towards indefinite leave to remain residence requirement
What does the innovator founder visa allow?
The innovator founder route allows successful applicants to come to the UK to put their business plans into practice.
As an innovator founder visa holder, you’ll be permitted to work for the business that you have established, and undertake additional employment, provided that employment is in a role that requires a skill level of not less than RQF Level 3, equivalent to UK A Levels.
You will also be allowed to undertake a course of studies alongside running your business.
Innovator founders are initially granted permission to live and work in the UK for a maximum period of 3 years, at which stage, provided you meet the relevant requirements, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain, otherwise known as settlement.
Your immediate relatives can also accompany you or follow on and join you in the UK under a dependant visa. This includes your partner and any dependent children. As dependants, your family members will be permitted to undertake any type of work during their stay, including self-employment and voluntary work, except as a sportsperson or coach. They can also pursue any studies.
How to apply for the Innovator Founder visa
As with an application for either a start-up or innovator visa, under the new innovator founder route the applicant must have been issued with an endorsement letter by an authorised body no more than 3 months before the date of application. This letter, together with any other documentation, must be submitted in support of an online application.
As such, the application process for the new innovator founder route does not depart too much from the previous start-up and innovator routes, although the endorsement letter must confirm that the applicant’s business idea or business meets the new requirements, including a requirement to state there are no concerns over legitimacy of source of funds.
Innovator Founder endorsement
The first stage of the application process for the innovator founder route is to secure endorsement from an authorised body.
Only organisations authorised by there Home Office can provide the required endorsement. These organisations, as listed on the Home Office website, are:
- Envestors Limited
- UK Endorsing Services
- Innovator International
- The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)
The previous Innovator route endorsing bodies, known as legacy endorsing bodies, can continue to endorse applicants who entered the innovator visa scheme before 13 April 2023. However, they will only endorse applicants for the same business idea used in a previous application.
Innovator Founder visa requirements
To be granted an innovator founder visa, the applicant must be awarded 70 points in total, of which 50 must be under the new or same business criteria, but not both. The remaining 20 points will be awarded for meeting an English language and a financial requirement.
The different criteria are as follows:
New business criteria
- 30 points: awarded for the applicant’s business plan
- 20 points: awarded if the new business venture is innovative, viable and scalable.
In relation to the business plan for innovator founders, the applicant must:
- have a business plan, where they have generated or at least made a significant contribution to the ideas contained within that plan;
- show that they will have a day-to-day role in carrying out the business plan;
- confirm that they will have at least 2 contact point meetings with their endorsing body at regular intervals during their grant of leave (where a contact point meeting is essentially a checkpoint assessment between the applicant and endorsing body to assess progress against the applicant’s business plan), and;
- be either the sole founder or, instead, an instrumental member of the founding team.
In the context of the requirement for the business venture to be innovative, viable and scalable, the applicant must meet all of the following requirements:
- have a genuine and original business plan that meets either new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage in the UK;
- that plan must be both realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s resources;
- the applicant must have, or be in the process of actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run their business, and;
- there must be evidence of structured planning, as well as the potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets.
Same business criteria
- 10 points: awarded for holding previous permission in the innovator founder, innovator, start-up or Tier 1 (graduate entrepreneur) routes and the applicant is pursuing a business assessed by an endorsing body either for the previous endorsement or at a contact point
- 20 points: awarded if the business is active, trading and sustainable, demonstrating significant achievements against the business plan
- 20 points: awarded if the applicant is active in the day-to-day management and in the development of their business.
If the applicant is applying under the same business criteria, to be able to score the necessary points, they must have or have last had permission on one of the relevant routes ‘and’ the letter of endorsement must confirm that they meet the following requirements:
- the applicant’s business must be a business that has previously been assessed by an endorsing body or a ‘legacy endorsing body’ while the applicant had permission under a previous relevant route (where ‘legacy endorsing body’ means an organisation previously approved to endorse an applicant under the innovator or start-up routes but is not permitted to endorse a new individual or business under the innovator founder route);
- if the applicant has or last had permission as an innovator founder, they must demonstrate that they have attended at least 2 contact point meetings with their endorsing body at regular intervals during their grant of leave, or similar regular checkpoint assessments with their legacy endorsing body, and confirm that they will have at least 2 meetings with the endorsing body at regular intervals during any further leave.
When it comes to the business being active, trading and sustainable, the applicant must be able to show that they have made significant progress against their business plan. They must also be able to show that the business is registered with Companies House, where the applicant must be listed as either a director or member of that business.
Finally, in the context of the day-to-day management requirement, the applicant must be involved in the daily management and development of their business.
Mandatory criteria for both new and same businesses
- 10 points: awarded for satisfying the English language requirement, where the applicant must be able to show English language ability in reading, writing, speaking and listening to at least level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages;
- 10 points: awarded for satisfying the financial requirement by showing funds of at least £1,270 for a 28-day period, unless the applicant is applying for permission to stay and has lawfully been in the UK for 12 months at the date of application.
Innovator Founder visa costs
The innovator founder visa application costs depend on where you are applying from.
Main applicants applying from overseas must pay £1,036, or the cost is £1,292 if applying from within the UK to switch or extend status.
Application fee (outside the UK)
Application fee to extend or switch (in the UK)
|Main innovator founder applicant||£1,036||£1,292|
|Dependent partner and children||£1,036 each person||£1,292 each person|
Each applicant will also be liable to pay the immigration health surcharge at a cost of £624 per year of stay. This is to allow applicants to be able to access the UK’s National Health Service. However, for dependent children under 18, the surcharge is reduced to £470.
Can I apply to settle under the Innovator founder route?
Yes, innovator founder visa holders can become eligible to settle in the UK. Time spent in the UK under the Innovator Founder route can be used to count towards the indefinite leave to remain residence requirement.
Can family members join me?
Yes, qualifying partners and dependent children of an innovative founder can join you in the UK as dependant migrants.
What if your Innovator application is refused?
Applications can be refused for many different reasons. It will be important to understand what the grounds are for refusal to determine your next steps. If your application is denied, either at the endorsement or Home Office stage, we can advise on your options.
How does the Innovator Founder differ to the Start-up and Innovator routes?
The start-up route closed to new applications on 13 July 2023. Between 13 April to 13 July 2023, the start up is only be open to applicants who had already secured endorsement.
The Start up was aimed at overseas nationals who wish to establish a business in the UK for the first time. To be eligible for a start-up visa, the applicant’s proposed business must be assessed as innovative, viable and scalable by an endorsing body that is either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation with a history of supporting entrepreneurs. The business idea must be something that is different from anything else on the market in the UK, with the potential for growth. The business must also be a new idea, where the applicant cannot join in a business that is already trading.
Provided the start-up visa applicant is able to obtain an appropriate endorsement from an authorised body, and they meet all of the other requirements, including an English language and financial requirement, they will be granted leave for a period of 2 years.
Once in the UK, the successful visa-holder will be permitted to carry out additional paid work to earn an income to live on while getting their business up and running. However, even if the business is a success, they cannot apply to extend their visa. At this stage, the start-up visa-holder must apply to switch into the innovator route for which they will need to be able to show that the business is active, trading and sustainable. The business must continue to be supported by an endorsing body. The applicant must also be able to show that they have a key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.
Alternatively, an entrepreneur can apply for an innovator visa from the outset, bypassing the start-up route altogether, although they must have at least £50,000 to invest in their business and they will not be permitted to work for any business except their own.
The innovator visa-holder will be granted leave for a maximum period of 3 years. After 3 years, provided they meet the eligibility requirements, the visa-holder can apply to settle in the UK on a permanent basis. However, any time spent in the start-up route will not count towards the 3-year continuous residence requirement for indefinite leave to remain.
By combining the best aspects of the start-up and innovator routes, the new innovator founder route will allow overseas entrepreneurs to establish a new business in the UK without the need to show any initial capital to invest in the business ‘and’ allowing the successful visa-holder to work alongside running their business. The new innovator founder route, unlike the start-up route, also offers a direct path to permanently settle in the UK.
UK Innovator founder visa FAQs
What is the innovator founder route?
The innovator founder route has replaced the innovator and start-up routes for non-UK resident entrepreneurs and business owners to come to the UK to set up and run a UK-based enterprise.
What visa do I need to start a business in the UK?
To start a business in the UK you will usually need to be granted an innovator founder visa. Take profressional advice on your options to ensure you are applting for the most approrpiate route for your circumstances.
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