UK Innovator visa guidance: frequently asked questions
The Innovator visa is for anyone who wants to set up or run a business in the UK. The business must be ‘innovative’, i.e. something new in the business field. The Innovator visa partly replaced the UK Tier 1 visa (Entrepreneur) route, which is now closed for new applicants.
What are the requirements for an Innovator visa?
Applicants for the Innovator visa must:
- Be 18 or over
- Be a genuine Innovator applicant
- Want to set up or run a business in the UK
- Have a new, innovative and viable business or business idea (i.e. it must have the potential to grow)
- Have their business or business idea endorsed by an approved body
- Have at least £50,000 in investment funds if setting up a new business, or have already invested £50,000 in the UK business (subject to certain exceptions)
- Meet an English language requirement in speaking, reading, writing and listening – Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
- Prove that they have enough personal savings to support themselves, and any dependants, while in the UK. There are fixed amounts the applicant will need to be able to show
- Not be at risk of being refused under the general grounds of refusal, which include, for instance, automatic refusal on the grounds of previous overstay, deception and/or certain criminal convictions
There are different requirements if the applicant is applying relying on the same business as the business used in a previous endorsement under the Innovator, Start-Up or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route.
What is the application process?
The Innovator route is a two-stage application process. You will first need to apply for endorsement from an ‘endorsing body’. Once endorsed, you will be able to apply for leave to enter/remain in this category.
What is an endorsing body and how do I get endorsed?
Endorsing bodies are on an approved list and are sector-specific.
You can find the approved list here.
To obtain endorsement you must have a business plan, and the endorsing body must be satisfied that you have created or made a significant contribution to that plan. They will want to be satisfied that you will be based in the UK and involved in the day-to-day management of the business and implementation of the business plan you put forward. They will also want to see that you are either the sole founder of the business, or that you are an instrumental member of the founding team.
You must be able to prove to an endorsing body that your business idea is:
- Innovative – your business idea must be genuine and original. It must meet new or existing market needs and/or create a competitive advantage
- Viable – you will need to show you have, or are actively developing the relevant knowledge and skills to carry out your business plan, and that the plan is realistic based on your resources
- With potential for growth – the business must be scalable. You will need to demonstrate structured planning and potential job creation and growth into national and international markets
You must use the endorsement letter within the three months after the date it is issued.
What investment funds do I need and do they have to be my own?
You must have at least £50,000 to invest, but the funding can come from any source. Some endorsing bodies also require you to have additional funding as a condition of endorsement.
Can I form an Innovator team with others?
Yes, but you cannot share the same investment funds or endorsement. Your team must have £50,000 for each Innovator applicant and each applicant will require their own individual endorsement from an approved endorsing body.
Can I make the application from within the UK?
You can make the application from within the UK, unless you were last granted permission in the UK in any of the following visa routes, or are on immigration bail:
- Short-term student
- Parent of a child student
- Seasonal worker
- Domestic worker in a private household
- Outside of the Immigration Rules
How much are the Home Office application fees?
Entry clearance costs £1,036 for the main applicant, with the same fee for dependants. In-country applications cost £1,292 for the main applicant, with the same fee for dependants.
In addition, you have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge which is currently £624 per person per year applied for.
Can I work outside my business?
No, you can only work for your own business, either employed as a director or self-employed, but you can set up more than one business.
What can’t I do on an Innovator visa?
- Work as a professional sports person or sports coach
- Work as a doctor or dentist in training
- Receive public funds
Can my family come with me?
Yes, you can sponsor your partner and dependent children under the age of 18 to come with you as your dependants.
What are the main differences between an Innovator visa and a Start-up visa?
Like the Innovator visa, the Start-up visa is for those wanting to set up a new and innovative business in the UK. Both categories require endorsement. However, there is no investment requirement for the Start-up visa, although an applicant will still need to provide evidence to the endorsement body of how they plan to fund the proposed new business.
Additionally, the Innovator visa is one that leads to settlement, a Start-up visa does not and is only valid for a maximum of two years. The other major difference is that an Innovator can only work in the UK on the business they set up, a person with a Start-up visa can take other employment while they start up the business.
How long does the visa last for?
The Innovator visa is for three years. You can apply for another three years when your visa is due to expire. There is no limit on the number of times you can extend. Your visa can be cut short if the endorsing body withdraws its endorsement.
How long does the visa last for?
Unusually, you can apply for permanent settlement after three years in the UK as an Innovator, but there are stringent requirements to be met. You must not have spent more than 180 days in a consecutive 12-month period outside of the UK. If that is the case, you can apply for an extension of your Innovator visa and make a settlement application at a later date. Your dependent family can apply for settlement after five years in the UK.
What should I do if my application for an Innovator visa is refused?
There is no right of appeal against a decision to refuse an Innovator visa. You may be able to make an application for Administrative Review to the Home Office, where you can show the Home Office have not considered your application properly. If this does not succeed, you may be able to challenge that decision by a process called Judicial Review. It is important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible after any decision to refuse your application as strict time deadlines to apply for an Administrative Review.
How can we help?
Applications for leave to enter the UK as an Innovator can be complex and we strongly advise that legal advice is sought before these applications are made.
Our experienced and highly regarded Immigration team can help you identify the appropriate endorsing body and prepare your application to them, setting out how you satisfy the Immigration Rules. We can liaise and review your business plan to help you ensure you meet all requirements. Once you have endorsement, we can advise and assist in preparing and submitting your application for permission to enter and remain. If your application is refused, we can advise you on that decision and any onward review or challenge.