The Innovator visa application process differs substantially to that of the predecessor route, the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, and applicants will need to familiarise themselves with the new rules and requirements.

The innovator visa is aimed at “experienced” entrepreneurs and business owners. Crucially for applicants, under the new process, assessment of the business idea and applicants’ business credentials and capabilities no longer sits with the Home Office. Instead, it is Government-nominated endorsing bodies who are appointed to evaluate and ‘endorse’ applications. This is a mandatory pre-requisite to applying to the Home Office for the visa.

 

Which endorsing body?

Endorsement has to come from an authorised body. The Home Office maintains a list of approved bodies for the innovator visa, which is subject to change.

Significant differences are emerging in how endorsing bodies are approaching 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.

Endorsement criteria – new business or same business?

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’.

New business criteria
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:

  • Innovation: meeting new or existing market needs and/or creating a competitive advantage.
  • Viability: demonstrate skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
  • Scalability: potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets.

In addition, under the new business criteria, an investment will be required of at least £50,000, unless the endorsing body is providing the investment funds.

The endorsing body’s role is to review the applicant’s business proposal and decide if it meets the criteria for innovation, viability and scalability.

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

Same business criteria
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.

Additional innovator visa criteria

Age
You must be at least 18 years old.

General grounds
All innovator visa applications will be assessed against the general grounds for refusal under the Immigration Rules. Factors such as previous immigration history and criminal records will be assessed.

Maintenance funds
You have had at least £945 in your bank account for 90 consecutive days before you apply. You cannot rely on money from your investment funds or money earned while working in the UK illegally for this requirement.

English language
You either have a UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD taught in English or have passed an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B2 in reading, writing, speaking and listening. This requirement is waived if you have already proved it to be level B2 or above in an earlier successful application or if you are a national of one of a number of exempt nations such as the USA, Canada or Australia.

Credibility
You genuinely intend to undertake, and are capable of undertaking, the work/business activity referred to in their application (the Home Office will consider factors such as their work, education and immigration history and any declarations made to other government departments (for example, HMRC) regarding the applicant’s previous employment and other activity in the UK). You do not intend to work in breach of immigration law (if the application is successful, the applicant will only have permission to work as outlined in their business plan). Any money you claim is available is genuinely available as described and intended to be used for the purposes described in the application.

Other considerations for an innovator visa application

There are a number of other factors to consider when making your innovator visa application.

For example, while team applications are permitted to be made with multiple applicants, the investment funds being relied on to satisfy the visa requirements cannot be shared – each individual must separately meet the £50,000 minimum threshold.

The visa conditions will also restrict you to working solely for your visa business(es) while in the UK.

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.

Applying from within or outside the UK?

It may be possible to apply to switch to the new route from within the UK. Switching will be open to individuals with valid leave to remain under:

You may be able to apply to switch to the innovator category from within the UK if you already have valid leave under:

  • Start-up route
  • Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 2
  • Innovator

Do you have a question about making a UK Innovator Visa application? We can help!

If you are considering your visa options to set up a new business venture in the UK, we can help with all aspects of the innovator visa, including advice on meeting the requirements at the endorsement and visa stages, and developing a comprehensive business plan and supporting documentation.

At DavidsonMorris, we are extremely passionate about the contribution of foreign talent in shaping and growing the UK economy. We work with ambitious and aspiring entrepreneurs every day, providing advice and support throughout the endorsement and visa application process.

Please contact us for guidance on making an application for the Innovator visa.