Innovator Visa: Start Your UK Business

innovator visa

The UK Innovator Visa is a specialist business immigration route for individuals wanting to create and run an innovative company in the UK. Your business must be endorsed by a British endorsing body organisation. This visa allows innovators allows eligible applicants to live and work in the UK. It additionally provides a route to settlement and citizenship for eligible individuals.

The Innovator Visa process is one of the more complex visa categories due to the intensive business plan creation and endorsement process that is required for applicants. It is important to ensure that you follow the correct steps to apply for your Innovator Visa, as your ability to move to the United Kingdom will depend upon the acceptance of your application by the Home Office. This article will outline common questions and concerns from innovators around the world who are applying for an Innovator Visa.
 

What is the UK Innovator Visa?

The UK Innovator Visa is a work visa route for experienced business people with plans to set up and run an innovative business in the UK. It requires that applicants have a unique business plan that demonstrates current gaps in the UK market which the business would fill. This visa allows eligible applicants to live and work in the UK for up to 3 years. It provides a route to settlement after 3 years for eligible individuals due to their contributions to the UK economy.
 

What type of activities does the UK Innovator Visa allow?

A UK Innovator Visa allows for specific activities throughout your visa. You can do the following activities:

  • You can create one or more businesses
  • You can work for your business in any capacity
  • You can bring your spouse/partner and children as dependants, if they meet eligibility criteria
  • You can travel abroad and return to the UK
  • You can apply for settlement in the UK via Indefinite Leave to Remain after living in the UK for 3 years, if eligible

 
A UK Innovator Visa does not allow for the following activities:

  • You cannot work for any business other than your business(es)
  • You cannot apply for most benefits, also known as Public Funds, or a new State Pension
  • You cannot work as a professional sportsperson

 

What are the requirements for UK Innovator Visa eligibility?

To be eligible for the UK Innovator Visa, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Your business plan must be assessed and endorsed by an eligible endorsing body
  • You must be age 18 or over
  • You must speak English at a minimum B2 Level as identified by the Common European Framework of Languages
  • If your business is new – You must have at least £50,000 in investment funds to set up your new business
  • You must have at least £1,270 saved for at least 28 days to support yourself without relying on public funds or benefits

 

What are the endorsement rules for the UK Innovator Visa?

Before applying for the UK Innovator Visa, you must have successfully gained the endorsement of your business or business plan by one of the following endorsing bodies:

The Bakery
Bethnal Green Ventures
Blue Orchid Enterprise Solutions Ltd
Britbots
Capital Enterprise (IDEA London)
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Community and Business Partners
Consilium Consulting
CyLon
Deep Science Ventures
DRS Business Solutions
Edinburgh Innovations
Emerge Education
Emsworth Corporate Planning (ECP)
Entrepreneur First (EF)
Envestors Limited
Fashion Angel
First Corporate Finance
Fortunis Capital Ltd
Founders Factory
The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)
Innovator International
Ignite
Innovate Britain
International Innovation Hub Ltd
Invest Northern Ireland
Kollider
Level 39
MDR Lab
MedCity
Nexus
North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC)
Oxford Brookes University
Pall Mall Investments International
Panacea
Primus Capital
Queensbury Consulting
The Royal Society of Edinburgh
Sapphire Capital Partners LLP
Schoolgate Accounting Services
Scottish EDGE
Seedcamp
SETsquared Bristol
Severn Seed Finance (SSF)
SFC Capital
Startup Giants plc
The Startup Race
Techstars London
Tech X
University College London
University of the Arts London
University of Bradford
Wayra
Zinc

Each endorsing body has specific requirements that applicants must follow to have the best chance of acceptance. Please consult the specific endorsing body and Home Office resources to ensure that you meet all criteria.
What type of business case do I need to provide for the UK Innovator Visa?

Your business case must demonstrate that your unique business meets three key criteria points:

  • Your business must be innovative in the UK due to market needs and competitivity
  • Your business must be viable and you must personally have the necessary skills and experience needed for the business to succeed
  • Your business must be scalable with national and international potential to gain profits, create jobs, and fill gaps in markets

 
Whilst the Home Office does not stipulate how much detail you need to provide on these three key criteria points, it is in your best interest to go into as much detail as possible. Please consult with a relevant endorsing body on how to apply these key criteria points to your business plan so that your application can be successful.
 

How can I apply for a UK Innovator Visa?

To apply for a UK Innovator Visa, you must follow a series of steps to best assure that your application will be accepted by the Home Office. You can submit this application yourself, or hire an agent or representative to apply on your behalf.

First, you must have an innovative business or business plan that fills a niche gap in the UK market. You must undertake extensive research and business planning to ensure that your idea is innovative, viable, and scalable. You must create a strong business strategy and plan to present to an endorsing body. If you are seeking to set up a new business, you must ensure that you have a minimum of £50,000 in investment funds available and ample documentation demonstrating the provenance of these funds. You do not need to demonstrate these funds if your business is already established through a different visa or if you have changed your business with your endorsing body.

Second, you must be able to prove your proficiency in the English language. For the Innovator Visa, you must understand, write, speak, and read English at a minimum B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale. You can prove your proficiency in English in one of the following ways:

  • You have successfully passed a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from a UK government-approved provider of the exam
  • You possess UK secondary school qualifications in English that you earned by studying before the age of 18 at a school in the UK
  • You are a national of a majority English language country from the following list:
    Antigua and Barbuda
    Australia
    The Bahamas
    Barbados
    Belize
    Canada
    Dominica
    Grenada
    Guyana
    Jamaica
    Malta
    New Zealand
    St Kitts and Nevis
    St Lucia
    St Vincent and the Grenadines
    Trinidad and Tobago
    USA

 
Third, you must apply for the endorsement process. The specific requirements of this process vary broadly depending upon your specific field, your career achievements, and the requirements of the endorsing body. You should choose an endorsing body that is most closely aligned with the aims, ethos, and sector of your business or business plan. You should consult the endorsing organisation and Home Office resources to ensure compliance with all requirements.

Fourth, you will prepare all documents in preparation for submitting your Innovator Visa online application. Your documents must be in English or Welsh – if they are not, you will need to provide the original documents alongside certified translations. You will need to prepare the following mandatory documents and information:

  • Your valid passport with a blank page
  • An endorsement letter from an endorsing body approving your business or business plan
  • Bank statements proving that you have enough personal savings for at least the past 28 days – at least £1,270 to support yourself financially in the UK. You do not need to demonstrate these funds if you have been in the UK for at least a year
  • If you are setting up a new business – Bank statements and financial documentation proving you have at least £50,000 in investment funds
  • An up-to-date Tuberculosis certificate if required for your country of nationality
  • Proof of your English language proficiency

 
Finally, once you have collected all of your documents you are ready to apply for your Innovator Visa. You can apply from outside the UK, inside the UK if you are extending your current visa, or inside the UK if you are switching from a different visa category.

If you are applying for your Innovator Visa from outside the UK:

You will submit your Innovator Visa application online. You must either submit your application from your country of nationality or a country where you have valid immigration permission. During the application, you will need to pay the full cost of the IHS fee of £624 per year of your visa. For a 3-year visa, the total IHS fee would be £1,872. You will be issued an IHS number as proof of payment to input into the application. At the end of the online application, you will need to pay the application fee of £1,021. If you are from an EU country, your application fee will be reduced by £55.

Next, you will need to book a biometrics appointment at a suitable visa application centre in your country of application. You can either upload your supporting documentation online before your appointment or pay an additional fee to have your supporting documentation scanned and uploaded at the appointment. You will have your fingerprints recorded, a photograph taken, and your supporting documentation confirmed at the biometrics appointment. Your passport will likely be sent to the UK government for an entry clearance stamp to be placed inside.

After this appointment, you will normally receive a decision within 3 weeks. You may be able to pay to receive a decision more quickly than this. If your application is successful, you will be issued entry clearance in your passport which will note the first date you can enter the UK. Upon arrival in the UK, you will need to retrieve your Biometric Residence Permit. It will either be shipped to a local Post Office or sent via courier to your mailing address.
 

If you are applying for your Innovator Visa from inside the UK to extend your current visa OR to switch from a different visa category:

You will submit your Innovator Visa application online. During the application, you will need to pay the full cost of the IHS fee of £624 per year of your visa. For a 3-year visa, the total IHS fee would be £1,872. You will be issued an IHS number as proof of payment to input into the application. At the end of the online application, you will need to pay the application fee of £1,277. If you are from an EU country, your application fee will be reduced by £55.

Next, you will need to book a biometrics appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point anywhere in the UK. It will cost £19.20 to book this appointment. You can either upload your supporting documentation online before your appointment or pay an additional fee to have your supporting documentation scanned and uploaded at the appointment. You will have your fingerprints recorded, a photograph taken, and your supporting documentation confirmed at the biometrics appointment. For some applicants, you may be able to use a mobile phone application instead of attending this appointment. You will be instructed on what to do when you submit your online application.

After this appointment or use of the mobile application, you will normally receive a decision within 8 weeks. You may be able to pay to receive a decision more quickly than this. If your application is successful, you will be issued a decision letter or decision email from the Home Office. If your visa extension or visa switch is approved, your Biometric Residence Permit will be sent to your mailing address via courier.

Can I bring dependants to the UK with an Innovator Visa?

You may be able to bring dependants to the UK on an Innovator Visa. Their immigration status will be tied to yours throughout your visa. Dependants are considered the following:

  • A wife, husband, civil partner, or unmarried partner
  • A child under the age of 18
  • A child over the age of 18, if they’re currently in the UK as your dependant

 
As part of the supporting documentation for your Innovator Visa, you will need to provide evidence of your relationship to each of your dependants such as marriage certificates and birth certificates. For children over the age of 16, you may need to provide more specific documentation.

You will need to provide evidence of additional funds to support your dependant family members. In addition to the £1,270 in savings you will need to show evidence of for your visa application, you or your child or your spouse/partner will need to demonstrate receipt of the following amounts of money for the past 28 days:

  • Your spouse/partner: £285
  • Your first child: £315
  • Additional children: £200

 
Each dependant will need to complete a separate visa application and pay the correct visa application fee of £1,021 per person for applications lodged outside of the UK and £1,277 per person for applications lodged within the UK. Each dependant will also be charged £624 per year of the length of the visa for the IHS fee. Please note that each dependant will need to include your Unique Application Number on their online visa application, so you should submit your application first.
 

Can I extend my UK Innovator Visa?

If you still meet all of the eligibility requirements, you can apply for a 3-year extension of your UK Innovator Visa as many times as desired. You may also be eligible to apply for permanent residence via Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after 3 years in the UK.

Can I settle in the UK with an Innovator Visa?

If you have lived in the UK for 3 years on an Innovator Visa, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residence status, also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This settlement status allows you to remain in the UK indefinitely without being subject to immigration control. As a permanent resident of the UK, you can work for any employer without limitations, engage in self-employment, or study at any university without needing prior permission from the Home Office. You may also access public funds and benefits as a permanent resident. However, it is important to note that your Indefinite Leave to Remain status can expire if you leave the UK for more than 2 years.

The general eligibility requirements for Indefinite Leave to Remain status through an Innovator Visa are as follows:

  • You have lived in the UK legally for 3 years
  • You have not broken UK immigration laws over the past 3 years
  • You do not have a criminal record in the UK
  • You have not spent more than 180 days outside the UK in the past 12 months
  • You have successfully passed the Life in the UK Test
  • You speak English at a minimum B2 Level as identified by the Common European Framework of Languages

 
If you meet these requirements, you can apply online via ILR Form Set (O) to become a permanent resident of the UK. It currently costs £2,389 per person to apply for ILR, and your application will generally be processed within 6 months from the date of application. You can pay additional funds ranging from £500 to £800 to expedite your application.
 

Does the Innovator Visa lead to British citizenship?

You may be eligible to become a British citizen after you have possessed UK permanent residence status, known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), for at least 12 months. This citizenship status gives you the same rights as any other British citizen and there are no limitations on your ability to live, work, and study in the UK. You can also access public funds and benefits as a British citizen.

Importantly, citizenship carries certain benefits not afforded to those who only possess rights of permanent residence in the UK. These benefits include factors such as:

  • Requesting a British passport
  • Voting in all elections – however, you might be able to do so in some elections depending on your existing nationality
  • Standing as a candidate for elections – however, you might be able to do so in some elections depending on your existing nationality
  • Leaving the UK more than 2 years at a time without losing residence rights
  • Obtaining British citizenship for your children if they were born outside the UK

 
To qualify for naturalised British citizenship through your Innovator Visa, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be 18 years or over
  • You have lived within the UK for at least 3 years before the date of your application
  • You have held legal permanent residence status via Indefinite Leave to Remain for at least 12 months
  • You have not been absent from the UK in the past 12 months for more than 90 days
  • You must be able to prove that you were in the UK exactly 3 years before the day the Home Office receives your application
  • You have successfully passed the Life in the UK Test
  • You speak English at a minimum B2 Level as identified by the Common European Framework of Languages
  • You must meet the ‘good character’ requirements

 
Having lived and worked in the UK over the years, there are many political, social, economic, and practical benefits of becoming a UK citizen. You may want to apply for British citizenship due to these benefits, or simply because the UK is your home.
 

Innovator visa FAQs

What is a UK Innovator Visa?

The UK Innovator Visa is a specialist visa route for individuals who want to create and run an innovative business in the UK. It requires that applicants have a unique business plan that demonstrates current gaps in the UK market which the business would fill. Your business must be endorsed by a British endorsing body organisation.

How can I get a UK Innovator Visa?

You can get a UK Innovator Visa by having a unique business or business plan that can fill gaps in the UK market. You must have your business plan assessed and endorsed by a British endorsing body to be eligible for an Innovator Visa. If your business is new, you must additionally have a minimum of £50,000 in investment funds to support your business.

Is a UK Innovator Visa a Tier 1 Visa?

The UK Innovator Visa is not a Tier 1 Visa under the current immigration system. It is classified as an Investor, Business Development and Talent Visa. The currently Tier 1 Visas are the Entrepreneur Visa and the Investor Visa.

Can you work on a Start-Up Visa?

You can work on a UK Start-Up Visa at the same time as you work for your business. You may be able to switch from a Start-Up Visa to an Innovator Visa. On a UK Innovator Visa, you are only permitted to work for your business(es).


 

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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