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UK Innovator Founder Visa

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

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What is the innovator founder visa?

The Innovator founder 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 something that’s different from anything else on the market.

The Innovator Founder Visa was previously know as the "Innovator Visa", replaced the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Visa in March 2019. As of 13 April, 2023, the Innovator Founder Visa no longer requires a minimum investment of £50,000 GBP. However, if you plan to establish a new business, you will still need to demonstrate to the endorsing body that you have sufficient funding and a reliable source of funding.

This 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 founder 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).

Innovator founder visa requirements

In order to make a successful application for a UK Innovator founder visa, applicants need to meet below requirements:

  • 18 years old or above
  • Intend to establish and run an innovative business in the UK
  • Have endorsement for their business or business idea
  • 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 founder 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. Organisations that can issue endorsements for Innovator Founder Visas are:

  • Envestors Limited
  • UK Endorsement Services
  • Innovator International
  • The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)

When deciding whether to grant endorsement, the endorsing body might 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. 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 founder visa application.

3. English language requirements

To make a successful Innovator founder 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.

4. 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 founder visa

The application stages for an Innovator founder 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 £1,191 (if outside the UK) or £1,486 (if inside the UK) – these fees are the same for your dependant family members.
  • Pay for the immigration healthcare surcharge for the duration of your visa (this is currently £1035 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 founder visa extension

If your Innovator founder 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 founder 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

To make an Innovator founder 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 £1,486
  4. Provide any documents requested by the Home Office (you will be given a list of these when you apply).

Innovator founder 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 founder visa to indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

One of the main benefits of the Innovator founder 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 founder 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:

  • You must have resided in the UK for 3 years on your Innovator founder 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 founder visa holder is £2,885 for each person who is applying.
  • Decisions are typically made within six months.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • To make a successful innovator founder 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 founder 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 founder 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 can set up one or more businesses as an innovator founder visa holder. The Home Office permits endorsed innovator founder 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.

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