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UK Start-up Visa

The UK Start-up visa enables entry-level overseas entrepreneurs to come to the UK to establish an innovative start-up business without the need for investment funds. Contact our immigration lawyers for a free telephone consultation on 020 3744 2797 or complete our enquiry form to discuss your start-up visa.

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What is the Start-up visa and who is it for?

The Start-up visa enables overseas entrepreneurs with entry-level business experience to come to the UK to establish an innovative business. Because this is aimed at those who are developing their business experience, including recent graduates, there is no requirement to have investment funds to secure a Start-up visa. Applicants must prepare a detailed business plan to show their innovative business idea and have this endorsed by an approved endorsing body in the UK.

This scheme was introduced in anticipation of Brexit (the UK left the EU at the end of 2020) as a means of encouraging new entrepreneurial ideas and businesses to keep the UK at the forefront of innovation and re-establish the country as a global powerhouse.

It is important to note that the Start-up visa does not provide a direct route to permanent settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain - ILR) in the UK, but it is possible to switch to another visa type while here, which will allow you to gain ILR.

Entrepreneurs with investment funds of at least £50,000 and robust business experience should consider the Innovator visa (this route also provides a direct route to permanent settlement).

Holders of a Start-up visa can remain for up to 2 years, at which point they can apply to switch to a different visa type (such as the Innovator visa) while still in the UK.

Launched in March 2019, the Start-up visa replaced the old Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa.

Start-up visa requirements

In order to make a successful application for a UK Start-up visa, applicants need to show they (these are explained in more depth below):

  • are over 18 years old
  • have a business plan for a new start-up business that is innovative, viable and scalable
  • have the (or be developing) the business skills necessary to establish a successful Start-up business in the UK
  • have an endorsement for their business or business idea
  • meet the English language proficiency requirements
  • have enough funds to support yourself in the UK

Business plan

To gain endorsement (as explained below) for a Start-up visa, you will need to carefully prepare a comprehensive business plan for your new Start-up business idea.

The business plan will need to show that your idea is innovative, viable and scalable. The Home Office rules for this visa state that a business plan will meet these three requirements if it:

  • is genuine and original
  • is for a genuine Start-up business
  • meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage
  • is realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources
  • shows the prospective visa applicant has or is actively developing the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business; and
  • shows evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national markets.

Applicants for a Start-up visa must not have established any business in the UK in the past. The only exception to this rule is where this commenced trading during the applicant’s last period of permission for a Start-up visa, Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) or as a student on the doctorate extension scheme.

English language requirements

To make a successful Start-up visa application, you will need to show you meet the English Language requirements. This means you:

  • can read, write, speak and understand English to level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale and have evidence of an English language test to prove this, or;
  • you have a degree which was taught in English, or;
  • you are from an exempt country – these include: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Malta,

New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA.

Sufficient support funds for a Start-up

You will also need to show that you have enough money to support yourself in the UK (you will need to show you have £1,270 in your bank account 28 days before applying to satisfy this requirement). You will also need to show evidence of an additional £285 for a dependent partner, £315 for your first child, and £200 for each additional child.

Business endorsement for Start-up visa

Selecting an endorsing body

Crucial to making a successful application for a Start-up visa is that you must gain endorsement of your idea for a new innovative business in the UK from an approved endorsing body (we have published a full list of the approved endorsing bodies). The endorsing body you need to approach for endorsement will depend on the type of business you intend to establish in the UK.

For example, Britbots looks at applications in the field of automation, robotics and related artificial intelligence, and Fashion Angel endorses businesses in the field of fashion and textiles.

Factors the endorsing body will take into consideration

When deciding whether to grant endorsement, the endorsing body will consider:

  • is there a need for the business in the UK?
  • does the applicant have, or are they developing the skills necessary to make the proposed innovative business a success?
  • does the business bring anything new to pre-existing markets?
  • has the applicant done enough market research?
  • are there realistic, sustainable product goals in place?
  • is there a long-term plan for the venture?
  • will the business gain sufficient “traction” in the market?
  • is there potential for growth in the UK?

Endorsement is required before you can apply and ensures that only businesses that are likely to be successful are allowed to progress onto the next phase - the application.

When you speak to your endorsing body, they will explain their endorsement process to you and provide the necessary resources to allow you to apply.

If your application for endorsement is successful, you will receive a “Letter of Endorsement”, which you can then use to process your Start-up visa application.

Staying in contact with the endorsing body and contact points

It is important to note that you will not only make contact with your endorsing body before applying for a visa, this process will be continuous while you hold a Start-up visa. Endorsing bodies are required to maintain regular ‘check-points’ with those who have been endorsed; these may be meetings that are held face to face, by phone, or video calls.

As the guidance tells endorsing bodies, “It is important for applicants to know that they continue to have the support of their endorsing bodies. You can make allowances for the current situation when considering their progress against their business plans, and, where possible, discuss future contingencies” 1.

How to apply for a Start-up visa

The application stages for a Start-up visa are as follows:

  1. Prepare your Start-up business plan
  2. Apply for Start-up endorsement from an appropriate approved endorsing body 2 in the UK
  3. Once endorsed, you will need to complete the online application form on the Home Office website; the form you need to complete depends on whether you are switching from a different visa while in the UK or you are outside.
  4. Once your application form has been submitted, you will need to prove your identity. This can be done by either (you will be advised which identity method to use when you apply):
    1. having your fingerprints and photograph taken at a visa application centre - this is to get a biometric residence permit. There is a small fee of £19.20 to cover the costs of having your biometric information scanned and processed. Your biometric residence permit provides proof of residency in the UK.
    2. using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan your identity document.
  5. Pay the application fee of £363 (if outside the UK) or £493 (if inside the UK) – these fees are the same for your dependant family members. If you are from an EU country, your application fee may be reduced by £55.
  6. Pay for the immigration healthcare surcharge for the duration of your visa (this is currently £624 per person per year).

Applications are typically processed within 3 weeks if submitted outside the UK or 8 weeks if switching to this visa in the UK. This may take longer if more evidence is needed or you are asked to attend an interview.

Start-up visa to indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

The Start-up visa does not provide a direct pathway to permanent settlement (also referred to as Indefinite Leave to Remain or ILR). As explained above, in relation to extending the visa, there are options available that will allow you to gain ILR at a later stage. Most Start-up visa holders will use this route as a ‘spring-board’ to then apply for another visa which will give them a direct route to ILR. There are a range of options available which will allow you to do this, including the following:

  • Innovator visa: this is a natural progression for Start-up visa holders who have £50,000 in investment funds available and allows ILR to be gained after just three years.
  • Skilled Worker visa: this option is available to those who have gained employment for another company (the employer must be a sponsor licence holder) and meet the minimum salary requirements. ILR can be gained after 5 years.
  • Spouse visa: If you are living with a partner or spouse who is British or has gained permanent residency in the UK, you can apply for a spouse visa under the family visa route. ILR can be gained after 5 years.

To discuss your options regarding gaining ILR as quickly as possible in the UK and then citizenship after a further year, speak to the team at Reiss Edwards, who will be able to explain all of your options and recommend the best pathway given your circumstances and plans.

1 GOV.UK: Start-up and innovator visas: guidance for endorsing bodies

2 GOV.UK: Endorsing bodies: start-up visa

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Unfortunately, it is not possible to renew or extend a Start-up visa beyond the initial 2-year duration. There are plenty of options available, however, including applying for an Innovator visa. This is a logical progression for Start-up visa holders coming to the end of their 2 years given the experience they will have gained in that period, however, they will need to show investment funds of at least £50,000. Alternatively, you may consider applying for a completely different type of visa such as a Skilled Worker or Family (e.g. spouse) visa which will allow you to stay in the UK.
  • The application fee is £493 if you apply inside the UK, £363 if you apply outside the UK. Other costs include: biometric fee £19.20, healthcare surcharge: £624 for each year
  • You can switch from a student visa to a Start-up visa while you are in the UK as long as: 1. You are not on a short-term student visa (you must be on a current long-term student visa) 2. Your student visa has not expired 3. You are 18 years or over 4. You meet the criteria for the Start-up visa
  • Yes, as a UK Start-up visa holder, you are permitted by the Home Office to work in another job while working for your business. This is one of the advantages of the Start-up visa over the Innovator visa, which does not allow holders to work for another employer. Working for another employer will allow you to fund your stay in the UK while building up your Start-up business. The only proviso is that you cannot work as a professional sportsperson (e.g. as a sports coach).

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