Securing start up visa endorsement is the first step in the visa application process for foreign nationals coming to the UK to set up a business for the first time.
What is endorsement?
Endorsement is a mandatory prerequisite for making an application to the Home Office for leave to enter or remain in the UK under the Start Up scheme.
If successful in securing endorsement, the body will provide an endorsement letter detailing the proposed idea for use in the Home Office application.
Importantly, the applicant must make their Home Office visa application within three months of the date of the letter of endorsement.
Start Up Visa Endorsement Criteria
When determining whether to endorse a start up visa applicant, endorsing bodies are required to evaluate against the assessment criteria as per the Home Office guidance. Accordingly, proposed business ideas should satisfy the following:
The applicant has a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.
The applicant has, or is actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
There is evidence of structured planning and of the potential for job creation and growth into national markets.
Additional criteria apply to the start up route:
First time entrepreneurs
The endorsing body has to confirm that the applicant has not previously established a business in the UK, unless their last grant of leave was under Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur). Individuals who have previously set up a business, they will need to apply under the Innovator route.
Given the significance of this requirement to eligibility, we would expect further clarification and guidance from the Home Office as to what constitutes a ‘business’ for these purposes, to ensure consistency and fairness in decision-making across all bodies.
Interestingly, the guidelines do not specify a requirement or minimum threshold for investment funds into the venture.
In practice, however, we expect some form of investment will need to be shown to evidence the viability and scalability of the enterprise.
Applicants granted this visa must intend to spend the majority of their working time in the UK developing their business venture(s), but will not be restricted from undertaking other work outside of the business.
Group applications are permitted, meaning the applicant does not need to be the sole founder of the proposed business.
Which endorsing body?
The Government has identified a list endorsing bodies authorised to issue start up visa endorsement. This list is likely to evolve as bodies withdraw from and become added to the scheme, as such applicants should ensure they are working to the most up to date list of authorised bodies.
For start up visa endorsement, approved bodies include both higher education institutions (HEIs) and business accelerator groups.
In light of the Home Office guidance for endorsing bodies, we expect considerable variation to emerge as bodies develop and implement their own approach to application processing – from drafting the documentation, terms of engagement, appeals process to setting fees and timescales.
Critically, variation is also emerging in respect of who the bodies will accept endorsement applications from. The guidelines specifically state that bodies may elect to restrict applications to businesses they are working or engaged with through investment-related activity. In doing so, this will preclude ‘open’ applications from ‘independent’ applicants.
As such, a critical factor in securing start up visa endorsement will be selecting the appropriate endorsement body (or bodies) to make the application to.
Home Office criteria
In addition to meeting the start up visa endorsement criteria, applicants will also have to evidence to the Home Office their genuine intention and capability to undertake the proposed business activity. This will take into account information such as the applicant’s education, work history and information held by other government departments such as HMRC.
The applicant will also have to confirm any funds relied on are genuinely available for use as described in the application and that they intend to act within the restrictions of the visa and in line with UK immigration rules
Applicants may also be invited to attend a visa interview, where the caseworker can ask specific questions relating to the application.
Ongoing contact with endorser
In addition to the initial application processing, the Home Office has also charged endorsing bodies with ensuring start up visa holders comply with the conditions of the route for the duration of their period of UK leave.
This requires bodies to maintain contact with those they have endorsed under the scheme and should they identify non-compliance with the visa conditions, take positive steps to notify the Home Office and withdraw their endorsement.
Speak to our specialists for advice on Start Up Visa Endorsement
Before making an application under the start up route take professional legal advice to ensure you have selected the most appropriate immigration option, and for guidance on making a successful application for start up visa endorsement and meeting the Home Office requirements.
Recognised by the Legal 500 UK for our expertise in working with entrepreneurs and investors, DavidsonMorris provides advice from the initial stages of the application process, advising on eligibility and suitability of the relevant route and visa options, through to detailed support with compiling your documentation and guidance on presentations and interviews.
If you have any questions relating to your start up visa application, please contact us.