A Detailed Explanation of the New UK Innovator and Start-up Visas

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As of 29th March 2019, the UK Government has discontinued the UK Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa category and replaced it with two new visa categories: the Start-up Visa and the Innovator Visa.

One month on, information in the market regarding the details of these two new programs remains shrouded with uncertainty. 

Astons provide the following detailed explanation of these two new categories as a result of a thorough study of the new regulations, coupled with consultations with expert UK immigration attorneys.

The New Categories: A Brief Overview

The Start-up Visa is valid for 2 years, after which the applicant may qualify for the Innovator Visa which is valid for 3 years. Put concisely, applicants are eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after holding the Innovator Visa for 3 years. For those that may not qualify for the Innovator Visa from the beginning, the Start-up Visa acts as a stepping stone to obtaining the Innovator Visa after a period of 2 years.

The Start-up Visa Detailed

The Start-up Visa category is aimed at new, high potential ambitious entrepreneurs who are starting their first UK business.

Applicants do not require any initial funds to invest in their business and must not have started a business in the UK prior to application. 

Successful applicants for the Start-up Visa are granted leave for 2 years and may also bring their family members with them to the UK (spouses or partners, as well as any children under the age of 18).

During the granted leave period, applicants need to spend the majority of their time focusing on developing their businesses but may also undertake other work outside of their businesses in order to support themselves.

When the 2 years is up, holders of the Start-up Visa are permitted to switch to the Innovator Visa in order to extend their stay and continue to develop their businesses in the UK.

The key requirement for the Start-up Visa is the need to obtain an endorsement letter from an approved endorsing body. The endorsement letter needs to show that all applications for the Start-up Visa have been assessed for innovation, viability and scalability. The applicant needs to have a genuine, original business idea and plan which is in line with new or existing market needs and/or has a competitive edge. 

The Innovator Visa Detailed

The Innovator Visa is aimed at more experienced business people who are looking to establish a business in the UK.

Applicants must have a minimum of £50,000 in funds available for investment in their business.

Successful applicants for the Innovator Visa are granted leave for 3 years at a time and may also bring family members with them to the UK (spouses or partners, as well as any children under the age of 18).

Holders of an Innovator Visa must work entirely on developing their business ventures and are not permitted to take on other employment outside of this. This includes any endeavours that effectively amount to employment, for example using their own business to hire out labour to another employer.

After the 3-year period, holders of an Innovator Visa may apply to extend their stay for another 3 years, or to settle permanently in the UK. Each one of the three stages, which are initial application, extension and settlement, requires an endorsement from an endorsing body.

As the Start-up and Innovator visas are new, a few detailed requirements are still uncertain, however business plans will need the endorsement of the Home Office appointees. The information so far states that Tech Nation, along with 23 other bodies, have been appointed endorsing bodies and will begin their work in that area from September 2019. Strict monthly quotations will be in force on the number of applications, however specific numbers are yet to be announced. 

Start-up and Innovator Visas: Application Steps and Requirements

Step 1 – Endorsement

An interview will not be required at the Embassy or Consulate. That said, the applicant is still required to apply for an endorsement from a registered endorsing body in the UK. Endorsing bodies are specialist business organisations with a track record of assisting UK businesses (for example, accelerators, or business hubs).

The list of approved endorsing bodies is located here.

Each one of the endorsing bodies has a unique set of criteria, many of which require that applicants join their programs before they consider an endorsement. 

The general requirements for gaining an endorsement are that the applicant’s business proposal demonstrates:

Innovation: The applicant must hold an original, genuine business plan that is in line with new or existing market needs and/or has a competitive edge.

Viability: The applicant has the required skills, experience, knowledge and is market savvy such that they may successfully run the business. For Start-up visas, they must be actively developing these skills.

Scalability: There must be evidence of a structured plan and of the potential for job creation and growth into both national and international markets. For the Start-up Visa, only national markets are required.

Further Requirements

Applicants must also demonstrate that they will spend most of the time in the UK working for their Start-up Visa business. However, the applicant may undertake a part-time job to support themselves during this time. The applicant cannot work as a doctor or dentist in training, a professional sportsperson, nor can receive public funds.

If an applicant is applying for the Innovator Visa, they must demonstrate that they will spend all of their working time within the UK, working on their business; additional part-time work is not permitted.

Although the Start-up Visa has no minimum investment amount, applicants switching to the Innovator Visa, or making an initial application for the Innovator Visa, must invest a minimum of £50,000 or more, depending on the business plan requirements. Whilst teams are possible under the visa, each member must have their own £50,000 investment.

When a formal endorsement is received, the applicant will move on to the visa application.

Step 2 – Visa Application

Below are the general documents required for the application:

  • Maintenance - The applicant needs £945 as well as £634 for each dependent which must be held as a minimum balance for 90 days.
  • English Language - The applicant must either hold an English-taught degree recognised by UK NARIC or have passed a Level B2 English language test.
  • Criminal Records Check - This is carried out both for the applicant, and any dependents over the age of 18.
  • TB Certificate – This will be required if the applicant is applying from a TB listed country.

Step 3 – Post Approval and Progress Monitoring 

When the applicant and family relocate to the UK, in the case of the Innovator Visa, the applicant has 6 months to invest and start the business for which they obtained the visa. In the case of the Start-up Visa and the Innovator Visa, the endorsing body will assign the investor a mentor who will communicate with them every 6 months to monitor their progress. The monitoring will continue for 2 years for Start-up visas and 3 for Innovator. The main applicant must remain in the UK for at least 6 months per year.

Step 4 – Indefinite Leave to Remain Approval 

When the applicant moves from the Start-up to the Innovator Visa and/or has directly invested funds as per the terms of the Innovator Visa detailed above, they are required to fulfil any of the two conditions listed below in order to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in 2-3 years:

  • The amount of business and customer portfolios doubled
  • Annual revenue of £1 million reached
  • Minimum investment of £500,000 and £100,000 in exports reached
  • 5 full-time jobs created paying £25,000 per annum
  • 10 full-time minimum wage jobs created for 1 year

Astons is a leading global immigration advisory firm with offices in London, Moscow, Dubai, Cyprus and China and offers residency & citizenship investment solutions in the UK EU & the Caribbean. Astons is a committed and regulated Member of the Investment Migration Council (IMC), for EU & Caribbean investment immigration.  

For further information or to discuss your personal circumstances in a private consultation, please contact Astons at info@astons.com  or call +44 207 292 2977.