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Tier 1 Innovator visa application guide

Our business immigration solicitors can support you with your application for a Tier 1 (Innovator) visa. Here our business immigration lawyers answer your innovator visa frequently asked questions, and give insight into the legal advice and visa application process for the innovator business immigration route.

What is the Tier 1 (Innovator) visa? 

The Tier 1 (Innovator) visa is a UK entry route for experienced entrepreneurs to set up an innovative business. The minimum investment funds required for the visa is £50,000. An innovator visa applicant will need endorsement by a Home Office approved endorsing body in a two-stage visa application process. If you are a less experienced entrepreneur wanting to set up a business in the UK the start-up visa may be more appropriate. 

The innovator visa replaced the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa which closed to new applicants on 29 March 2019. 

Who can apply for the Tier 1 (Innovator) visa? 

The innovator visa rules are contained in the Immigration Rules Appendix innovator. In summary, the eligibility requirements for the innovator visa are that: 

  • You must have an innovative, viable and scalable business that you would like to set up and  operate in the UK. 
  • You meet the general entry clearance eligibility requirements: 
    • You meet the English language requirement. 
    • You are at least eighteen years old. 
    • You meet the maintenance fund requirement. 
  • Your business or business idea has been endorsed by a Home Office approved endorsing body. 
  • You have at least £50,000 in investment funds invested in the business or available to invest in the business. 
  • You secure at least seventy points in the UK points-based immigration system application process. 

What is involved in the innovator visa application process? 

The innovator visa application process is in two-stages: 

  1. Endorsement by a Home Office approved endorsing body. A list of the Home Office innovator visa approved endorsing bodies can be found on the government website
  2. Once you have secured an endorsement letter from an endorsing body you can submit your application for a visa to the Home Office. 

Although the innovator visa application is a two-stage application process, at the second stage of the application process and when deciding if you meet the visa eligibility criteria, Home Office officials  can request further information or evidence from you or from your endorsing body. 

The Immigration Rules provide that at the second stage of the application process a Home Office official can refuse the visa application if they are not satisfied the endorsement criteria set by the endorsing body have been met or that you meet the general eligibility criteria. 

What are the innovator visa endorsement criteria? 

The innovator visa endorsement criteria depend on the sector specific endorsing body. However, every innovator visa applicant will be expected to demonstrate the following: 

  • You are a founder of the business. 
  • You are relying on your own business plan and you have generated the ideas in the business plan or you made a significant contribution to the ideas. 
  • You will be responsible for executing the business plan. 
  • The business idea is innovative and meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage. 
  • The business plan is viable and realistic and achievable based on your available resources. 
  • The business is scalable and has the potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets. 

If the endorsing body endorses your business idea, then the endorsing body will produce an endorsement letter that is valid for three months. Within that timeframe you should submit your innovator visa application to the Home Office for approval. 

The endorsement letter from the approved endorsing body must provide all the following information: 

  • The name of the endorsing body. 
  • The endorsement reference number. 
  • The date of issue (which must be no earlier than three months before the date of application). 
  • Your name, date of birth, nationality, and passport number. 
  • A brief description of your business venture and the products or services it provides (or will provide) to its customers. 
  • The name and contact details of an individual at the endorsing body who can verify the contents of the letter to the Home Office. 
  • Proof that your business venture is innovative, viable and scalable. 
  • Proof that the endorsing body is reasonably satisfied that you will spend your entire working time in the UK on developing the business venture. 

Is the innovator visa part of the UK points-based immigration system? 

The innovator visa falls under the UK points-based immigration system. To secure an innovator visa you must achieve at least seventy points. In reaching the required seventy points, fifty of those points must either be under the new business criteria or under the same business criteria, but not both. 

The points-based immigration system for the innovator visa works as follows: 

The requirement The points available New or same business  
Business plan 10 points New business  
An innovative, viable and scalable business  20 points New business  
An investment fund of £50,000 to either invest in or has been invested in the business  20 points New business  
Previous visa entry in the innovator visa, start-up visa or graduate entrepreneur route and continuing a business endorsed by an endorsing body for a previous endorsement or at a contact point   10 points  Same business  
Business is active, trading and sustainable and demonstrates significant achievements against the business plan 20 points Same business  
Applicant is active in day-to-day management and development of business 20 points Same business  
English Language requirement met   10 points  Mandatory for all applicants  
Financial requirement met  10 points Mandatory for all applicants  

Can you apply for an innovator visa as part of a team? 

Teams of innovators can apply for an innovator visa using the same business venture, but the team cannot share the same pot of £50,000 of investment funds or the same endorsement. 

Each innovator must individually qualify for endorsement from the endorsing body and each must have at least £50,000 to invest. Where there are co-directors in a company who are both applying for innovator visas all the team members must have the required investment funds in their own right. For example, if two team members are being endorsed for the same business, they must have £100,000 of investment funds, not £50,000. 

Can you apply for an innovator visa with a trading business? 

You can apply for an innovator visa if your business is already trading provided you were one of the founders of the business. There are different endorsing criteria for an established trading business to a new business. 

Can you change business venture on the innovator visa? 

You can change your business venture whilst on an innovator visa provided that the endorsing body is satisfied that the new venture meets all the visa eligibility criteria. That means that you don’t have to apply for fresh endorsement or submit a new visa application. 

What is the Home Office innovator visa application process? 

Once you have secured endorsement you can proceed with the second stage of the application process with the Home Office considering your innovator visa application. The earliest you can apply to the Home Office for the innovator visa is three months before you travel. 

You will need to provide the Home Office with: 

  • Your current passport or other valid travel identification. 
  • Bank statements showing you meet the maintenance requirement. The current rules mean you must prove that you have had at least £1,270 in savings in your bank account for twenty-eight consecutive days before your application. 
  • Proof that you meet the English language requirement. 
  • Evidence of your investment funds. 
  • Your tuberculosis test results (if you’re from a country where you must take a tuberculosis test). 
  • Endorsement letter from an endorsing body and your business plan. 

All documents provided with the visa application must be in English or Welsh. If they are not, you must provide a copy of the original and a full translation which has been independently verified. The translation must: 

  • Confirm that it is an accurate translation of the original document. 
  • Be dated. 
  • Include the full name and signature of the translator or an authorised official of the translation company. 
  • Include the contact details of the translator or translation company. 
  • Be fully certified and include details of the translator or translation company’s credentials. 

The innovator visa English language requirement 

You normally need to prove your knowledge of the English language though you may be exempt from the requirement if you have previously applied for a UK visa.  

To meet the English language requirement you must have at least a B2 level of English language ability, as defined in the Council of Europe’s common European framework for language and learning. You can satisfy the English language requirement by: 

  • Being a national of a majority English speaking country. 
  • Passing a Secure English language test administered by an approved provider. The list of approved providers can be found online
  • Holding a degree which is: 
    • A UK Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree or PhD. 
    • Awarded by an establishment outside of the UK and is deemed by UK Ecctis (previously UK NARIC) to meet the recognised standard. 
    • Deemed by UK Ecctis to meet or exceed the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or a PhD in the UK, and is from an educational establishment in one of several specified countries. 

The innovator visa maintenance funds requirement 

For innovator visa entry clearance, you must show you have at least £1,270 of available funds, plus additional maintenance requirement funds for each dependant. If you can’t provide evidence that you meet the maintenance funds requirement, your application will be refused, even if you meet all the other requirements. 

To meet the maintenance funds requirement, you must ensure that you fully comply with the maintenance requirement guidance for financial evidence for sponsored or endorsed work routes. For example, if the funds are in a currency other than pounds sterling, you must use the rates published on the OANDA website to convert the amount. 

As an innovator visa applicant, you can evidence that you can meet the maintenance requirement by this being included in the letter of endorsement or by proving that you have the maintenance requirement funds. Important points to note include: 

  • You must provide acceptable evidence that you meet the maintenance requirement. Evidence of an overdraft facility or shares or bitcoin or a pension won't suffice. 
  • If maintenance requirement funds are held in a bank account the bank must be regulated by the financial regulatory body in the country you’re applying from. The bank account can be a current or savings account or deposit or investment account. The funds must be available or, in other words, the account can't be a notice account. 
  • You (or your partner if they are the bank account holder) must have control of the funds you are relying on. For example, the funds can't be loaned to you. 
  • You must be able to evidence that you have held the funds for twenty-eight days unless your endorsing body has covered the maintenance requirement in the endorsing letter. The bank statement or other evidence used to show the maintenance requirement has been held for twenty-eight days must be from the thirty-one days before the submission of your application and the days are calculated from the date of the last transaction in the last dated bank statement. 

What is the innovator visa application fee? 

Application fees vary depending on whether you apply for the visa within the UK or overseas.  

The innovator visa application fee for an application made from outside the UK is £1,021. Dependants applying for dependant visas will also need to pay a fee of £1,021. 

If you make an application for an innovator visa from within the UK or to extend or switch into the visa category the Home Office fee is £1,277.  

In addition to the visa application fee, an immigration health surcharge fee will be payable. You can calculate how much the immigration health surcharge will amount to by using this Home Office immigration health surcharge calculator

How long does it take to obtain an innovator visa? 

You should get a decision on your visa application within three weeks unless you chose to use a premium or priority Home Office service to secure a speedier decision. 

If the visa decision takes longer than three weeks to process the Home Office might be making further enquiries of the endorsing body or conducting checks that you meet both the general eligibility criteria and the endorsement criteria. 

Can you appeal against the refusal of an innovator visa? 

Although you can’t appeal against the refusal on an innovator visa you can challenge the refusal to grant an innovator visa by requesting an administrative review. An administrative review enables you to get the decision reviewed if you think Home Office officials have not followed the guidance correctly in refusing your application. 

How long is an innovator visa valid for? 

The innovator visa will be initially granted for three years. It can be extended for another three years. There’s no limit on the number of times you can extend the visa. 

Does the innovator visa allow dependants? 

Dependants are permitted to apply for a dependant visa either at the same time as the innovator visa applicant or at a later date. 

Can you apply for settlement on a Tier 1 Innovator visa? 

To be granted settlement or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after entry on an innovator visa you must meet the general eligibility criteria for ILR: 

  • Be at least eighteen years old on the date of decision. 
  • Not fall under the general grounds for refusal under Part 9 of the Immigration Rules. 
  • Meet the English language requirement. 
  • Not be in breach of any immigration laws. 
  • Meet the continuous residence requirement. 

Applicants for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the innovator category must have continually resided in the UK for at least three years immediately prior to the ILR application. The rules on continuous residence can be found in the Immigration Rules Appendix continuous residence. The applicant must also: 

  • Continue to meet the endorsing body criteria. 
  • Be able to show evidence of the scalability of the business with job creation or growth. 

Many visa holders may not be able to achieve the growth required within three years of entering the UK on an innovator visa and setting up business. However, you can apply to extend your innovator visa for a three-year period and then apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain when you meet the ILR criteria on the innovator route. 

The other aspect of an Indefinite Leave to Remain application that can create concern is the continuous residence requirement. In determining if you meet the continuous residence requirement the Home Office will check that they are satisfied you have not had combined absences from the UK in excess of 180 days in any consecutive twelve-month period. Home Office officials can exceptionally allow absences where an applicant has provided evidence of compelling or compassionate circumstances for their excessive absence. Examples of where such a decision may be appropriate include: 

  • Natural disasters. 
  • Life threatening illness of the ILR applicant or close family member. 

For more information on settling in the UK on a business visa read our article Business visa to UK settlement: what are your options? 

What are the differences between the innovator visa and the start-up visa? 

The innovator visa is aimed at experienced business people, whilst the start-up visa is designed for individuals without as much entrepreneurial experience but with an innovative business plan. The start-up visa does not require you to have an investment fund of £50,000. 

A key difference in the two visas is that the start-up visa does not lead to direct settlement in the UK whereas the innovator visa does. However, if you are in the UK on a start-up visa you can apply to switch to an innovator visa and that can then lead to settlement in the UK. If you are unsure whether you meet the eligibility criteria for an innovator visa it is best to take specialist legal advice before submitting your application. 

Can you switch from the defunct entrepreneur visa to the innovator visa? 

You can apply to switch to the Tier 1 (Innovator) visa if you meet the eligibility requirements and if you’re already in the UK on the old entrepreneur visa. You can also switch from the start-up visa to the innovator visa. 

Are there any tips for making a successful innovator visa application? 

Whilst it’s hard to comment on what might work for you and your specific business the essential component of a successful innovator visa application is a detailed and well researched business plan that addresses the endorsing criteria set out by your chosen endorsing body. 

It is essential to pay attention to the quality and content of your business plan as the Immigration Rules say that you must apply using your own business plan, having generated the ideas in the business plan or made a significant contribution to the ideas. This is to avoid generic business plans being downloaded that are similar in nature and not bespoke to your business and your application. 

Business immigration solicitors emphasis that whilst the business plan must be individual to you and your business, the rules don’t mean that you should not get legal or other professional advice about your business plans. The tip for making a successful innovator visa application is to get professional help with your application and business plan whilst ensuring that the help you receive compliments your innovative business idea.  

With expert help, your business plan should not only set out your innovative idea but also include  detail. For example, anticipated overheads and turnover, profit and business expansion forecasts based on your information and knowledge of your planned industry sector. Immigration solicitors can help you get the balance right when it comes to the presentation of your innovator visa application and business plan.   


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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