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FAQs: Tier 1 start-up visa

Our business immigration solicitors are able to support you with any applications you or your business may need for the Tier 1 (Start-Up) Visa. Here our business immigration lawyers answer your Tier 1 (Start-Up) visa FAQs, and give you insight into what you may need to do to successfully apply for a Tier 1 (Start-Up) visa.

What is the Tier 1 (Start-up) visa?

The Start-up visa category is for entrepreneurs who are looking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. In order to qualify under this visa category, applicants need a genuine business idea that is innovative, scalable and viable.

The Tier 1 (Start-up) visa was introduced on the 29th March 2019. The eligibility criteria and Immigration Rules for the Start-up visa were updated on the 4 June 2020 following a statement of changes to the immigration rules CP232 dated the 14 May 2020.

Who is the Start-up visa aimed at?

When the Start-up visa was first  announced back in June 2018 the Home Office said that the purpose of the new visa route was to enable the UK to attract the ‘best global talent and maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading destination for innovation and entrepreneurs’.

The intention is that the Start-up visa will attract ambitious entrepreneurs who want to set up a business in the UK and create jobs for local workers, benefiting the UK economy.

Who is eligible to apply for the Tier 1 (Start-up) visa?

There are a number of standard eligibility requirements for anyone who wants to apply for a Tier 1 (Start-up) visa:

  • You must have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea and genuinely want to set up a business in the UK.
  • Your business idea has to be endorsed by a Home Office approved endorsing body.
  • You must meet the English language requirement.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must be able to prove that you have enough personal savings to support yourself while you’re in the UK.

What are the restrictions on Start-up visa applications by Tier 4 Student visa holders?

If your last grant of leave was as a Tier 4 (General) Student, to apply for a Start-up visa you must have been sponsored as a Tier 4 (General) Student by one of the following:

  • A UK recognised body, or a body in receipt of public funding as a higher education institution for example:
    • 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
  • An overseas higher education institution to undertake a short-term study abroad programme in the UK.
  • An Embedded College offering Pathway Courses.
  • An Independent School.

If you were sponsored for your studies in the UK by a government or international scholarship agency, and the sponsorship is ongoing or ended less than 12 months before the date of application, you must:

  • Have been granted unconditional written consent to make the Start-up visa  application by your sponsoring government or agency.
  • Provide a letter from each sponsoring organisation confirming this.

The letter must be issued by an authorised individual of that organisation and contain contact details to allow it to be verified.

Can you apply for a Start-up visa as part of a team?

You can apply for a Start-up visa as part of a team and you can share the same business idea and plan as other Start-up team members. However, each member of the Start-up team will need their own individual endorsement by an approved endorsing body and meet all the other wider requirements in their own right.

What is the Start-up visa application process?

There is a two stage application process for a Start-up visa:

  1. Endorsement by a Home Office approved endorsing body.
  2. Home Office application.

Although there is a two-stage application process you can choose to submit your endorsement application and your Home Office application at the same time. However, the Home Office will only consider the second stage of your application once you have secured endorsement.

In addition, Immigration Rules changes now allow Home Office officials to raise questions of the endorsing body and to ask for additional information and documents from them. Prior to the Immigration Rule changes on the 4 June 2020, endorsement by the Endorsing Body was an effective ticket to the second stage of the Start-up visa application process. After the 4 June, Home Office caseworkers are able to question the endorsement decision and to refuse the visa application if they are not satisfied the endorsement criteria set by the endorsing body have been met.

The sector specific endorsing bodies were set up as neutral but specialist assessors of whether the visa applicant and their new business idea had the necessary attributes to secure a Start-up visa. The changes to the Immigration Rules mean that the two stage assessment process isn’t as clear cut as it used to be.

What are the Start-up visa endorsement criteria?

In order to gain leave to remain in the Start-up category, you must be endorsed by a Home Office approved endorsing body. Endorsing bodies are not allowed to charge a fee for their endorsement but they can restrict who is endorsed. This can include only allowing applicants who have been accepted on their accelerator scheme or in whom they have invested to be endorsed.

Endorsing bodies each have their own specific criteria for endorsement depending on the business sector they are seeking to attract applications from. It is best to take advice on the most suitable endorsing body or bodies to seek endorsement from because of the sector specific different endorsement criteria.

The chosen endorsing body has to assess your business ideas for:

  • Innovation
  • Viability
  • Scalability

The viability eligibility criteria say that your business plan must be realistic and achievable based on your available resources.

To secure your Start-up visa you must be able to demonstrate that you are:

  • A founder of the business.
  • Relying on your own business plans.
  • Generating the ideas in the business plan or have made a significant contribution to those ideas.
  • Responsible for executing the business plan.

The endorsing body will consider the following:

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, and 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 markets.

Although a Start-up visa applicant needs to meet specific endorsement criteria to secure endorsement, if the applicant is successful in securing endorsement the endorsing body will produce an endorsement letter. The endorsement letter from an approved endorsing body must provide all of the following information:

  • The name of endorsing body.
  • The endorsement reference number.
  • The date of issue (which must be no earlier than 3 months before the date of application).
  • The applicant’s name, date of birth, nationality and passport number.
  • A short description of the applicant’s 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.
  • The applicant’s business venture is innovative, viable and scalable.
  • The endorsing body is reasonably satisfied that the applicant will spend their entire working time in the UK on developing the business venture.

When can you apply for a Start-up visa?

The Tier 1 (Start-up) visa can be applied for 3 months before you plan to travel to the UK.

How long does it take to get the Tier 1 (Start-up) visa approved?

The application process for a Start-up visa is a two stage application process:

  1. Endorsement from an endorsing body and endorsement letter.
  2. Application to the Home Office for the Start-up visa.

The length of time that it takes to get your Home Office approval will depend on whether the Home Office official has any questions about the endorsement or your application and wants to raise questions:

  • With the endorsing body about their endorsement of your business idea or
  • With you about the genuineness of your business plans or whether you meet the other standard eligibility criteria for a Start-up visa, such as meeting the English language test or maintence funds.

You should get a decision on your visa application within 3 weeks. The decision will be quicker if you chose to use the Home Office priority service. The decision could take longer than 3 weeks if the Home Office official has questions to ask of the endorsing body or questions to ask you either about your business or the general eligibility criteria.  

What is the Start-up visa English Language Requirement?

A Start-up visa applicant 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. An applicant satisfies the English language requirement by:

  • Being a national of a majority English speaking country.
  • Passing an English language test.
  • 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 NARIC to meet the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree or a PhD.
    • Deemed by UK NARIC 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 the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America.

What is the Start-up visa Maintenance Requirement?

For entry clearance, you must show you have at least £945 of available funds, plus £630 funds for each dependant. If you can’t, your application will be refused, even if you have met all the other requirements.

To meet the requirements for funding, you must ensure:

  • You have personal savings (in line with the appropriate levels of funding required) held for a consecutive 90 day period (finishing on the date of the closing balance on the statement), ending no more than 31 days before the date of your application.
  • The endorsing body confirms in the endorsement letter that it has awarded you the appropriate amount of maintenance funding.
  • When the funds are in a currency other than pounds sterling, you must use the rates published on the OANDA website to convert the amount.
  • There is information on the visa application regarding the exchange rate on the date of the application.

Any dependants must also provide evidence that they have access to sufficient funds, even if they apply for a dependant visa at a later date.

What is the Start-up visa application fee?

The Start-up visa application fee depends on whether you are applying for a Start-up visa from within the UK or outside the UK.

If you are applying for a Start-up visa from outside the UK the application fee is £363. Any dependants applying will also have to pay the Home Office fee of £363 per dependant. For extension or switching applications made from inside the UK, the Home Office fee is £493 per applicant and the dependant visa application fee is also £493 per dependant.

In addition to the Start-up visa application fee the visa applicant and any dependants will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge fee as part of the application process. Details of the immigration health surcharge and fees can be found on the government website.

Who are the Start-up visa endorsing bodies?

The Start-up visa endorsing bodies comprise:

  • Business endorsing bodies
  • Higher Education endorsing bodies

The Home Office produces and maintains a list of approved endorsing bodies. If an endorser is not on the Home Office approved list then they will not be able to provide you with the necessary endorsement. The Home Office list of Start-Up endorsing bodies can be found here.

If an endorsement is approved by one of the endorsing bodies, an official endorsement letter will be issued. This letter will state the nature of the endorsement and invite you to make a formal application to the Home Office. The endorsement letter is valid for three months.

Can you challenge the refusal of a Start-up visa?

A refusal of a Start-up visa application can only be challenged by administrative review. If an application for entry clearance is refused, you do not have the right of appeal against the Home Office decision.

An administrative review will allow you to raise any permitted case work error (defined in appendix AR of the Immigration Rules) that you think has been made on the application and, if an error has been made, have it corrected.

As there are time limits to apply for an administrative review it is best to take legal advice as soon as you are notified that your Start-up visa hasn’t been successful.

Mentorship and checking up on progress of Start-up visa holders

The Home Office wants endorsing bodies to be satisfied that their endorsed applicants are making ‘reasonable progress with their business idea or are looking at different business ideas that are also innovative, viable and scalable’.

The Home Office therefore asks endorsing bodies take up a mentorship role for the endorsed entrepreneur. For the Start-up visa the endorsing bodies will be asked to check in with the entrepreneur’s progress at the six and 12-month mark from the date that the visa holder arrives in the UK to set up business.

Can you apply for settlement or citizenship on the Tier 1 (Start-up) visa?

The Start-up visa does not lead directly to UK settlement or British citizenship. However, you can apply to switch to the Innovator visa when you are nearing the expiry date of your 2 year Start-up visa. The Innovator visa is for more experienced entrepreneurs. The Innovator visa route can lead to settlement in the UK through Indefinite Leave to Remain or British citizenship.

How long is a Start-up visa valid for?

The Start-up visa will be granted for two years or the remaining balance of two years if you have previously held leave in the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) or start-up categories.

At the end of the two years, the Start-up visa holder can apply to switch into the Tier 1 (Innovator) category using the same business idea, provided you can secure endorsement from an approved endorsing body and you meet the eligibility criteria for an Innovator visa.

Does the Start-up visa allow dependants?

The dependants of a Start-up visa applicant are permitted to apply for a dependant visa at either the same time as the Start-up visa application or at a later date.

What are the differences between the Start-up visa and the Innovator visa?

The Innovator visa is aimed at more experienced entrepreneurs whilst the Start-up visa is designed for individuals with less business and entrepreneurial experience. If you secure a Start-up visa then you can apply for an Innovator visa when you are nearing the expiry of your Start-up visa.

Can you switch from other visa categories to the Start-up visa?

A Start-up visa applicant can either apply for the visa from outside of the UK or can apply to switch into the Start-up visa route from the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur), Tier 2 and Tier 4 (General) student visa, subject to certain restrictions. Start-up visa applicants can also switch from the visitor visa category if they have been undertaking permitted activities as a prospective entrepreneur.

Are there any tips for making a good Start-up visa application?

When it comes to the Start-up visa application the key to success is the preparation and presentation of your business idea. Recent changes to the Start-up visa Immigration Rules are designed to prevent applications from those using ‘off the peg’ business plans from business plan writers. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use a professional business plan writer, business consultant, accountant, immigration lawyer or other professional to help you present your business idea.

The key to a successful Start-up visa application is to ensure that your business idea retains its originality and ‘spark’ whilst getting the professional help that you may need to address the viability and scalability of your business idea with a sufficiently detailed business plan that looks at forecasts, overheads and profit margins.

If you are uncertain about whether your business plan is sufficiently detailed or robust then it is best to check with a specialist business immigration solicitor who will be able to offer guidance on the amendments to the Immigration Rules on Start-up visas and how to strike the right balance between a well-drawn up and researched business plan that adds strength to your innovative business idea and one that either just focusses on your business idea and your enthusiasm for it or one that effectively sucks the life out of your entrepreneurial business idea through its standardised nature and content.  

The best advice to successfully secure a Start-up visa remains preparation of the business plan with careful attention to detail to ensure that your application and supporting documents address the key business eligibility criteria for the Start-up visa.

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. 

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