In an era defined by innovation and entrepreneurship, the United Kingdom has made a substantial effort towards fostering its reputation as a global hub for start-ups and innovators. The introduction of the UK’s “Innovator Founder" route has marked a pivotal moment in the country's immigration policy, welcoming visionaries and founders from around the world to bring their ground breaking ideas to the UK.
Innovator Founder visa: Overview
The Innovator Founder visa route, formerly known as the “Innovator” visa and replacing the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa in March 2019, was introduced to facilitate the entry of foreign entrepreneurs into the UK for the purpose of establishing innovative businesses. This visa route is specifically designed for individuals who aspire to create innovative businesses not currently present in the UK market.
Holders of this visa are initially granted with 3 years Leave to Enter in the UK, with the option to apply for a further 3-year extension upon expiry of their initial visa.
One of the most appealing aspects of this visa category is that, after the initial 3 years, individuals may be eligible to seek settlement in the UK; this being a shorter timeframe compared to the standard 5-year route for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
Key Features and Eligibility
- Innovative Business Idea: an applicant must establish and run an innovative business in the UK - it cannot be a business that is already trading.
- Endorsement: an applicant must secure an endorsement from an approved endorsing body, which assesses the viability, scalability, and innovation of the business concept. This endorsement is a crucial step and ensures that only promising ventures gain entry to the UK.
- Knowledge of English: an applicant must be able to speak, read, write and understand English to at least a level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale.
In order to obtain entry clearance and/or permission to stay in the UK, an applicant must score 70 points from the categories below, 50 of which must either be under the 'New Business’ criteria or under the ‘Same Business’ criteria, but not both.
- Well-structured business plan - 30 points
- Business venture is innovative, viable and scalable - 20 points
- Applicant's previous permission was granted under the Innovator Founder, Start-up, or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route, and they are pursuing a business endorsed by a Home Office-approved endorsing body, either for their previous endorsement or during their last grant of leave – 10 points
- Business is active, trading, sustainable and demonstrates significant achievements against the business plan - 20 points
- Applicant is active in day-to-day management and development of business - 20 points
Mandatory for all applicants:
- English Language requirement at level B2 - 10 points
- Financial requirement - 10 points
General Requirements for an Endorsement
The application requires an endorsement letter from an endorsing body approved by the Home Office. The endorsement letter from an endorsing body should validate the following:
- the applicant is considered a suitable fit and proper person to receive endorsement under the rules and guidance of the Innovator Founder route
- the endorsing body harbours no reservations about the legitimacy of the funds' sources or the methods of fund transfer used by the applicant to invest in their endorsed business
- the endorsing body has identified no reason to believe that the applicant or their endorsed business may be the beneficiary of illicit or otherwise unexplained wealth
Innovator Founder visa applicants must:
- have a business plan which they have either generated or significantly contributed to the ideas outlined in it
- demonstrate their active involvement in executing the business plan on a daily basis
- confirm that they will engage in a minimum of two contact point meetings with their endorsing body at scheduled intervals throughout their leave. These meetings serve as checkpoints to evaluate the progress in relation to the applicant’s business plan
- be either the exclusive founder or play a crucial role within the founding team.
In the context of the requirement for the business venture to be innovative, viable and scalable, the applicant must meet all of the following requirements:
- have a genuine and original business plan that meets either new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage in the UK
- that plan must be both realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s resources
- they must have, or be in the process of actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run their business
- there must be evidence of structured planning, as well as the potential for job creation and growth into domestic and international markets
The endorsing body supporting the application must state in the endorsement letter that they are satisfied the requirements have been met and provide a short description of how the applicant has done so.
If an applicant is applying from within the UK and has lived in the UK for over 12 months at the time of application, they will inherently satisfy the financial requirement and will not be required to display proof of funds. Conversely, if an applicant is applying from abroad or has not spent a minimum of 12 months in the UK prior to their application, they must provide evidence of having enough funds to support themselves and any dependents.
The relevant financial thresholds for Innovator Founder visa applicants are:
- £1,270 for the main applicant
- £285 for a dependant partner
- £315 for the first child
- £200 for each subsequent child
Innovator Founder visa – ILR
One of the primary advantages offered by the Innovator Founder visa route is its provision of a clearly defined path to achieving settlement, also known as ILR, in the UK.
With ILR, individuals can establish permanent residency in the UK without being subject to immigration controls, and after an additional year, they become eligible to apply for British citizenship.
To qualify for ILR through the Innovator Founder visa route, applicants must reside and work in the UK for a period of three years, during which they must fulfil specific criteria related to the success of their innovative business. These criteria are designed to ensure the authenticity of applicants and that they are operating their businesses as described. The important points to bear in mind are as follows:
- You must have resided in the UK for 3 years on your Innovator Founder visa – time spent on any other visa type will not be counted towards ILR
- You must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any 1-year period
- You will need to apply for and gain a new endorsement showing you have now met the requirements for growing your business
- You will need to complete the Life in the UK Test
- You can apply for ILR 28 days before you become eligible
- Decisions are typically made within six months
Here at Clarkslegal we are experts in obtaining UK work visas with a quick turnaround and 100% success rate. Contact our UK immigration specialists for advice on any aspect of the Innovator Founder visa application process.