December 9, 2023

Business Visa

The Business Visa Is Mightier Than Sword

New Innovator Founder visa now open for applications

The latest Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules published in March revealed the government’s plans to introduce a new visa route for foreign nationals wishing to set up a business in the UK, named the Innovator Founder visa.

The new Innovator Founder route replaces the old Innovator route and also closes the Start-up route to new initial applications except where they are supported by endorsements issued before 13 April 2023.

The new route has been designed to offer a more flexible provision for those with a genuine proposal for an innovative business and sufficient funds to deliver it. Applicants will no longer need to show that they have at least £50k minimum funds to establish their business as was previously required under the Innovator route.

With the removal of the £50k minimum funds requirement for Innovator Founders, it is no longer necessary to retain a separate route for start-up entrepreneurs that do not have access to this level of funds, hence the closure of the Start-up route to new initial applicants.

However, Innovator Founder applicants will still be need to obtain an endorsement from an approved body, as was previously required under the Innovator and Start-up routes.

The Innovator Founder visa is now open for applications and anyone wishing to apply should be aware of the eligibility requirements and application process outlined below.

What is the Innovator Founder visa?

The Innovator Founder visa is for foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK to set up and run an innovative business. The business idea must be something that’s different from anything else on the market.

With an Innovator Founder visa, you can stay in the UK for up to 3 years. You will need to meet with your endorsing body after 12 months and 24 months to show that you are making progress with your business. Your visa may be cut short if your endorsement is withdrawn by the endorsing body. If you want to stay longer, you must re-apply with a new endorsement before your current visa expires.

When your Innovator Founder visa is due to expire, you can apply to extend it for another 3 years. There is no limit on the number of times you can extend this visa. Once you have been in the UK for 3 years, you may be able to apply for settlement.

Endorsement process

In order to apply for an Innovator Founder visa, you must be able to show the Home Office that your business idea is:

  • New – you cannot join a business that is already trading.
  • Innovative – you must have an original business idea which is different from anything else on the market.
  • Viable, with potential for growth.
  • Scalable – you must give evidence of planning that includes creating jobs and growing into national and international markets.

Before you can submit your visa application, you will need to have your business or business idea assessed by an endorsing body to confirm that it meets the above requirements.

You will need to prove to your endorsing body that you have enough funding to set up your new business and where it’s from. You do not need any investment funds if either:

  • your business is already established and has been endorsed for an earlier visa
  • you’ve changed your business and already agreed it with your endorsing body.

Eligibility requirements

As well as successfully obtaining an endorsement letter to prove that your business meets the requirements of the route, you will also need to satisfy the following eligibility criteria:

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must prove your knowledge of the English language, unless you did this in a previous successful visa application
  • You must be able to prove that you have enough personal savings to support yourself while you’re in the UK.

Application process

You must apply online for an Innovator Founder visa.

As part of your application, you’ll need to prove your identity, by either:

  • Have your fingerprints and photograph taken at a visa application centre
  • Using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan your identity document.

Once you’ve applied online, proved your identity and provided your documents, you’ll usually get a decision on your visa within:

  • 3 weeks, if you’re outside the UK
  • 8 weeks, if you’re inside the UK.

How much it costs

It costs £1,036 to apply for an Innovator Founder visa from outside the UK, or £1,292 if you are applying to extend or switch to this visa from inside the UK. You must also pay the same fee for any accompanying dependants.

Main applicants and dependants will also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The IHS is currently £624 per person per year or £470 per year for under 18s.

You will also need to show that you have at least £1,270 to support yourself in the UK. The money must have been in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply. You cannot use money from your investment funds or money earned while working in the UK illegally to support yourself. More information about the money you need and how to prove it is available in the financial evidence guidance.

Permitted activities

An Innovator Founder visa grants the holder permission to set up a business or several businesses in the UK, and to work for the business (including being employed as a director or self-employed as a member of a business partnership). Innovator Founders are also permitted to undertake work outside their business, as long as it is ‘skilled work’ (i.e. at least skilled to RQF Level 3).

Support with your application

If you require support with submitting an application for the Innovator Founder visa, please speak to Smith Stone Walters. You can call us on +44 (0) 208 461 6660 or email [email protected].

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