UK Innovator Founder Visa

Explore the Innovator and Founder Visa options for immigration to the UK. QC Immigration provides comprehensive guidance and support for entrepreneurs and innovators looking to establish or expand their businesses in the United Kingdom.

What is the Innovator Founder Visa?

If you’re an overseas entrepreneur with an innovative, viable and scalable business idea, this could be a good visa option to migrate to the UK. It’s available for new out-of-country entrepreneurs and existing in-country entrepreneurs looking to establish a business in the UK, based on an idea which you have generated or contributed to significantly. 

Once granted, the Innovator Founder Visa allows you to stay in the United Kingdom for 3 years, at which point it may be extended for an additional three years or you may be able to apply for the UK’s Indefinite Leave to Remain visa. 

Who Is the Innovator Founder Visa Suitable For?

This type of visa is suitable for anyone planning to engage in entrepreneurial activities in the United Kingdom, has a strong business plan, and meets the Innovator Visa requirements (which we will discuss further below). Typically, candidates fall into two types:

  • A novice entrepreneur with an innovative idea planning to immigrate to the UK.
  • An experienced business owner aiming to enter the UK market to expand their business.

The visa issued to the innovative entrepreneur also applies to their family living with them. They can move with you as Dependents if they meet the requirements:

Partner:

  • Lives with you in a civil partnership or recognized marriage.
  • Has been cohabiting with you for more than two years at the time of visa application.
  • Has been in a relationship for at least 2 years when applying, and have good reasons on why you have not been able to live together (e.g. work, study, cultural or religious reasons etc.)

Children under 18:

  • Normally lives with you, including instances of residing away from home due to education in a boarding school or college.
  • Are not in a civil partnership or marriage.

Children over 18:

  • If they are currently in the UK as your dependent.

You can also apply for the visa if you are a co-founder of the company. You must be one of the key members of the founding team.

Replacing the Start Up Visa and Innovator Visa 

The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas in the UK have had a revamp as the Innovator Visa several years ago. Now, the Innovator Founder visa effectively replaces both the Innovator Visa and Start Up Visa. It’s available for new and existing entrepreneurs and comes with a host of benefits above its predecessors, such as:

  • You no longer need an upfront investment of £50,000 to be eligible 
  • There are now only two “check-in” requirements with an endorsing body (at 12 and 24 months) to validate your business plan 
  • You can work an additional job in the UK if you’re qualified to work above Level 3 in the UK’s Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) 
  • It can grant you quicker UK Settlement options 

The details on this page are for new applicants. If you applied for the Innovator or Start-Up visas prior to April 13, 2023 and are here because you have specific legal questions about your existing application or business, please reach out directly and we can assist you. 

Our lawyers at QC Immigration have extensive experience in successfully submitting Innovator Founder Endorsement and Visa applications and will be able to guide and support you in collecting and submitting all your documents for a strong and viable case. Check out the details below to see if you meet the requirements.

What are the basic requirements for the Innovator Founder Visa?

To be eligible for the Innovator Founder Visa in the UK, you will need to meet all of the following requirements for eligibility:

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Demonstrate you can read, write, and speak English 
  • Prove you have adequate funds to support yourself in the UK
  • Provide a valid plan for your innovative business in the UK
  • Have endorsement from an authorised organisation   

What are the important details to know about Innovator Founder Visa eligibility?

The following is an in-depth breakdown of the basic requirements mentioned above. For guided support and direct assistance with visa application, please reach out to our team for a consultation. 

English Language Proficiency  

Applicants for the Innovator Founder Visa need to prove a minimum B2 level of English proficiency according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) languages scale. There are three avenues by which you can demonstrate this.

  1. You are native English speaker from one of the following countries or territories: 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, and the USA.
  1. Your academic background was in English.

If you obtained one of the following qualifications  in the UK that began before you were 18, this will count towards eligibility -  GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English. 

Or, if you obtained an academic degree (bachelors or higher) from an accredited school that was taught in English, this degree will also qualify. If it was obtained outside the UK you will have to officially validate this through Ecctis.

  1. You have passed the Secure English Language Test (SELT) at a minimum B2 Level from an approved provider.

Funds to Support Yourself

You will need to show that you have a minimum of £1,270 in your bank account for 28 consecutive days leading up to the submission of your Innovator Founder Visa application. 

Innovative Business Proposal 

Whether you have an existing business you want to open in the UK or you are choosing the UK to launch your business, you will need to provide a valid plan and have it endorsed by an authorised organisation (more about this in the next section). Your plan needs to demonstrate that your business is innovative, viable, and scalable. Here’s a breakdown of what this means:

Innovation: Your business plan must demonstrate that your products or services will meet a new or existing market need, or will provide a competitive advantage to your customers.  

Viability: The plan should demonstrate a convincing probability of achieving business success. This entails showcasing your experience, market knowledge, business acumen, and expertise necessary to turn your venture into a healthy enterprise. To maintain the visa, you will need to meet with your endorsing body after the first and second year to prove you are making progress with the business plan. Failure to do so may result in loss of endorsement or visa renewal rejection.

Scalability: This visa is open for individuals and businesses that add value to the UK market, be that through economic growth, job creation, or expansion in national and international markets. It’s therefore essential that the business plan demonstrates how and where it has the potential to grow. Your business plan should also show that you have the necessary funds to start and expand the company.

Business Endorsement from an Approved Endorsing Body 

Previous entrepreneurial visas in the UK had a much longer list of approved organisations to seek endorsement. These “legacy endorsing bodies” may continue to endorse applicants that began their Innovator or Start-up visa application before April 13, 2023.

For any new Innovator Founder Business visa applicant applying after this date, there are only four official and approved endorsing bodies: 

In preparation for endorsement of your business plan, you can read the guidance for Scale-up and Innovator Founder visa endorsing bodies. However, to summarise and brief what they will be looking for, here’s a quick checklist:

Questions around INNOVATION:

  • Is your business or business idea original and innovative?
  • What is your Unique Selling Point (USP), or how are you different from other innovative competitors?
  • Does your business meet a need currently present and unmet or expected in the UK?

Questions around VIABILITY: 

  • Is your plan reasonably achievable given your demonstrated skills and credentials?
  • Do you have the resources or reasonable access to the resources needed to start/run your business?
  • Is there a credible demand for the products or services you will be selling?
  • Do you have access to the financials needed to develop and sustain your business or plan?

Questions around SCALABILITY:

  • Is the business plan sustainable in the long run?
  • Is the market ready for your product or service?
  • Can your business grow in the United Kingdom?

Endorsement Letter for the Innovator Founder Visa 

Once your application is approved or denied by an endorsing body, you will receive an endorsement letter. The endorsing body will provide a copy of the endorsement letter through an online portal and inform UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) of their endorsement decision. This streamlined process enables UKVI to efficiently verify the legitimacy of each applicant.

In the case you are approved, the endorsement letter will also contain a secure endorsement reference number unique to you (or each individual applicant). This reference number remains valid for a period of 3 months from the date of issue. You must use this reference number on your visa application.

Innovator Founder Visa to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

Innovator Founder Visa UK is one of the paths to gaining Indefinite Leave to Remain. To achieve this, you or your legal representative must provide the following to the UK Visa and Immigration service, including but not limited to:

  • Approved confirmation from a UK-authorized body that you have achieved significant success according to your business plan.
  • Registration with Companies House, confirming that you are an active director or one of the main founders of the company.
  • Endorsement that you actively participate in the management and development of the company, and your business will be active and sustainable for the next 12 months.
  • Have absences outside the UK for no more than 180 days during any rolling 12-month period in the last three years before applying for indefinite leave to remain.
  • Proof of English language proficiency and Life in the UK test, unless exempt.

Additionally, to qualify for indefinite leave to remain, you must meet at least two of the following UK Innovator Visa requirements:

  • Investments in the business amounting to at least £50,000, actively spent on its development.
  • The company has created five full-time jobs that have existed for 12 months for settled workers, with an average annual gross salary of £25,000 each.
  • The business has created ten full-time positions for settled workers that have existed for 12 months (without the minimum salary threshold above). 
  • The company's customer base has doubled over the last three years and currently exceeds the average number of consumers in similar enterprises in the UK.
  • The company has conducted research and development and applied it to protect its intellectual property rights in the UK.
  • The gross income for the last full year of business activity was at least £1 million.
  • The gross income for the last full year of business activity was at least £500,000, of which £100,000 was obtained from overseas exports.

Application for Indefinite Leave to Remain as a founder of an innovative business is available for those who have lived in the UK on an Innovator Founder visa for three or more years.

Switching into Innovator Founder Route

The UK Innovator Founder Visa offers extensive opportunities for living and working in the country for immigrant entrepreneurs worldwide. The Innovator Visa introduced by the UK government in April 2023 replaces the Start-Up Visa and the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Visa. Therefore, the Innovator Founder visa serves as an accessible immigration route to the UK for start-up founders with innovative, viable ideas and experienced business people with promising plans to open UK entities of their businesses.

What is the Visa Validity Duration Period of the Innovator Founder Visa?

Applying for an Innovator Visa and successfully obtaining it grants you the right to reside in the UK for three years. Subsequently, you may be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain. If you choose not to apply for permanent residence, you may extend its validity for another three years. 

Please note that the “innovator-founder” status has no time limitations, meaning you can extend it as many times as you demonstrate the success of your business or progress in the development of the innovative company.

What are the Innovator Founder Visa conditions?

By approving your application, the Home Office will require you to comply with some residence and work conditions in the United Kingdom. For example, you must continue working in your business. However, you are not prohibited from having additional employment. The key requirement in this case is that your second job must be performed at a professional position of at least level 3 RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework).

Innovator Founder Visa Application and Renewal Fees in the UK 

The cost of applying for an Innovator Founder Visa will depend on your location. For example, if you are outside the UK, the fee will be £1191, while applying for or renewing the Visa from the UK will cost £1486. 

Keep in mind that you will also need to pay a healthcare surcharge (IHS). To determine its exact cost, use the immigration health surcharge calculator on the official UK government services website.

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What’s the Application Process for the Innovator Founder Visa?

  1. Business Plan

Put your Business Plan together.

  1. Official Endorsement 

Get your business plan endorsed by an approved endorsement organisations.

  1. Online Application Submission

The Home Office website has a portal to submit your application online. The specific form you need to fill out depends on whether you are switching from a different visa while in the UK or applying from outside the country.

  1. Identity Verification 

After submitting your application, you will be required to verify your identity. This is outlined in the online application process, but we will brief your options here:  

1. Get a biometric residence permit. This requires getting your fingerprints and photo taken at a visa application facility. 

2.Use the "UK Immigration: ID Check" app to scan your identity document. 

  1. Payment of Fees: 

Application Fees: For applicants outside the UK, the fee is £1,036. For those within it’s £1,292. These fees are also applicable to each dependent applying on the visa with you. 

Immigration Healthcare Surcharge: This annual fee is £1,035 per person per year and must be paid in advance for each year the visa is valid. 

  1. Processing and Timeline:

 Application processing time is typically 3 weeks if you are outside the UK, or 8 weeks from within the UK. In cases where additional evidence is required or an interview is requested, the processing timeline will be extended. 

Please note that this information is subject to change, and it is advisable to seek the most up-to-date guidance from QC Immigration or the official sources provided by the UK government.

How QC Immigration Can Help

Our immigration lawyers are well-versed in all the intricacies and nuances of applying for and obtaining the Innovator Founder Visa in the United Kingdom. Therefore, we are ready to provide you with comprehensive individual consultation and support you through each stage of document processing.

Our team has licenced Visa specialists with over 20 years of experience in the UK jurisdiction. We have the expertise to analyse and identify the optimal paths for obtaining a UK visa in your situation.

Innovator Founder Visa Refusals

Refusal of a UK Innovator Founder Endorsement or Visa may happen to candidates who have made the following mistakes:

  • Incorrect/incomplete application.
  • Lack of financial funds or in the wrong account or term.
  • Weak business plan, which falls below the expectations of a government-approved Endorsing Body.
  • Insufficient proficiency in the English language.

You need to carefully consider and prepare your Business Plan, ensure your application is presented in a strong light, provide comprehensive supporting evidence, and seek expert legal or commercial opinion for any concerns. This way, you significantly reduce the risk of refusal for the Innovator Founder Visa.

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FAQ

How long can I stay in the UK on an Innovator Visa?
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You can stay in the UK on an Innovator Visa for 3 years. You can apply to extend your visa for 3 more years if you apply before your initial visa expires. Notably, you may be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) once you have completed 3 years in the UK.

What happens if an endorsing body loses or withdraws its status?
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If an endorsement has been withdrawn or the endorsing body loses its status, the Home Office will consider curtailing the leave of any innovators it had endorsed. They may do so with immediate effect, or to allow you to retain part of the remaining duration of their visa, or not to curtail your leave at all. If your leave is curtailed, you would need to secure a fresh endorsement from a new endorsing body.

How long does it take to get a decision on an Innovator Visa?
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A decision on an Innovator Visa is usually made within 8 weeks, subject to any latest changes to Home Office processing times. You can check the Home Office guide processing times to find out how long obtaining a visa might take in your country via the Home Office website. We may also explore any suitable Priority Service to expedite your application.

Will I be able to join or take over existing businesses?
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You must establish a new and innovative UK business only. If you wish to join or take over an existing UK business, other visa categories are available such as:Sole Representative of an Overseas Business VisaInvestor VisaSkilled Worker VisaIntra Company Visa

How early can I apply for an Innovator Visa?
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The earliest you can apply for an Innovator Visa is 3 months prior to travelling to the UK.

Am I allowed to work elsewhere?
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Innovators are restricted to working for their own businesses. There is, however, nothing to prevent you from establishing multiple UK businesses and working for them all.

Do I have to be the sole founder of my business in order to qualify for an Innovator Visa?
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You do not need to be the sole founder of your business in order to qualify for an Innovator Visa. You can apply alongside other Innovator Applicants to form an Innovator Team. Nevertheless, each applicant must be endorsed in their own right. Also, for new business applications, each applicant must prove that they each have �50,000 available in investment funds.

Can I bring my family members with me to the UK if I am on an Innovator Visa?
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You can bring your family members (�dependants�) with you, namely your husband, wife or partner. You can also bring children under 18 as well as children over 18 if they are currently in the UK as dependants. Importantly, your family members must apply for a visa if they are from outside the EEA or Switzerland.Each dependant will need to show that they have a certain amount of money available to support themselves while they are in the UK � in addition to the minimum �1,270 required.

Can I switch to an Innovator Visa if I am in the UK on another visa?
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You may be able to switch to an Innovator Visa if you meet the eligibility requirements and you are in the UK on another visa such as a Start-Up Visa. Note that any dependant will also need to apply to switch their status in line with your application.

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