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A guide to the Innovator Founder visa

In this guide, we explore who the innovator founder visa is aimed at, the requirements and benefits, and we offer insights into the application process. Our business immigration solicitors can support you with your application for an innovator founder visa.

Who can apply for the innovator founder visa?

The innovator founder visa is for entrepreneurs wanting to start up a business in the UK but who are subject to UK immigration controls and require a business or work visa.

You can apply for the innovator founder visa if you are an experienced entrepreneur, a serial business founder or if this is your first entrepreneurial enterprise.

The innovator founder visa is for innovative businesses, so it is ideal for the technology, digital and fintech sectors. However, if you can add an innovative twist or app to any business, you potentially can obtain an innovator founder visa to start you on your immigration and business journey in the UK.

The business criteria for the innovator founder visa

To secure your innovator founder visa, your business must be new and meet these three criteria:

  1. Innovative – you must have an original business idea
  2. Viable – the business must have potential for growth
  3. Scalable – you must be able to evidence planning for job creation and growth

Unlike the old Tier 1 (Innovator) visa, there is no minimum investment figure of £50,000 required. Instead, your business is assessed on viability and part of that process looks at whether you can access the funds and resources to be able to make a success of your business. For some start-ups, you may need modest capital whilst others will need significant investment. Some endorsing bodies are venture capitalists and can provide both endorsement and funding or you can secure independent funding.

The innovator founder visa application

In April 2023, the Innovator Founder visa replaced the Tier 1 (Innovator) visa and the start-up visa, so there is now one innovator route for entrepreneurs to simplify the visa application process.

In summary, to obtain an innovator founder visa, you need to go through a two-stage process:

  1. Endorsement by an endorsing body
  2. Approval of your visa  application

The independent endorsing body looks at your business plan to see if your planned business venture meets the three business criteria. If you get an endorsement letter, a Home Office official looks at your visa application to check if you meet:

  1. The age requirement – you must be at least 18
  2. The English language requirement – through either sitting an English language test or proving you are exempt from sitting the test. For example, because of your qualifications or your nationality, eg if you are from a majority English-speaking country
  3. The maintenance requirement – you have enough personal savings to support yourself while you are in the UK. The current rules say you must prove that you have had at least £1,270 in savings in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before your application 
  4. The general immigration requirements – where the Home Office checks various matters such as your immigration history or if you have any relevant criminal convictions that would prevent entry clearance

The visa falls within the UK points-based immigration system and you need 70 points to qualify. You will achieve these points if your business secures endorsement and you meet the above four criteria.

The innovator founder visa endorsement process

The success or failure of your innovator founder visa application is likely to rest on:

  1. Choosing the right endorsing body to endorse your business venture
  2. The quality of the business plan presented for endorsement

The full list of endorsing bodies can be found here.

It is important to get your choice of endorsing body right as the independent endorsing body will not just endorse your business idea, they will also review your progress against your business plan and endorse your settlement application. They may also offer venture capital. Most endorsing bodies host talks and webinars so you can get a feel for whether they will be a good fit for your business and if your business will meet their specific endorsement criteria.

The business plan

You may be a genius or have an idea for a groundbreaking business venture, but it needs to be packaged in a business plan to secure your innovator founder visa.

You can get professional help with writing your business plan so it goes into sufficient detail on how you meet the innovative, viable and scalable criteria but the ideas must be your own and you must intend to be fully engaged in your business venture.

Downloaded business plans or those harnessing the latest AI assistance are easy to spot. Business immigration solicitors can help you get the support you need with a professional business plan if you have a gem of an idea and the energy to make it work and transform it into a scalable business, but you need support in writing your plan and collating sufficient supporting information. Alternatively, some endorsing bodies will assist you with your business plan leaving your business immigration solicitor to address the immigration rules and tweak the plan to give your application the best chance of success in the two-stage application process. That input is necessary because Home Office officials can request further information or evidence from you or your endorsing body. 

Timeframe for the innovator founder visa

The timeframe for your innovator founder visa depends largely on you and how much preparation you need to do on your choice of endorsing body and business plan content before you seek endorsement. The process can be very quick if you have already done your research, you understand the endorsing body selection criteria and you have experience in pitching in your sector. Our business immigration solicitors can provide as much or as little support as you need to secure your endorsement.

The endorsing body will issue an endorsement letter. The letter must state how your business idea or business meets the innovator founder visa criteria and that there are no concerns over the legitimacy of the source of funds. This endorsement letter must be used within three months, failing which you will need to get another endorsement letter.

The Home Office stage of the application process can be completed in as little as three weeks, sometimes longer if the Home Office has questions about the endorsement or there are other issues, such as previous immigration records. When submitting your application (or during your innovator founder visa), you can also apply for eligible family members (partners and children under the age of 18) to join you on dependant visas.

Your innovator founder visa will be granted for three years. At the end of the three years, subject to endorsement from your endorsing body and meeting the indefinite leave to remain eligibility criteria, you may be able to apply to settle in the UK. You can also extend the visa for a further three years instead or where you don’t meet the criteria for indefinite leave to remain but would require a new endorsement letter for this. 

What you can do on the innovator founder visa

Once your innovator founder visa has been granted, you can come to the UK to live and work and pursue your business by working in it. The visa route is flexible enough to allow you to:

  • Take additional paid employment, provided the job is a role requiring a skill level of not less than RQF Level 3 (the equivalent to UK A Levels)
  • Study  

Dependants on dependant visas are allowed to study in the UK or work on an employed or self-employed basis. The only work-related restriction is that your family member cannot work as a sportsperson or coach.

Tips on a successful innovator founder visa application 

Whilst it is hard to comment on what might work for you and your specific business, the essential component of a successful innovator founder visa application is a detailed and well-researched business plan addressing the endorsing criteria of your chosen endorsing body and meeting all the immigration rules criteria. With a professional business plan, you limit the prospects of the Home Office asking questions of the endorsing body about their endorsement and the suitability of you and your business for a visa.

The best tip for making a successful innovator founder visa application is to get professional help with your application and business plan and fully utilise the help and resources of your chosen endorsing body and business immigration solicitors.

About our expert

Fozia Iqbal

Fozia Iqbal

Senior Business Immigration Solicitor
Fozia has been practising in the field of immigration law for over 20 years, specialising in Business Immigration since 2015. Fozia has advised an array of businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, owner-managed businesses through to SMEs, as well as individuals looking for immigration solutions. With a range of experience across the board, it is unusual for her to come across an immigration issue that she cannot tackle. 

Areas of Expertise

What next?

If you, or someone in your business, is looking to apply for a Tier 1 (Innovator) Visa, our Business Immigration lawyers can provide guidance, advice and support throughout the process. Call us today 0800 689 1700 or fill out the short form below.

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