Start-up and Innovator visas

8th September 2020

We examine the new business immigration routes into the UK and what is required for the Start-up visa and Innovator visa.

Business routes into the UK

The old Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route for business persons who wanted to invest in or set up a business in the UK is no longer open for new applicants, so what are the options now?

There are two specific routes as follows:-

  1. Start-up visa
  2. Innovator visa

Start-up visa

The Start-up visa is generally for new or less experienced business people. It is for those seeking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. They must have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea and be endorsed by a UK Home Office approved endorsing body.

If the application is approved, the applicant gets leave to remain in the UK for two years. It does not lead to settlement in the UK and applicants can switch into the Innovator category before their leave to remain expires.

The applicant does not need to be the sole founder of the business and can be part of a team. The applicant is required to spend the majority of their time in the UK, working on their business (s), however they are not restricted from undertaking other work.

Business plan

In order to obtain an endorsement, the applicant must have a new business idea which fulfils the following requirements:-

  1. Innovation

It must have a genuine original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive edge.

  1. Viability

The applicant must have the necessary skills, experience and market awareness.

  1. Scalability

There must be evidence of structured planning and of potential job creation and growth in the UK market and international market.

Applicants must obtain an endorsement letter from an approved endorsing body, in order to submit their application. Endorsing bodies must keep in touch with those they have endorsed and report to the Home Office/withdraw endorsement in certain circumstances where the applicant is not meeting the requirement of the scheme.


Applicants must be able to persuade the Home Office of the following:-

  1. They genuinely intend to undertake and are capable of undertaking the business. The Home Office will consider factors such as their work, education and immigration history.
  2. They do not intend to work in breach of the immigration rules.
  3. Any money they claim is available to them is genuinely available and they intend to use it as they describe in their business plan

English language requirement

Applicants must be able to speak English to CEFR level B2. This requirement can be met as follows:-

  1. They have passed an appropriate Secured English language test from an approved provider.
  2. They are a national of a majority English speaking country.
  3. Have a Bachelor’s degree taught in English.
  4. Have previously met this requirement at this level in an eligible UK immigration category.

Maintenance requirement

Unless the endorsing body is certifying maintenance, applicants must demonstrate that they have had the cash sum of £945 for a consecutive period of 90 days before the application. There is also a separate maintenance requirement for any dependents.

Switching (making an application from inside the UK)

Generally, an application will need to be made from outside the UK, however, it is possible to switch from certain immigration categories in the UK to this visa.

Innovator visa

The Innovator visa is aimed at more experienced business people who are seeking to establish a business in the UK and who have funds available to invest.

Applicants granted this visa can only work for this business. The applicant does not need to be the sole founder of the business and can be part of a team.

The applicant must, as in the case of a Start-up visa, obtain an endorsement from an approved endorsing body and the principles of innovation, viability and scalability for the business proposal also apply. The business plan is therefore key.

Same business or new business

Those who are coming to the UK for the first time are required to apply under the “new business” requirement.

For a new business, the endorsing body will review the applicant’s business plan and decide whether it meets the required tests of innovation, viability and scalability. If it does, the endorsing body provides specified information to the Home Office in the form of a letter which must be dated within three months of the date of the immigration application.

For a “same business” endorsement the endorsing body needs to confirm (amongst other requirements) to the Home Office that the applicant has shown significant achievement, judged against the business plan in their previous endorsement and that the business appears to be sustainable for the next twelve months.

In future, when an applicant who has leave to remain as an innovator makes an application to extend their stay, 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 need to apply under the “new business” criteria.

The new business criteria requires an investment of funds and the type of endorsement referred to above.

Investment funds (new business)

Unless the endorsing body is providing the funds, applicants under the new business criteria must demonstrate that they have access to at least £ 50,000 to invest in the business or that they have already invested the funds in the business.


The test is the same for Innovator applicants as for those using the Start-up route.

English language and maintenance

The English language and maintenance requirements are the same as for the Start-up route.

Switching (making an application from inside the UK)

Generally, an applicant will need to make the application from outside the UK, however, it is possible to switch from certain other immigration categories into this route, including from Start-up.

Once the Innovator application is approved

Applicants will be granted leave to remain for a period of three years initially and providing they meet the extension requirements, another two years’ leave to remain. Applicants can apply for Indefinite Leave to remain in the UK, if they can prove they meet the requirements, including that they have not spent more than 180 days outside the UK in any consecutive 12 month period, unless an exception applies.

If you need advice on Start-up or Innovator visas, contact our immigration team.

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