The Innovator Founder visa, launched on 13 April 2023, is a new immigration route designed for entrepreneurs wishing to establish a UK business based on an idea they have generated or significantly contributed to. It replaces two visa routes: the innovator visa and the start-up visa. This is now the only visa category available for foreign entrepreneurs intending to set up a UK business.
This new visa has several benefits compared with the two prior routes:
- A main requirement of the prior ‘innovator route’ was for applicants to have access to at least £50,000 in investment for the business. Innovator Founder visa applicants do not have to hold a specific level of investment; rather, they must submit a business plan that explains how the business is self-sustainable regardless of the level of funds required.
- Innovator Founder visa holders are able to undertake additional employment alongside running their business. The additional employment must be in a role requiring a skill level of RQF level 3 (high school) or higher.
- This route provides a quicker path towards UK permanent residence than other immigration routes. Innovator Founder visas are valid for three years. After three years of continuous residence in the UK (rather than five years in other categories), the visa holder is eligible to apply for ‘indefinite leave to remain’, providing they also meet certain eligibility requirements linked to the development and sustainability of their business, and their continued direct involvement in the company.
The application process for the Innovator Founder visa
The application process is split into two stages: the applicant must first secure an endorsement from a Home Office-approved endorsing body, and second submit a visa application to the Home Office.
Stage 1: Endorsement
The three endorsing bodies currently approved by the Home Office are:
The endorsing bodies each have their own eligibility criteria, but all must assess the applicant’s business idea, business skills and potential for success in the UK. Applicants must familiarise themselves with the criteria of each endorsing body to determine the body most appropriate for their endorsement.
In endorsing the business, the body must confirm the applicant as a ‘fit and proper person’ to receive endorsement, including their lack of concern regarding the applicant’s source of funds and that neither the business nor applicant is the beneficiary of illicit or otherwise unsatisfactorily explained wealth.
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Applicants can be a part of a group of entrepreneurs working on the same business idea, but each member must receive a separate endorsement confirming that they meet all requirements in their own right.
Stage 2: Visa application
Following endorsement, the applicant commences the visa application process. The visa application must be submitted within three months of endorsement issuance. The application must include a business plan with financial projections.
Applicants to the Innovator Founder route must be awarded a total of 70 points for meeting certain criteria: business, knowledge of English and financial requirement. Of the 70 points, 50 are awarded for the business plan, either for a new business idea or for an existing business. The endorsing body will determine whether points should be awarded under the ‘new business’ or ‘existing business’ criteria.
New business criteria
Applicants receive 30 points for their business plan by demonstrating the following:
- They have a business plan where they have generated or at least made a significant contribution to the ideas contained within that plan.
- They will have a day-to-day role in carrying out the business plan.
- They will have at least two ‘contact point meetings’ with their endorsing body during their grant of leave (each meeting is a checkpoint assessment between the applicant and body to assess progress against the business plan).
- They are either the sole founder or an instrumental founding team member.
Applicants receive 20 points for having an innovative, viable and scalable business plan by demonstrating the following:
- They have an original and genuine business plan demonstrating how the business will meet market needs and/or create a competitive advantage.
- The plan is realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources.
- The applicant has, or is actively developing, the necessary skill, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
- Evidence of structured planning and potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets.
Existing business criteria
This applies to individuals who have a business that was previously endorsed by the Home Office as a part of a start-up, Tier 1 (graduate entrepreneur), innovator or Innovator Founder visa application. The applicant must hold, at the time of the application, immigration permission under one of these routes.
Previously there were more than three Home Office-approved endorsing bodies. The old endorsing bodies are now known as ‘legacy endorsing bodies’ and they continue to support applicants they endorsed before 13 April 2023. The legacy endorsing bodies cannot issue new endorsements.
Applicants receive points by demonstrating the following:
- The business was previously endorsed by an approved endorsing body.
- The business is active, trading, sustainable and is showing achievement against the goals set out in the initial business plan.
- The applicant has an active day-to-day role in the management and development of the business.
- The business is registered with Companies House and the applicant is listed as a director or member of the business.
- The applicant has participated in at least two contact point meetings with the endorsing body during the period they held the relevant immigration permission.
English language requirement
Visa applicants are required to demonstrate English language ability of at least Level B2 under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages unless an exemption applies (such as to nationals of majority English-speaking countries).
Applicants previously issued a degree-level certificate for a course taught in English can rely on their certificate as evidence of their ability. Alternatively, applicants can undertake a test of their reading, writing, speaking and listening abilities with a Home Office-approved test provider.
Applicants residing in the UK for 12 months or less at the time of application, and those submitting from outside the UK, are required to meet a financial requirement to show evidence of their personal access to a minimum level of funds. The minimum level is currently £1,270 for a single applicant and the amount increases according to the number of immediate family members applying to relocate to the UK with the applicant.
Applicants are required to pay the following fees currently:
- Endorsement fee: £1,000.
- Visa application fee: £1,036.
- Immigration health surcharge: £1,872 (£624 per year).
Following submission, applicants attend an appointment at a visa application centre to have their fingerprints and photograph taken. Application processing times are typically three to eight weeks after the appointment date. It is possible to pay an additional fee for an expedited service in some locations.
Successful applicants are issued a short-term entry clearance visa to travel to the UK and they collect their residence permit after arrival.
The Innovator Founder route presents an interesting proposition to any entrepreneur wishing to establish a UK business. It is a quick route to settlement in the UK and has a degree of flexibility not seen in other visa categories.