Innovator Founder visa - a quick guide to the new, improved immigration route to start up innovative businesses in the UK
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The Innovator Founder visa has now replaced the UK’s Start-up and Innovator visas.
The new UK immigration route for entrepreneurs looking to start innovative ventures in the UK combines the best aspects of the previous two visas which stopped when the new route opened on 13 April 2023.
The good news is that, unlike the Start-up visa, time spent in the UK under this new route counts towards qualifying for indefinite leave to remain, so this new visa is a route to settlement.
While business plans still need to be endorsed by an appropriate endorsing body (see below), unlike the legacy Innovator visa there is no requirement to invest £50,000 in the business and individuals can undertake additional work.
The Home Office has also made clear that endorsement by the new endorsing bodies will cost £2,000 over the three years of the new visa. With its predecessors, Government-approved endorsing bodies often insisted start-ups they were endorsing join their accelerator programmes which could cost up to £30,000 or an equity stake in the firm.
What can you do on an Innovator Founder visa?
Successful applicants will be granted leave to stay and work on their venture for three years and can bring family members to the UK. They can also take up secondary employment, provided that it is a skilled role at RQF Level 3 (equivalent to A-levels).
After three years, Innovators can apply to extend their stay for another three years or to settle permanently in the UK. (This will require paying for a further endorsement).
Who is eligible for an Innovator Founder visa?
Innovator Founder visa applicants should be over 18 and have a business or business idea that has been first endorsed by one of the approved bodies as being innovative, viable and scalable. They will need to show sufficient funding and where it’s from.
As well as the initial letter of endorsement, applicants should be able to show they can support themselves and any family joining them and meet English language requirements.
How does Innovator Founder endorsement work?
The endorsement process involves one of the UK Government-appointed organisations assessing applicants’ business plan for innovation, viability, and scalability – all of which are required – as well as the relevant skills and experience of the applicant. There is no specific capital investment requirement, but the funding source must be legitimate.
Multiple founders can be endorsed for the same qualifying business plan, as long as they can demonstrate they are founding team members who have generated or contributed to the business plan and will be involved in a day-to-day role they have the skillset for.
The initial letter of endorsement costs £1,000, with the endorsing body checking in on the business plan another two times over the three years of the visa (£500 each time).
After three years, Innovator Founders can pay to apply to be endorsed again to extend their stay for another three years or to settle permanently in the UK.
How much will the Innovator Founder route cost?
On top of the £2,000 endorsement fee mentioned above, the Home Office application fee will be £1,036 for an applicant and the same for their partner or dependent children if applying from outside the UK. The fee is £1,292 each if applying to switch onto this route from within the UK.
A final endorsement fee of £1,000 is payable towards the end of three successful years on this visa to assess if businesses have performed well enough to renew this visa for another three years or to apply for indefinite leave to remain. The Home Office application fee for indefinite leave to remain is £2,404. Please note that government fees can be updated.
What are the endorsing bodies for the Innovator Founder visa?
The majority of endorsing bodies that were approved by the Home Office to endorse Start-up and Innovator visas will not be taking any further new applications but will continue the endorsement process for those on these immigration routes, including endorsing extensions and settlement. These legacy endorsing bodies will also be able to endorse those already using them to switch onto the new Innovator Founder route.
The four new Innovator Founder visa endorsers will also be able to endorse people switching onto this immigration route from other visas, providing they meet requirements.
The four new endorsing bodies are:
The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)
While the first three are private initiatives, the GEP is run by the UK Government’s Department for Business and Trade. It only provides visa endorsements for founders that have been invited to participate on their programme. (For eligibility details you can email: email@example.com).
(NB: These will also be endorsing the new Scale-up visa Sponsor Licence for UK businesses that cannot show the three-year’s required growth financially or in employees but can demonstrate for an endorser the clear potential/ability to do this in the next four years.)
Overall, the Innovator Founder visa provides a new and improved immigration route for entrepreneurs looking to start innovative ventures in the UK, with more flexibility and affordability compared to the previous routes.
You can find more information on this new route and the best options for those already on Start-up and Innovator visas who may want to switch or settle in the UK in our full Innovator Founder FAQ.
For any more details or UK immigration questions, contact us on +44(0)207 033 9527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vanessa Ganguin is managing partner at niche UK Immigration boutique Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law, and highly recommended by all the main legal directories such as Chambers & Partners UK, Chambers High Net Worth Guide, Best Lawyers, Legal 500, The Times Best Law Firms and by Who’s Who Legal as a thought leader in immigration law.