Applying for a UK Innovator Founder visa

The Innovator Founder visa route replaced the Start-up and Innovator routes in 2023. It is essentially a hybrid of the two. It is now the only route for foreign entrepreneurs to enter the UK to establish a new business. It is also available to those who have significantly contributed to an existing business.

Importantly the new route requires no minimum financial investment, but the individual will have to secure endorsement from an approved organisation before an application can be made to the Home Office.


Who is eligible for an Innovator Founder visa?

The business venture must be innovative, viable, and scalable. This is assessed as follows:

  1. The applicant must have a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage (innovative).
  2. The applicant’s business plan must be realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources (viable).
  3. The applicant must have, or be actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business; and (viable).
  4. There must be evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets (scalable).

The applicants role in the business must be substantial. They must have either generated or made a significant contribution to the ideas in the business plan, and they must have a day-to-day role in carrying out the plan.

It is permissible for an individual to have joined a business after it was registered with Companies House, providing the business had not already commenced trading. However, this necessitates additional scrutiny to show the applicant made a significant contribution to the business plan, and has not simply been added to an existing business for the purpose of facilitating investment. In short, with any application the applicant must either be the sole founder, or an instrumental member of the founding team.

 

What are the endorsement criteria?

Like its predecessors, to be granted leave under the Innovator Founder route applicants must be endorsed by government-approved endorsing bodies. There are three endorsing bodies (not counting the Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP), a government programme run by the Department for Business and Trade):

  1. Innovator International (the trading name of Geminus Innovation).
  2. Envestors.
  3. UK Endorsement Services (UKES).

 

The Home Office provides guidance for endorsing bodies to follow when assessing a business for innovation, viability, and scalability, but the exact endorsement process and assessment of each application differs between bodies. Relevant details are set out on each body’s website; all require a detailed business plan, including financial projections, and at least one interview.

In relation to the innovation requirement, endorsing bodies are required to consider:

  1. There should be a clear and compelling unique selling proposition (USP) which differentiates the product/services from competitors
  2. The concept should not be easily replicable by others/should demonstrate reasonable barriers of market entry to otherwise replicating their proposed innovation, and
  3. The innovation element should be core to the success of the proposed business proposition and be primarily delivered within the business

In relation to the viability requirement, endorsing bodies are required to consider:

  1. If the applicant has access to sufficient funds to deliver the proposed business
  2. If the supporting financial projections can be credibly defended
  3. If the applicant can show they have appropriate skills, knowledge, and experience to credibly deliver the project, and
  4. If there is credible demand for the business’ proposed product/services

In relation to the scalability requirement, endorsing bodies are required to consider:

  1. Evidence of structured planning demonstrating a credible path to growth
  2. Potential for ongoing high quality and skilled job creation
  3. Scope for growth into national and international markets, and
  4. Projections based on credible research

An endorsing body’s responsibilities do not end upon an endorsement. Applicants are required to have at least two “checkpoint meetings”, before the 12 and 24-month anniversaries of their grant of permission, to demonstrate to the endorsing body that they are making progress towards their business plan. It is open to the endorsing body to withdraw endorsement at any time.

Multiple innovator founders can apply for endorsement to be co-directors of the same company, but each applicant must receive individual endorsement.

If you are currently endorsed under the Innovator and Start-up routes, endorsing bodies are still required to hold contact point meetings with you, and to consider further endorsement when:

  1. Switching from Start up to Innovator Founder.
  2. Extending Innovator leave (which will become Innovator Founder leave).
  3. Applying for Settlement.

 

What is the application process?

The application itself has been amended to make this route easier than its predecessors:

  1. There is no longer a minimum funds requirement (previously it was set at £50,000), although the business plan still requires significant investment.
  2. Applicants will be able to supplement their income by working in other employment as well as for the business they have established, provided that the other employment is sufficiently skilled – RQF level 3 or higher.
  3. There are now four endorsing bodies for new applications, rather than the previous 65, answering concerns that some of the prior endorsing bodies weren’t fit for purpose.

Nevertheless, the Home Office retains ultimate discretion. Even with a valid endorsement, an application can still be refused if the Home Office deems the business lacks innovation, viability, or scalability, or they doubt the genuineness of the applicant. It is important that the visa application is properly evidenced; an endorsement should not be seen as an automatic ticket to a visa.

How we can help

The expert solicitors at Latitude Law can provide expert advice on all aspects of UK Innovator Founder visa applications. We can provide detailed guidance about the requirements, or prepare the entire application alongside a detailed representation document explaining how the relevant rules are met. Our experts can also provide assistance in applications to switch to the Innovator Founder route from another category, extend your leave or apply for settlement.

Why choose Latitude Law?

Latitude Law has extensive knowledge in all aspects of immigration, human rights, and nationality law. Our experienced solicitors have assisted clients with some of the most complex issues that can arise from visa applications, extensions and switching into other categories.

We have one of the largest immigration teams in the North West and work tirelessly to ensure all of the necessary steps are completed to the highest standard. We are recognised as a top immigration law firm by the WhosWhoLegal, the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners.

Innovator Founder route Q&As

Can I switch into the Innovator Founder category?

You are eligible to switch to an Innovator Founder visa unless you are currently in the UK in one of the following categories:

  • Visitor
  • Short-term student
  • Parent of a child student
  • Seasonal worker
  • Domestic worker in a private household
  • You have leave outside published immigration rules

Is there a job creation requirement?

There is a job creation requirement for the Innovator Founder category; this is measured at settlement stage and can be either:

  • 10 full-time jobs for settled workers, or
  • 5 full-time jobs for settled workers each paying at least £25,000 per annum

There are alternative ways to measure business success, including:

  • Doubling of the company’s customer base, taking it over the sector average
  • Significant R&D
  • Gross revenues exceeding £500,000 with £100,000 from exports

Do I need to work full-time in my business?

No. In a major change from the Innovator route, applicants are able to supplement their income by working in other employment as well as for the business they have established, provided that the other employment is sufficiently skilled – RQF level 3 or higher.

When can an Innovator Founder apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain?

You can apply for settlement / indefinite leave to remain after 3 years’ continuous residence in the Innovator category. You will also need to pass a Life in the UK test at the point of applying for residence.

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All content on this page was reviewed by Latitude Law and is accurate as of 09/06/2023