The Start Up visa application process requires applicants to secure endorsement from an approved endorsement body before applying to the Home Office for leave to remain or enter.

Aimed at entrepreneurs looking to set up their first business in the UK and who can demonstrate high potential, the route offers many advantages in terms of being open to a larger pool of applicants. To apply, you will not need to have a degree (unlike its predecessor route, the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa), and there is no requirement to show investment funds as part of your application.

In addition, it is possible to apply as a member of an entrepreneurial team where you are founding the business with friends, business associates etc.

Applying from within or outside the UK?

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. Switching will be open to individuals with valid leave to remain under:

  • Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 2
  • Tier 4 (General) in limited circumstances
  • Visitor visa having undertaking permitted activities as a prospective entrepreneur is allowed to stay in the UK to make their start up visa application

How to make a Start Up Visa Application 

1. Identify the relevant endorsing body

Endorsement has to come from an authorised body. The Home Office maintains a list of approved bodies for the start up visa. This includes both business and higher education institutions.

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.

2. Develop & submit endorsement application

Endorsing bodies are charged with assessing start up visa applications against set criteria. Specifically:

  • Innovation: You have a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.
  • Viability: You have, or are actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
  • Scalability: There is evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national markets.
  • Commitment: The endorsing body must be ‘reasonably satisfied’ you will spend the majority of your working time in the UK on developing your business – although you are permitted under the guidelines to work outside your business.

The criteria of innovation, viability and scalability will not apply if your previous leave was under the Graduate Entrepreneur visa and start up endorsement is from the same endorsing body.

Applications will need to address each of these criteria in line with the relevant body’s application process. This is likely to require development of a business plan, business collateral and presentation to the body.

3. Endorsement decision

If successful in being endorsed, you will be provided a letter of endorsement which you are to to support your Home Office application for the visa. Note that you have only 3 months from the date of the letter in which to make your visa application.

4. Home Office application

In addition to meeting the business requirements, a number of general requirements also apply:

  • Age: You must be at least 18 years old.
  • Language competence: You must have B2 English language ability (approved English language test is required unless the applicant is a national of one of the majority English speaking countries listed in the immigration rules OR has a university degree from the UK or has a foreign university degree that was taught in English and is recognised as equivalent to UK degree by UK NARIC.
  • Maintenance funds: You will have to show you have £945 maintenance funds available to you and under your control for the specified minimum time period, unless the letter from your endorsing body confirms that at least £945 funding has been awarded. Where dependants are applying, you will have to evidence the dependent maintenance requirement is met.
  • No general refusal grounds: You pass the general grounds for approval, and have no criminal record or breaches of UK immigration rules.
  • Credibility: 
    • The applicant genuinely intends to undertake, and is capable of undertaking, any work or business activity in the UK stated in their application.
    • The applicant does not intend to work in the UK in breach of their conditions.
    • Any money which the applicant claims to be available is genuinely available as described, and the applicant intends to use it for the purposes described in the application.
    • The Home Office will take into account any endorsement of the applicant required under the rules, and may also take into account any or all of the following factors:
      • the evidence the applicant has submitted and its credibility
      • the applicant’s previous educational, work and immigration history
      • declarations made to other government departments regarding the applicant’s previous employment and other activity in the UK
      • any other relevant information.
    • The Home Office may request additional information and evidence from the applicant or the applicant’s endorsing body.
    • The Home Office may ask the applicant to attend an interview.

Successful applicants will be granted permission to live in the UK in this category for two years, the maximum period of leave in this category. They will then be expected to move into the Innovator category.

Do you have a question about making a UK Start Up 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 Start-Up route, 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 Start Up visa.