The Innovator visa category is for more experienced businesspeople seeking to establish a business in the UK. Applicants must demonstrate an ‘innovative’, ‘viable’ and ‘scalable’ business idea that is supported by one of the Home Office approved Endorsing Bodies. With some exceptions, applicants are required to have funding of no less than £50,000 to invest in their business. The funding can come from third parties.
The Innovator visa category is NOT for people who are:
• establishing a business which is not innovative, viable and scalable
• joining an already trading business – the Skilled Worker route may be more appropriate
Please note: Neither Start-up nor Innovator is designed to facilitate investment into a pre-existing business – applicants should be key/founding members of the business. This can include where the business has reached a research and development stage and the applicant is significantly contributing/facilitating the establishment of the business as a commercial enterprise. In scenarios such as this an endorsing body should explain clearly in their endorsing letter how the applicant is fulfilling this role.
Applicants who are already in the UK under certain visa categories can switch to the Innovator visa from inside the UK:
- Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
- Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
- Tier 2
- Skilled Worker
- a visitor who has been undertaking permitted activities as a prospective entrepreneur, as set out in Appendix V
Requirements for Innovator visa
The requirements for the Innovator visa are divided into ‘General’ and ‘Specific’. Both General and Specific requirements must be met for the Innovator visa to be granted. The initial visa is issued for 3 years. To qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)/Settlement the Innovator visa holder needs to have 3 years continuous residence in the UK on the Innovator visa.
To apply for an Innovator visa you need an excellent business idea that has been endorsed by one of the Home Office approved Endorsing bodies. It may be more convenient for a person looking to move to the UK to consider other types of visa, for example a global talent visa. Global talent visa is for exceptionally talented individuals who are either world leaders or emerging world leaders in their field. .
Rodrigo, Co-Founder of a digital technology company.
Kasia expertly guided me through my innovator visa process. She
listened to me and made sure that she understood my business and I felt confident from the start that she was the right person to help me with my visa. All went well with Kasia’s help. Thank you, Kasia.
General requirements for Innovator visa
- The applicant must be at least 18 years old;
- The applicant must provide specified evidence that his English language is at least CEFR Level B2 (approved English language test needs to be taken unless an applicant is from a majority English speaking country listed in the immigration rules OR have a university degree from the UK or a foreign university degree that was taught in English and is recognised as equivalent to UK degree by UK Naric);
- The applicant must pass the credibility assessment*;
- Maintenance funds required for the Main Applicant are £1,270. NOTE: Applicant does not need to provide evidence of maintenance funds if the letter from the endorsing body confirms they have been awarded funding of at least £1,270 in addition to the £50,000 investment funds required.
- There are no general grounds of refusal (e.g. applicant’s criminal record, breach of immigration rules).
*Credibility assessment – guidance for applicants
The Home Office must be satisfied that all of the following requirements are met:
- 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.
Specific requirements for the Innovator visa – guidance for applicants
The Home Office has published a list of approved Endorsing Bodies Only the organisations from this list can issue endorsements for the Innovator visa.
It is vital for applicants to first obtain an endorsement from one of the approved Endorsing Bodies before applying for the visa.
Endorsing bodies responsibilities and their impact on the applicant’s visa
Endorsing bodies have responsibilities to monitor the Innovator’s business activities and keep the Home Office updated. Their responsibilities are as follows:
- To stay in contact with those they have endorsed at 6, 12 and 24 months checkpoints after their application is granted.
- To inform the Home Office if, at these checkpoints, both of the following apply:
- The individual has not made reasonable progress with their original business venture;
- The individual is not pursuing a new business venture that also meets the endorsement criteria.
- To inform the Home Office if an applicant misses any of these checkpoints without the endorsing body’s authorisation.
- To withdraw its endorsement if either bullet point 2 or bullet point 3 immediately above applies, unless it is aware of exceptional and compelling reasons not to withdraw its endorsement, and informs the Home Office of those reasons.
- To inform the Home Office if it has any reason to believe that an individual it has endorsed is working outside of their own business ventures, in breach of their conditions.
- Must not be connected to past or present abuse of the immigration system.
Endorsement criteria – new business
The endorsing body must be ‘reasonably satisfied’ that the applicant will spend their entire working time in the UK on developing business ventures AND the applicant’s business idea meets the criteria of Innovation, Viability and Scalability.
The Home Office defines the Innovation, Viability and Scalability as follows:
Innovation: The applicant has a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.
Viability: Is the applicant’s business plan realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources? Does the applicant have, or is 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 and international markets.
The applicant must have an endorsement letter from an endorsing body which confirms amongst other things that:
(a) the applicant has either generated, or made a significant contribution to, the ideas in their business plan; and
(b) the applicant will have a day-to-day role in carrying out the business plan,
(c) the applicant is either the sole founder or an instrumental member of the founding team.
Endorsement criteria – same business
The applicant must be supported by an endorsing body which confirms that they are endorsing the application on the basis of a business they or another endorsing body have previously assessed while the applicant had permission on the Innovator, Start-up route, or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur).
The endorsing body must confirm that they are satisfied that the applicant meets the new business requirements with the exception that applicants previously endorsed in the Start-up or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) routes do not need to meet the investment funds requirement.
Applicant who already holds an Innovator visa and meets the ‘same business’ requirements may be granted a further leave to remain in the Innovator category for another 3 years. It is useful as not all applicants will be able to meet the requirements for the Indefinite Leave to Remain when their business did not perform well enough to meet at least the 2 criteria.
When applicant is relying on endorsement under the same business criteria, the endorsement letter must confirm all of the following key points:
- 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.
- The applicant has demonstrated an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.
- The endorsing body is reasonably satisfied that the applicant will spend their entire working time in the UK on continuing to develop business ventures.
Endorsement criteria – settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain)
When applicant is making a settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain – ILR) application, the endorsement letter must confirm both of the following:
- The applicant meets all of the same business endorsement criteria set out in paragraphs above;
- The applicant’s business venture meets at least two of the following requirements:
- At least £50,000 has been invested into the business and actively spent furthering the business plan assessed in the applicant’s previous endorsement.
- The number of the business’s customers has at least doubled within the most recent 3 years and is currently higher than the ‘mean number’ of customers for other UK businesses offering comparable main products or services.
- The business has engaged in significant research and development activity and has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK.
- The business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of £1 million in the last full year covered by its accounts.
- The business is generating a minimum annual gross revenue of £500,000 in the last full year covered by its accounts, with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas.
- The business has created the equivalent of at least 10 full-time jobs for resident workers.
- The business has created the equivalent of at least 5 full-time jobs for resident workers, which have an average salary of at least £25,000 a year (gross pay, excluding any expenses).
- When applicant is relying on the criteria for creating jobs:
- The jobs must have existed for at least 12 months and comply with all relevant UK legislation, including (but not limited to) the National Minimum Wage Regulations in effect at the time and the Working Time Regulations 1998.
- Each of the jobs must involve an average of at least 30 hours of paid work per week.
How to get an endorsement for Innovator Visa
Crucial stage of all Innovator Visa applications is finding a suitable endorsing body and obtaining an endorsement. Endorsement is a seal of approval to your business idea that it meets the innovation, viability and scalability requirements. Endorsing body plays important role in the whole process related to the Innovator visa application. Its role involves not only the initial assessment and endorsement but also an ongoing monitoring of the progress of your business plan. Thus the choice should be made after careful considerations and planning.
How to choose the right endorsing body for you
While deciding which endorsing body to select, applicant has to take into account many factors. The business field plays an important part, as many endorsing bodies are specialized and will only consider applicants from a certain field or from certain location. Picking an endorsing body means a long term relationship as the body will make on going assessment of the applicant’s business and its progress in light of the goals set out in the business plan. Without making significant progress against your business plan and reaching the specified goals by you will not be able to obtain ILR. However, you may still qualify for extension of your Innovator visa if your business makes sufficient progress.
There are many endorsing bodies those vary in terms of business types supported, the fees and the way in which they operate. Some of them will want the applicant o be a part of their accelerator program to endorse his business. Others may want a stake in the business. Ohers will simply charge for their services. It is up to the applicant to analyse his needs, his business and to decide which is the best for him.
Which visa category? Start up or Innovator?
There are differences between Start up and Innovator visa. Start up visa does not lead to a settlement in the UK. It is, however, normally easier to obtain Start Up visa if you are a less experienced business person but you have an Innovative, Viable and Scalable business idea. Innovator visa can lead o the UK settlement (ILR) but the requirements are much more strict. Obtaining an Innovator visa is also not an end of the process. There are benchmarks against which innovator visa holder has to test his business. If he fails to meet the required targets he may not be able to get ILR on Innovator route.
Getting ILR on Innovator visa requires constant work, monitoring the progress of the venture and continuous input from an experienced immigration lawyer who makes sure all the required documents and processes are collected in a timely manner. They also have to be done in compliance with the immigration rules.
How long before i get permanent residence (ILR) on Innovator visa?
Provided that the applicant meets all the requirements of his visa, he can apply for permanent residency in the UK after 3 years on the Innovator visa route.
What happens if I don’t qualify for permanent residence?
If the Innovator visa holder does not meet the prescribed criteria for ILR (Permanent residence) he normally can apply to extend the Innovator visa for another three years. However, he has to receive a new endorsement from the same or new endorsing body.