UK Start Up Visa

The UK Start Up visa is closing to new applications in 2023.

We can advise on visa options to start up your business in the UK.

UK Start Up Visa Closing

From 13 April 2023, the Start up route will only be available to those who already hold a valid start-up endorsement. Those with endorsement have until 13 July 2023 to apply for their visa under this route. 

Individuals looking to start a business in the UK should now look at the new Innovator Founder route

Existing Start up visa-holders may be able to switch to the innovator founder route if they qualify.

This guide was written before the Start up route closed. 

UK Start Up Visa

The Start Up visa is aimed at ambitious entrepreneurs looking to set up their first business in the UK.

It is open to both graduates and non-graduates. While no initial funding is needed to be eligible, you will need to secure endorsement for your business idea and then apply to the Home Office for the visa.

DavidsonMorris’ specialist UK business visa experts are on hand to support applicants through the process and ensure the relevant criteria are satisfied at both the endorsement and visa application stages.

What is the UK Start Up Visa? 

The Start Up visa offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to start and pursue a UK venture, either as an individual applicant or as part of a Start Up team.

Aimed at entrepreneurs looking to set up their first business in the UK and who can demonstrate high potential and viable business idea, 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.

The visa is available for a maximum of two years, after which point the visa holder will either have to apply to switch to another visa category, such as the Innovator visa, where they can continue to develop their business. The visa will only be open to those who have secured appropriate endorsement.

Professional guidance is critical to ensure correct interpretation and understanding of the new rules and what these mean in practice for securing endorsement and making a successful visa application.

With so much at stake, it’s important to ensure the Start Up visa is the most suitable route for your needs, and that you follow the application process and submit all required documentation to avoid issues, delays or even refusal of your application.


What is the Start Up visa application process?

The application process is in two stages.

Applicants will first need to secure endorsement from a university or approved business sponsor. This process will require a business plan to be developed, detailing your business idea, strategies and projections.

If approved, you can then make your visa application to the Home Office.

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.

You cannot switch to this visa if you are in the UK under any of the following:

  • Visit visa
  • Short-term student visa
  • Parent of a Child Student visa
  • Seasonal worker visa
  • Domestic worker in a private household visa
  • Immigration bail
  • Permission to stay outside the immigration rules, for example on compassionate grounds


How to apply for the Start Up visa

Identify an 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.


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.

You will need to develop and submit a business plan addressing each of the criteria.
To ensure your business proposal is comprehensive, other factors may also need to be addressed. For example, visa holders are not prohibited from undertaking work outside their business venture(s) but you must show you intend to spend the majority of your time under the visa on developing the enterprise.

It is also worth noting that, while the criteria do not include a minimum investment threshold, it is likely that any new enterprise will require some level of capital to deliver against the criteria for scalability and viability.


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.


Making your Home Office visa application

If you are successful in being endorsed, you have 3 months from the date of endorsement to make the Home Office application for your visa. You cannot proceed with the Home Office visa application unless you have an endorsement letter in support of your application.

Following the rigorous assessment of the endorsement stage, the Home Office stage remains more than a formality. Additional requirements will need to be proven to pass this second stage.

First, you will need to show your genuine intention and capability to carry out the work as stated in your proposal and application. This will mean consideration of your education, qualifications and relevant experience. You will have to confirm that the maintenance funds relied on are genuinely available for use as stated in your application, and you will also be asked to confirm your intention to operate within the visa conditions and your immigration history will be examined.

You may also be asked to attend a visa interview. As this is a new route, it is not yet clear how likely this will be or on what basis the Home Office will select applicants for interview.


Start up visa requirements

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
  • Maintenance funds
  • No general refusal grounds
  • Genuineness


English language

Unless you are a national of certain English-speaking countries, you have to show you meet the English language standard, which equates to reading, writing, speaking and understanding to level B2 under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale.

This can be done either by:

  • Passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT), or
  • Having a qualification (GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher) gained in English that was started before you were 18 while studying in the UK
  • Having a qualification at degree-level in a course taught in English. If you studied overseas, you will require confirmation through Ecctis that the qualification is at the required level (UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD)


Maintenance funds

If you are applying from outside the UK or if you have been in the UK for less than 12 months at the time of making your application, you will have to meet the financial requirement. This means showing you have £1270 as the main applicant, plus an additional £285 for your dependant partner, an additional £315 for a first dependant child and additional £200 for each subsequent dependant child. 

The funds must have been held by your in your bank account for a consecutive 28 days, finishing on the date of the closing balance of the statement, ending no more than 31 days before making your application. Funds can be in either a current or savings account.

Any money which you claim to be available is genuinely available as described, and be intended for the purposes described in the application.

If the relevant maintenance amount is being provided by the endorsing body, this should be stated on the endorsement letter.



Genuiness and credibility

You will be assessed by the Home Office to determine if you are a genuine Start Up visa applicant. If there are concerns about your genuineness, you should expect to be invited to attend an interview with the case workers.

You will need to show any investment funds are genuinely available and intended for use as described in your application.

You must genuinely intend to undertake, and be capable of undertaking, any work or business activity in the UK stated in your application.

You must not intend to work in the UK in breach of your conditions, eg  no employment as a doctor or dentist in training, or as a professional sportsperson.

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.



No general refusal grounds

You pass the general grounds for approval, and have no criminal record or breaches of UK immigration rules.


Start up visa supporting documents

Your Home Office application will require you to compile and submit a number of supporting documents. These include:

  • Endorsement letter from an authorised endorsing body, dated within the past three month
  • Current valid passport or travel identification
  • Recent bank statements proving you have had at least £1270 in your account for 28 consecutive days before you apply
  • Evidence you meet the English language requirement
  • Proof of passing the TB test, if required


Documents that are not originally in English or Welsh must be translated and certified.

Depending on your circumstances, additional documents may also be required. This could include

Taking advice from a legal professional can help ensure you compile a comprehensive submission to avoid delays in processing.


How much investment do you need for the Start Up visa?

At the endorsement stage, endorsing organisations may require a particular amount of funds as a prerequisite for endorsement.

However, applicants for the Start Up visa will not need to have or secure investment funds for their venture. That said, in practice, given the requirements, you may need to invest funds to make the idea viable and scalable.

Should Start Up visa holders move on to apply for the Innovator Visa at the two-year mark, the investment requirement of £50,000 will be waived.


Start Up visa conditions

Beyond the initial endorsement, the rules will require you to maintain regular contact with this organisation, specifically at the 6, 12 and 24 month stage of the visa period to ensure continued compliance with the requirements of the route.

Unlike the Innovator visa, the Start up visa allows you to take on employment wiht organisations other than your start up venture.


Which are the endorsing bodies?

Only bodies authorised by the Home Office can endorse individuals for a Start Up visa.

The Home Office maintains a list of authorised bodies and organisations permitted to endorse Start Up visa applications. These include business and higher education institution endorsers.

Each body operates its own specific requirements and criteria for applications. For example, there may be geographic or sector restrictions, while universities may only accept applications from current or recent students.


If you are granted a Start Up visa

If your application is approved, you will be granted leave for 2 years.

There is no scope to extend the visa or to apply to settle directly from the Start Up visa. To remain in the UK, visa holders will need to explore options to switch to a different visa category, the most obvious being the Innovator route. This will require planning to ensure applications are submitted in good time to allow for application to be processed, to avoid overstaying or having to leave the UK.


Can you apply as a team?

The Start up route allows for applications from teams. Team members can share their business venture plan and idea, but each must secure their own endorsement.


Can you apply as a team?

The Start up route allows for applications from teams. Team members can share their business venture plan and idea, but each must secure their own endorsement.


Can you join an existing business?

As the Start up route is for those establishing new businesses, this would not be the appropriate route to join or be employed an existing UK business.


Can dependants join you?

The Start up visa allows your qualifying dependants to apply to join you.
This includes dependant partners and children under the age of 18, provided they meet eh eligibility requirements and that you meet the relevant maintenance threshold for the number of dependants you have:

  • at least £1270 to support yourself, plus
  • £285 for a dependent partner, plus
  • £315 for a first child plus
  • £200 for each additional child


Can you extend the Start Up visa?

You can only stay in the UK for two years under the Start up visa; extensions are not allowed. To remain in the UK past your visa validity, you will need to apply for permission under a different category. For example, after two years under the Start up visa, you can apply to switch into the Innovator route, which will allow you to further develop your business.

After three years on the Innovator route, you then become eligible for UK Indefinite Leave to Remain.


Does the Start Up visa lead to settlement?

It is only possible to stay in the UK under the Start Up category for a maximum period of 2 years. As such, this category does not lead to settlement.

Depending on the route you take at the end of your Start Up visa, you may become eligible for ILR under your new visa.

For example, should you switch from the Start Up visa to the Innovator route – the Innovator visa does lead to settlement where the individual meets the relevant requirements, including 3 continuous years residence in the UK.


What if my application is refused?

Your options will depend on the circumstances of the refusal. For example, were you refused endorsement on the basis of the business idea, or as a result of failing to meet the general grounds for admission? Take advice as soon as possible to assess your options for next steps.

Where there are concerns about your genuineness as a Start Up visa applicant, the case worker does not have to invite you to interview before refusing your application if either of the following apply:

  • If your application has previously been refused but there has no been change in circumstances or additional information has not been provided.
  • If the Home Office has received a significant number of similar or identical applications, and the case workers has interviewed a sample of these applicants and on this basis is satisfied that this application is not genuine and lacks credibility.


Missing the regular contact requirement

Start up visa holders are required to make contact with their endorsing body at the six-month and 12-month stage. If you fail to do this, your endorsing body is under a duty to notify the Home Office and is expected to withdraw its endorsement, unless there are exceptional circumstances.


Need assistance?

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.

As a team of immigration lawyers and former Home Office employees, we have an established reputation for effective and efficient management and processing of visa applications, and for providing expert visa-related advice.

We are on hand to help you through the endorsement and visa application stages, making the process as smooth as possible.

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


Start Up visa FAQs

How do you get a start-up visa?

To get a UK start up visa, you will need to secure endorsement from an authorised body before making an application to the Home Office for your visa.

Can you start a business on a Tier 2 visa?

Tier 2 or Skilled Worker visa holders must be sponsored by a licensed employer. To set up your own business in the UK, you should look at the start up or innovator visa for business owners.

What is Start-Up Visa UK?

The Start up visa is for non-UK nationals to set up their first business in the UK.

Start Up visa endorsing bodies

The full, up to date lists can be found on .gov website, but as at September 2022 includes the following:

The Bakery
Bethnal Green Ventures
Blue Orchid Enterprise Solutions Ltd
Boardroom Advisors
Capital Enterprise (IDEA London)
Community and Business Partners
Consilium Consulting
Deep Science Ventures
DRS Business Solutions
Edinburgh Innovations
Emerge Education
Emsworth Corporate Planning (ECP)
Entrepreneur First (EF)
Envestors Limited
Fashion Angel
First Corporate Finance
Fortunis Capital Ltd
Founders Factory
The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)
Innovator International
Innovate Britain
International Innovation Hub Ltd
Invest Northern Ireland
Level 39
North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC)
Pall Mall Investments International
Primus Capital
Queensbury Consulting
The Royal Society of Edinburgh
Sapphire Capital Partners LLP
Schoolgate Accounting Services
Scottish EDGE
SETsquared Bristol
Severn Seed Finance (SSF)
SFC Capital
Startup Giants plc
The Start-up Race
Techstars London
Tech X
The Shropshire Incubator (Operated by European Innovation Ltd)

Higher education endorsing bodies:

Anglia Ruskin University
Arts University Bournemouth
Aston University
Bangor University
Bath Spa University
Birmingham City University
Bournemouth University
BPP University Limited
Brunel University London
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Cardiff University
City, University of London
Coventry University
Cranfield University
De Montfort University
Derby University
Durham University
Edinburgh Napier University
Falmouth University School of Entrepreneurship
Girne American University Canterbury
Glasgow Caledonian University
Goldsmiths University of London
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Heriot-Watt University
Hult International Business School
Imperial College London
Keele University
King’s College London
Kingston University
Lancaster University
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Beckett University
Liverpool John Moores University
London Business School
London Metropolitan University
London School of Economics and Political Sciences
London South Bank University
Loughborough University
Manchester Metropolitan University
Middlesex University
Newcastle University
Norwich University of the Arts
Nottingham Trent University
Oxford Brookes University
Queen Mary University of London
Queen’s University Belfast
Ravensbourne University London
Regent’s University London
The Robert Gordon University
Royal Academy of Music
Royal Agricultural University
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Royal College of Art
Royal Holloway and Bedford New College
Sheffield Hallam University
SOAS, University of London
Solent University
Swansea University
University College London
University of Aberdeen
University of Bath
University of Birmingham
University of Bradford
University of Brighton
The University of Buckingham
University of Cambridge
University of Central Lancashire
University of Dundee
University of East Anglia
University of East London
The University of Edinburgh
University of Essex
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
University of Greenwich
University of Hertfordshire Higher Education Corporation
University of Huddersfield
University of Hull
University of Kent
University of Leeds
University of Leicester
University of Liverpool
University of Manchester
The University of Northampton
University of Northumbria at Newcastle
University of Nottingham
University of Oxford
University of Portsmouth
University of Reading
University of Roehampton
The University of Salford
University of Sheffield
University of South Wales
University of Southampton
University of St Andrews
University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
University of Sunderland
University of Surrey
University of the Arts London
University of the West of England
University of the West of Scotland
The University of West London
University of Warwick
University of Westminster
University of Wolverhampton
University of York
York St John University

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