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Innovator Visa UK

The UK Innovator visa enables overseas entrepreneurs to come to the UK to establish an innovative business.

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What is the innovator visa?

The Innovator visa enables overseas entrepreneurs to come to the UK to establish an innovative business. It is specifically intended for those who “want to set up and run an innovative business in the UK - it must be something that’s different from anything else on the market”.

The visa allows holders to remain for up to three years, at which point they can apply for a further three-year extension. One of the most attractive features of the Innovator visa is that after three years, they may be able to acquire permanent settlement in the UK; this is shorter than the normal five years required for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).

Launched in March 2019, the Innovator Visa replaced the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Visa.

Who is the innovator visa for?

The Innovator visa is aimed at business people who have an existing business or business idea and sufficient investment funds. As such, it is intended for those with strong business experience. The start-up visa, on the other hand, is for those who do not have existing investment funds.

Innovator visa requirements

In order to make a successful application for a UK Innovator visa, applicants need to show they:

  • Are over 18 years old
  • Intend to establish and run an innovative business in the UK
  • Have endorsement for their business or business idea
  • Have a minimum of £50,000 to invest in their business
  • Meet the English language proficiency requirements
  • Have enough funds to support yourself in the UK

1. Business plan

To gain endorsement (as explained below), you will need to carefully prepare a comprehensive business plan for your existing innovative business or new business idea.

The business plan with need to show that your idea is:

  • Innovative: you will need to provide an original and genuine business plan that lays out clearly and in detail how you will meet a new or existing market need, and/or creates a competitive advantage;
  • Viable: the plan must show you have a realistic chance of making the business into a success. This includes demonstrating you have the experience, market knowledge, business skills, and experience to make this happen.
  • Scalable: core to your business plan will need to be proof that there is real potential to grow the business, create jobs, and expand into domestic and overseas markets.

2. Business endorsement

Perhaps the most important aspect of applying for an Innovator visa in the UK is that you must have your existing innovative business or new business idea endorsed by an approved endorsing body in the UK (we have published a full list of the approved endorsing bodies). When deciding whether to grant endorsement, the endorsing body will consider:

  • Is there a need for the business in the UK?
  • 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.

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.

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 Innovator visa application.

3. Investment funds

You will need to show you have at least £50,000 to invest into your new innovative venture in the UK – it is possible to form an investment team with another Innovator visa applicant, but you cannot use the same funds (e.g. if there are two investors, you will need a combined investment fund of £100,000).

4. English language requirements

To make a successful Innovator 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.

5. Sufficient support funds

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)

How to apply for an innovator visa

The application stages for an Innovator visa are as follows:

  • Prepare your business plan
  • Apply for endorsement from an appropriate approved endorsing body in the UK
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pay the application fee of £1,021 (if outside the UK) or £1,277 (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.
  • 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, however, if this will take longer, you will be informed. This may be the case if more evidence is needed, or you are asked to attend an interview.

Innovator visa extension

If your Innovator visa is approved, you will be given up to 3 years leave to remain in the UK in order to start your intended business. At the end of this 3-year period, you will be able to apply for an extension if you plan to stay. There is also no limit on extensions.

You will have no problems extending your Innovator visa as long as:

  • You apply to extend your visa before it expires
  • You still meet the eligibility requirements you met when you were originally granted an Innovator visa
  • You are still running your business in the UK, or you plan to set up a new one

When extending your existing Innovator visa, you will not need to show you have investment funds of £50,000 if your business is already established and previously endorsed. This is also the case if you have changed your business idea since your initial visa was granted and this change was approved by the endorsing body.

To make an Innovator visa extension application, you will need to:

  1. Complete the online application form
  2. Provide proof of identity (as explained above when applying for a new visa)
  3. Pay the online application fee of £1,277
  4. Provide any documents requested by the Home Office (you will be given a list of these when you apply).

Innovator visa extension applications typically take around 8 weeks to process, however, you can continue running your business while you are waiting for a decision from the Home Office.

Innovator visa vs Start-up visa

There are some key differences between the Innovator visa and the Start-up visa, including:

Differences

Innovator Visa

Start-up Visa

Business Experience

For experienced businesspeople

For businesspeople with little or no business experience

Progress in building business

For those at a more advanced stage or with an existing business

For people who are at the initial stages of building their business

Investment funds

£50,000 investment funds required

No investment funds required

How long you can stay initially

3 years

2 years

Can the visa be extended

Yes

No – although you may consider switching to an Innovator visa

Is there a route to ILR?

Yes, you can apply for ILR after 3 years if you meet the eligibility requirements

There is no direct pathway to ILR. You may be able to switch to an Innovator or other visa then acquire ILR.

Innovator visa to indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

One of the main benefits of the Innovator visa is that it provides a clear pathway to settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain - ILR) in the UK.

With ILR, you will be able to remain permanently in the UK without being subject to immigration control and after a further year, you will be able to apply for British citizenship.

To gain ILR with an Innovator visa, you will need to live and work in the UK for three years and you will need to meet the criteria attached to the route. These are based around the success of your innovative business. This helps to ensure that applicants are genuine and that they are running their businesses as described. The important points to bear in mind are as follows:

  • The earliest anyone can apply for ILR as an Innovator visa holder is March 2022 as this represents the 3-year anniversary for when the visa was introduced.
  • You must have resided in the UK for 3 years on your Innovator visa – time spent on any other visa type will not be counted towards ILR
  • You must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any 1-year period
  • You will need to apply for and gain a new endorsement showing you have now met the requirements for growing your business
  • You will need to complete the Life in the UK Test
  • You can apply for ILR 28 days before you become eligible
  • The application fee for ILR as an Innovator visa holder is £2,389 for each person who is applying.
  • Decisions are typically made within six months.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • To make a successful Innovator visa application, you will need to provide (this list is not exhaustive): 1. A letter of endorsement from an approved endorsing body 2. Your passport or other identity document 3. Bank statements showing at least £1,270 in savings held for at least 28 days before you apply 4. Proof you meet the English language requirement (e.g. an English language test pass certificate) 5. Evidence of the availability of your investment funds 6. A clear tuberculosis test result (not required for all countries)
  • The current Innovator visa application fee is £1,292 if you are extending or switch within the UK and £1,036 if you are applying outside the UK. You also need to pay the healthcare surcharge with you application.
  • As an Innovator visa holder it is possible to bring your family members (partner and dependant children) with you to the UK. Each family member has to make a separate online application before travelling to the UK.
  • You cannot undertake any work outside of their business if you have an innovator visa, including working as an employee for another business. They will need to include the Global Web Form (GWF) or a Unique Application Number (UAN) given to the main Innovator visa applicant to ensure that all of the applications are linked together.
  • You can set up one or more businesses as an innovator visa holder. The Home Office permits endorsed Innovator Visa holders to establish additional businesses which are not necessarily related to the main business idea, and, where this is the case, the endorsing body has no role in the monitoring of those businesses.
  • Under the current immigration rules, it is not permitted for Innovator visa holders to contract themselves to work for another business. They are only allowed to work within the same business or businesses they have established, joined, or taken over the running of.

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