Introduced in March 2019, the Innovator visa is one of the latest additions to the UK’s range of immigration options.
What is the Innovator visa?
The Immigration Rules describe the Innovator visa as follows:
‘This category is for more experienced businesspeople seeking to establish a business in the UK. Applicants will have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea which is supported by an endorsing body. With some exceptions, applicants will have funding to invest in their business. This category may lead to settlement in the UK.’
The applicant does not need to be the sole founder of the proposed business and can be part of a team. However, unlike under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route, the team cannot share the investment funds (referred to below).
Applicants granted this visa can only work for their business(es) in the UK.
‘Same business’ or ‘new business’?
The Immigration Rules distinguish between applicants who are applying under the ‘new business’ criteria and those applying under the ‘same business’ criteria.
Those who are coming to the UK for the first time will need to apply under the ‘new business’ requirement.
If the applicant’s last grant of leave was in the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category (or, in future, the Start-up category) and they are making an application to extend their leave to remain in the UK in order to pursue the same business that was assessed as part of that previous application, they can choose to make an application under the ‘new business’ or the ‘same business’ criteria.
In future, when an applicant who has leave to remain as an Innovator makes an application to extend their stay in the UK, they will need to apply under the ‘same business’ criteria if the business remains the same as that referred to in the original endorsement letter. If the business is different, they will need to apply under the ‘new business’ criteria.
The key distinction is that the ‘new business’ criteria requires an investment and a different type of endorsement, which we refer to below.
Step 1 – Business Proposal (‘new business’)
In order to be granted a visa under the Innovator route (‘new business’), the applicant’s business must meet the following requirements:
The applicant has a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.
The applicant has the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
There is evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets.
Step 2 – Investment Funds (‘new business’)
Unless the endorsing body is providing the investment funds, applicants who are applying under the ‘new business’ criteria must demonstrate that they have access to at least £50,000 for investment in the business. They can also demonstrate that they have already invested the funds in the business.
If two individuals are applying for Innovator visas to join the same business, they cannot share the investment funds (as they would have been able to do under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route).
The applicant must provide specified evidence to demonstrate that they meet this requirement.
Step 3 – Endorsement (‘new business’ and ‘same business’)
Applicants must obtain an endorsement letter from an approved endorsement body to submit with their application.
For a ‘new business’, the endorsing body will review the applicant’s business proposal and decide if it meets the above tests of innovation, viability and scalability. If so, it will provide specified information to the Home Office in the endorsement letter about the applicant and their business. The letter must be dated within three months of the date of the immigration application.
If the endorsing body is:
- providing the investment funds; or
- is verifying that the applicant has the investment funds available to them or has already invested the funds in their business
the endorsement letter must confirm this. Otherwise the applicant must provide evidence that they have the investment funds with their application.
For a ‘same business’, the endorsing body will need to confirm that:
- The applicant has shown significant achievements, judged against the business plan assessed in their previous endorsement.
- The applicant’s business is registered with Companies House and the applicant is listed as a director or member of that business.
- The business is active and trading.
- The business appears to be sustainable for at least the following 12 months, based on its assets and expected income, weighed against its current and planned expenses.
- The applicant has demonstrated an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.
To qualify as an endorsing body, an organisation must meet all of the following requirements:
- It must demonstrate a proven track record of supporting UK entrepreneurs, including resident workers. (Exceptionally this requirement may be waived, for example where a new organisation is set up by another body which has its own track record.)
- The request to become an endorsing body must be supported by a UK or devolved government department as being clearly linked to that department’s policy objectives.
- It must be able to competently assess applicants’ business ventures against the endorsement criteria set out in the Worker rules.
Endorsing bodies are listed here.
Endorsing bodies must keep in contact with those they endorse and report to the Home Office/withdraw endorsement in certain circumstances where the applicant is not meeting the requirements of the scheme.
Step 4 – Credibility
The applicant must be able to persuade the Home Office that they:
- genuinely intend to undertake, and are capable of undertaking, the work/business activity referred to in their application (the Home Office will consider factors such as their work, education and immigration history and any declarations made to other government departments (for example, HMRC) regarding the applicant’s previous employment and other activity in the UK);
- do not intend to work in breach of immigration law (if the application is successful, the applicant will only have permission to work as outlined in their business plan);
- any money they claim is available to them is genuinely available as they have described and that they intend to use it for the purposes described in their application.
The applicant may be invited to a credibility interview.
Step 5 – Mandatory Requirements
Age: Applicants must be at least 18 years old.
English: Applicants must be able to speak English to Level B2 CEFR. To demonstrate this they must:
- be from an English-speaking country as defined in the Immigration Rules; or
- have a degree taught in English; or
- have previously met this requirement, at this level, in an eligible UK immigration category; or
- have passed a specified Secure English Language Test.
Maintenance: unless the endorsing body is certifying maintenance, the applicant must have held at least £945 for a consecutive period of at least 90 days in a manner specified by the rules. Where dependants are applying, the applicant must also demonstrate that the maintenance requirement for them is met.
General Grounds for Refusal: the application must not fall for refusal under the General Grounds of Refusal set out in the Immigration Rules. This means that if the applicant has, for example, convictions, previously breached UK immigration laws, etc. the application can be refused.
UK Innovator visa application: Making an application from inside the UK (i.e. switching)
Generally, an application to enter this category will need to be made from outside the UK. However, if an applicant already has valid leave to remain in any of the following categories, they can apply from inside the UK:
- Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
- Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
- Tier 2
- A visitor who has been undertaking permitted activities as a prospective entrepreneur. The Immigration Rules state that: ‘A visitor who can show support from one or more endorsing bodies for the Start-up or Innovator categories in Appendix W, as listed on the gov.uk website, may come to the UK for discussions to secure funding from any legitimate source, which they intend to use to set up a business in the UK.’ Such a person may remain in the UK to make their Innovator application.
Once the Innovator application is approved
Successful applicants will be granted leave to remain for three years initially and, providing they meet the extension requirements, they can then apply to extend their stay.
Innovators can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (‘ILR’) after five years in the category (proving they meet the requirements for ILR, including that they have spent no more than 180 days during any consecutive 12-month period outside the UK unless an exception applies).
UK Innovator visa application: How we can help
Please note that at present, we are only able to offer visa assistance to applicants who have already received an offer of endorsement from an endorsing body.
We have significant experience in preparing visa applications for individuals who wish to move to the UK for work and business purposes. For assistance please contact us.