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The new Innovator Founder visa revamps immigration options for entrepreneurs starting up a new business in the UK

Ben Maitland writes for the Australia - UK Chamber of Commerce

+44 (0) 20 4551 4812
+44 (0) 7989 984415

Ben Maitland writes for the Australia - UK Chamber of Commerce

+44 (0) 20 4551 4812
+44 (0) 7989 984415

2 May 2023

Australia UK Chamber of Commerce

The UK’s newest work visa, the Innovator Founder visa has replaced the Start-up and Innovator visas from 13 April 2023. It combines aspects of these two immigration routes for entrepreneurs coming to the UK to grow a venture and is in part a reaction to some of the criticisms the Start-up and Innovator routes had come under in recent years, as well as being part of the UK Government’s general aim of ensuring that the UK is a technology and innovation hub.

We are already receiving many enquiries about the new route, so here are some answers to the main questions we get asked. You can read a fuller guide to the Innovator Founder route here.

How is the Innovator Founder visa an improvement?

  • Unlike the Start-up visa which preceded it, time spent in the UK under this new visa will count towards settlement.
  • Successful applicants will be granted three years leave to work on their venture and can bring dependent family members too.
  • After three years, they can all apply to extend their stay for another three years or to settle permanently in the UK.
  • Innovator Founders will still need a business plan approved by a Government-appointed endorser, but unlike the previous Innovator visa there is no requirement to have a minimum of £50,000 to invest in the business and applicants can undertake additional work to supplement their income while they invest in growing their venture.
  • Endorsing organisations will charge £1,000 for applications to have business plans endorsed, with another two payments of £1,000 for checking in on the business and assessing suitability to renew or settle under this route after three years. This is much more affordable than previously, where applicants were often asked to join expensive accelerator programmes to be endorsed.

What are the Innovator Founder eligibility requirements?

  • Applicants must be over 18 and have a business plan endorsed by one of the approved bodies (see below).
  • Applicants must also show that they can support themselves and any family members joining them.

How much does the Innovator Founder immigration route cost?

  • The initial application for a 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), and £1,000 for endorsement to renew the visa or settle after three years if applicants qualify. NB: applicants pay £1,000 whether their business plan is endorsed or not.
  • On top of the above £3,000 in endorsement fees, the Home Office application fee will be £1,036 per applicant, partner or dependent children if applying from outside the UK.
  • The fee is £1,292 each if applying from within the UK.
  • The Home Office application for indefinite leave to remain towards the end of three successful years on this visa costs £2,404.

How does Innovator Founder endorsement work?

  • The endorsement process involves one of the UK Government-appointed organisations endorsing an applicants’ business plan for innovation, viability, and scalability. These requisites must all be met.
  • Innovator Founders must satisfy endorsers that they have enough funding for the venture and show where it’s coming from.
  • Multiple founders can be endorsed for the same qualifying business plan.
  • All applicants must demonstrate they are a founding team member, that they have generated or contributed to the business plan and will be involved in a day-to-day role in the business for which they have the skills or experience.
  • If businesses have not performed well enough to qualify for settlement by the end of three years, the visa can be renewed multiple times with a viable ongoing venture.

Can people already on Start-up and Innovator visas switch?

  • The Start-up and Innovator visas are now closed for applicants. But those in the UK on these routes can use the same business (as long as it qualifies) to switch to the Innovator Founder visa.
  • The old Innovator visa is a route to settlement, so those on it would probably be better off getting endorsed for settlement by their current endorsing body towards the end of their visa, so long as they qualify.
  • While legacy endorsing bodies (approved by the Home Office to endorse Start-up and Innovator visas) will not be taking further new applications on these routes, they will continue to endorse 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 if they and their businesses qualify.
  • 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.

Who are the four new endorsing bodies?

There are three private sector endorsers as well as the GEP run by the UK Department for Business and Trade. The latter only endorses founders invited to participate in their programme. (For eligibility details email: global.entrepreneurs@trade.gov.uk).

  • Envestors Limited
  • UK Endorsement Services
  • Innovator International
  • The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)