Introduced in March 2019, the Start-up visa is one of the latest additions to the UK’s range of immigration options.
What is the Start-up visa?
The Immigration Rules describe the UK Start-up visa as follows:
‘This category is for people seeking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. Applicants will have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea which is supported by an endorsing body. This category offers leave for 2 years and does not lead directly to settlement in the UK, but applicants may progress into the Innovator category.’
The applicant does not need to be the sole founder of the proposed business and can be part of a team.
Applicants granted this visa must intend to spend the majority of their working time in the UK developing their business venture(s) but will not be restricted from undertaking other work.
Step 1 – Business Proposal
In order to be granted a Start-up visa the applicant must be proposing a new business idea that meets 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, or is actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
There is evidence of structured planning and of the potential for job creation and growth into national markets.
There is no specific requirement for funds to be invested into the business but it would be unusual for a business that will be viable and scalable not to need any investment.
Step 2 – Endorsement
Applicants must obtain an endorsement letter from an approved endorsement body to submit with their application.
The endorsing body will review the applicant’s business proposal and decide if it meets the above tests. 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.
Endorsing bodies must be able to competently assess applicants’ business ventures against the endorsement criteria set out in the rules. They must be one of the following:
A UK higher education institution (‘HEI’) which has established processes for identifying, nurturing and developing entrepreneurs among its undergraduate and postgraduate population and is a recognised body in receipt of public funding as an HEI from one of the following;
- the Higher Education Funding Council for England
- the Scottish Funding Council
- the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
- the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland; or
any other organisation which:
- has a proven track record of supporting UK entrepreneurs, including resident workers, or is a new organisation set up for this purpose by another body which has its own track record of this nature); and
- the request to become an endorsing body is supported by a UK or devolved government department as being clearly linked to the department’s policy objectives.
The Immigration Rules state that the endorsing body must confirm that the applicant has not previously established a business in the UK, unless their last grant of leave was under Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) or Start-up. If they have previously established a business, they will need to apply under the Innovator route. The scope of this restriction is extremely wide and we will be seeking clarity from the Home Office as to exactly what it covers. For example, if the applicant has used a business e-Bay account as a teenager when attending school in the UK, would this restrict entry to this scheme (which would seem to be very harsh)?
It is also unclear if this route will allow an applicant to join an existing UK business. This appears to be unlikely from the wording of the new Rules but we are waiting for confirmation from the Home Office on this point and will update this information accordingly.
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 3 – 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 attend a credibility interview.
Step 4 – 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.
Making a Start-up visa 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 2
- Tier 4 (General) (providing the applicant meets specific criteria)
- 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 application.
Once the Start-up visa application is approved
Successful applicants will be granted permission to live in the UK in this category for two years, the maximum period of leave in this category. They will then be expected to move into the Innovator category.
Applicants who move into this category having already held leave to remain under Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route will be granted permission of up to two years, less the time already spent under that route.
Start-up 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.