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Start-Up Business Disrupted, How to Apply for Additional Leave Of 12 Months

As the old adage goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Indeed, this is what many migrant workers, investors, and entrepreneurs who came to the UK in early 2020, may now be thinking. Having come to the UK to take up work, start a new venture, or invest funds, COVID-19 stopped many migrants in their tracks. In some cases, those individuals will have been able to travel to the UK but been unable to realise their plans, while others would have been about to make the journey before the pandemic prevented them from travelling. In this article, we will discuss what UK start-up visa holders can do if their business plans have been disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic.

What Can I Do If My Start-Up Visa Plans Were Disrupted By COVID-19?

Thankfully, the UK government has put in place specific provisions for start-up visa holders whose plans have been halted by the pandemic. The latest COVID-19 guidance (as of the time of writing on 22nd February 2021) states, “You can apply for additional leave of 12 months. This will allow your Start-up visa to go beyond the normal maximum 2-year period so you can continue developing your business against your agreed business plan”. This confirms that you will be able to apply for an extension of one year beyond the standard two year start-up visa period.

In order to gain the covid extension for the Start-up visa, you will need to ensure that you still meet the requirements of the visa and still be endorsed by the endorsing body. The eligibility criteria for the start-up visa are as follows:

  • You must be endorsed by an authorised body that is either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs
  • Your business idea must be new, innovative, and viable
  • You must have had at least £1270 in your bank account for 28 consecutive days

Re-Endorsement Of Your Start-Up Business

When applying for an extension, you will need to demonstrate that you are still endorsed. It won’t be sufficient to resupply your initial letter of endorsement; rather, you will need to request and supply a new endorsement letter. The extension guidance advises, “You must meet the requirements of the route as normal, including being endorsed by an endorsing body. Your endorsing body must assess your business and be satisfied that reasonable progress has been made, taking into consideration the impact of coronavirus and that the business remains viable”. The extent to which you have been able to make “reasonable progress” will depend largely on the timing of when you arrived and when the pandemic started to disrupt your plans. Hence, if you arrived in the UK several months before the pandemic hit, it is likely the endorsing body will want to see evidence of tangible progress in that time. Likewise, if you arrived soon before the pandemic took hold, it would not be reasonable for them to expect a great deal of progress.

We recommend keeping in regular contact with your endorsing body so they understand your situation and why the pandemic has adversely affected your business plans. When requesting a new endorsement letter, it must state its purpose (i.e. for an extension), in addition to all of the information normally required as defined by the endorsement letter template used by endorsing bodies. The Home Office advice for Start-up visa holders says, “Your endorsing body must provide you with an endorsement letter. This must state it is an application for a temporary extension by completing the relevant sections and providing the required information, within the endorsement letter”.

The guidance provided by the Home Office for endorsing bodies dealing with letters for covid-related extensions advises, “Where an individual with permission in the Start-up route has been unable to develop their business as planned due to the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID19), provision has been put in place to allow them to exceptionally extend their leave beyond the normal maximum period of 2 years. Applicants will only be able to benefit once from these provisions. Endorsing bodies must be satisfied that individuals have made reasonable progress against their business plans, taking the impact of the pandemic into account. You must consider any applications for endorsement under these provisions in the same manner that you usually consider applications, ensuring that you indicate this as an application for additional leave by providing all relevant information as required in the endorsement letter templates”.

As such, the expectation set by the Home Office is that endorsing bodies need to apply the same criteria as they would for a new application. It also confirms that a start-up visa holder will only be eligible for one extension.

How Can I Apply For An Extension To My Start-Up Visa If My Plans Have Been Affected By The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Before applying for an extension, you will need to ensure that your endorsing body has formally granted your new endorsement letter. The application for an extension to the start-up visa is completed on the Home Office website. When completing the form, you will be advised of any application fee or healthcare immigration surcharge which you will need to pay. You will also be advised if and how you will need to provide your biometrics (fingerprints and facial photograph) for your updated biometric residence permit (BRP).

Wrapping Up

The Coronavirus pandemic had had a wide range of impacts on migrants, including families, workers, business people, and employers. The UK government has offered some concessions allowing extensions of visas where it deems it appropriate to do so. Regardless of your situation, if your start-up plans have been affected by the pandemic, you should be able to take advantage of this concession. It is advisable to apply as soon as possible as it is not clear when it may be withdrawn.

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"Anna Foley was the lawyer helping my partner obtain an EEA EFM visa. She was ou...

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