Applying for the Innovator Founder Visa banner


Applying for the Innovator Founder Visa

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The innovator founder visa replaces the start-up visa and the innovator visa. In this guide, our immigration solicitors look at the innovator founder visa application process.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors 

For advice on business visas call the expert London immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Applying for an innovator founder visa

Applying for an innovator founder visa is a similar process to applying for a start-up visa or innovator visa. It is a 2-stage application:

  1. Endorsement by an approved specialist endorsing body
  2. Home Office application assessed by a Home Office official

You need to be successful at both stages – getting an endorsement is pointless if you do not meet the Home Office general eligibility criteria for the innovator founder visa. Likewise, meeting the Home Office criteria is meaningless if your business plan is not capable of endorsement.

As our business immigration solicitors had substantial experience with the start-up visa and innovator visa 2-stage visa application process, our experts can help and guide you through your application for an innovator founder visa.

Getting endorsement for an innovator founder visa

You need an endorsement from an approved endorsing body for your business to confirm that your business meets 3 criteria:

  1. Innovative
  2. Scalable
  3. Viable

It is the endorsing body, rather than the Home Office, that assesses whether the business plan meets these criteria; the rationale being that a specialist organisation is best placed to determine the potential for a business to succeed commercially rather than a Home Office official. Equally, the endorsing body will not look at the immigration rules when it comes to the general eligibility criteria for the visa.

In addition to checking that your business meets these 3 criteria, the endorsing body will also conduct a due diligence check to see if you have sufficient funding for the business and to check the source of funds. Although no minimum investment is needed (unlike the £50,000 investment required for the old innovator visa) the endorsing body does need to check that the business plan has the resources behind it and that the visa applicant is fit and proper with any funds coming from a legitimate source.

The endorsing bodies for the innovator founder visa

The government maintains a list of endorsing bodies for the innovator founder visa. The current 4 approved endorsing bodies are:

  1. Envestors Limited
  2. Innovator International
  3. The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)
  4. UK Endorsing Services

The remaining endorsing bodies for the start-up visa and the innovator visa can continue to help and monitor those with existing start-up or innovator visas but they cannot endorse applications for the innovator founder visa. They are therefore referred to as legacy endorsing bodies.

The innovator founder visa endorsing bodies can endorse in 3 different scenarios:

  1. New business
  2. Same business
  3. Settlement

The visa applicant can choose which endorsing body to approach for endorsement but business immigration solicitors recommend that advice is sought from an immigration solicitor or business advisor on the best endorsing body for your business type and sector.

Endorsement from an endorsing body for a new business innovator founder visa

With a new business endorsement application, you need to be able to demonstrate that your business plan for the new UK venture meets the 3 criteria of innovative, viable, and scalable.

This means you must have:

  • An original business plan that either meets new or existing market needs or creates a competitive advantage
  • The business plan is realistic and achievable based on your skills, market knowledge, experience, and resources
  • The business is growable with evidence of scalability through planning for job creation and growth into the UK market and international markets

Immigration solicitors warn that the business can't be an ‘off the shelf’ business idea and plan as the endorsing body must be satisfied that:

  • You will either be the sole founder of the business or a founding member
  • You have created or made a significant contribution to the contents of the business plan
  • You will have a day-to-day role in the business and implementing the plan

You can get professional help with your business plan. Business immigration lawyers say it is best to do so to make sure that your plan meets all the criteria that the endorsing body requires it to cover. The essential point is that the business idea must be yours and all the immigration lawyer or business advisor is doing is adding ‘gloss’ to your business plan rather than creating a business package for you.

Endorsement from an endorsing body for a same business innovator founder visa

The same business endorsement is where an innovator founder visa applicant already has a start-up visa or an innovator visa and is switching to the innovator founder visa category. For example, you may be in the UK on an innovator visa but not be in a position to apply for indefinite leave to remain because you do not meet the residence requirement due to time spent outside the UK.

To secure same business endorsement you must be able to show that:

  • You have a sustainable trading business
  • The business is registered with Companies House
  • You are a director or a member of the business
  • You have made significant progress when looking at your business plan for your existing start-up visa or innovator visa
  • You are still working in business development and management and you will continue to work in the business if granted the innovator founder visa

You can make any number of the same business endorsement applications but on each new application, the endorsing body will consider if the business has progressed with the plans set out in the previous business plan.

If you are in the UK on an innovator visa and you do not think that you will meet the same business endorsement criteria there are other visa options available, such as the skilled worker visa.

Endorsement from an endorsing body to settle in the UK after entry on the innovator route

For many entrepreneurs, the goal is to settle in the UK by applying for indefinite leave to remain. The innovator route provides for accelerated settlement applications – with a 3-year residence requirement rather than the usual 5-year wait on a skilled worker visa.

Time spent in the start-up visa category does not count towards the 3-year innovator residence requirement. In addition to the 3-year residence requirement, you must meet the same business endorsement criteria and you also need to meet at least 2 of the following criteria:

  • £50,000 investment in the business
  • Customer base increase - the business has at least doubled its customer base within the last 3 years and currently has customer numbers higher than the average for other UK businesses with similar or comparable products or services
  • Gross revenue increase - the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of at least £1 million in the last full year covered by the accounts
  • Gross revenue with overseas export - the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of no less than £500,000 in the last full year covered by accounts and at least £100,000 of the gross revenue is through overseas exports
  • Job creation - the business has created 10 or more full-time jobs for settled workers (or their equivalent), or at least 5 full-time jobs with an average gross annual salary of at least £25,000. Each job must have been in existence for at least 12 months and meet UK wage and hours requirements
  •  Research and development - the business has carried out significant research and development and made an application in the UK for intellectual property rights

Requirement for innovator founder visa holders to meet with their endorsing body

Immigration solicitors stress that the role of the endorsing body does not end with the endorsement of your business plan and the production of the endorsement letter. As part of the visa application process, you will need to confirm that you will have 2 contact point meetings with the endorsing body during the course of the innovator founder visa.

The contact meetings are scheduled for 12 months and 24 months after the grant of the visa and are intended to be a means for the endorsing body to monitor and check the progress of the business against the goals set out in the business plan.

If you refuse to commit to attending the meetings you will not obtain an innovator founder visa. In addition, if you fail to attend the meetings without good reason there is a risk that your visa could be curtailed or that you will not succeed in a visa extension application. That’s why business immigration solicitors highlight the importance of these meetings as it can be easy to ignore their significance when you are focused on the day-to-day management of a company or firefighting contractual or employee issues.

The endorsement letter for the innovator founder visa

Endorsement by an endorsing body comes in the form of a letter that is sent to you and also posted online so it is available to the Home Office.

The important thing about the endorsement letter is that it contains a reference number for use in the second stage of the visa application process. The reference number is only valid for 3 months so you cannot delay between endorsement and submission of your Home Office application. If you do then you will need to go through the endorsement stage again.

Applying for an innovator founder visa as part of a team

Not all entrepreneurs want to go it alone so the UK immigration rules provide for innovator founder visa applications involving the same business by more than 1 visa applicant. To immigration lawyers team applications make sense as often it takes a combination of skill sets to create a successful start-up company, and especially one that is innovative and scalable.

To apply for an innovator founder visa as part of a team of founders, the immigration rules say that you must have a significant role in the business as each visa applicant will need their own endorsement by the endorsing body. This is designed to stop an endorsing body from endorsing a great business plan and by association endorsing ‘hangers-on’ who are not integral to the planned growth and success of the business but just part of the team application to get a visa.

If you are applying for an innovator founder visa as part of a team it is best to take immigration legal advice on your future indefinite leave to remain application as the criteria you will need to meet are slightly different if you and other founders are applying for UK settlement. That’s because you all cannot rely on the same criteria, such as £50,000 of investment funds or the creation of 10 jobs.

Securing an innovator founder visa

If you secure an innovator founder visa it will last 3 years. The immigration rules say you can bring your family to the UK with you provided they meet the eligibility criteria for a dependant visa. Our business immigration lawyers can help you with dependant visa applications as well as support you with your business visa application.

If after 3 years you meet the residence requirement for indefinite leave to remain you can apply for accelerated settlement with an indefinite leave to remain application. Alternatively, you can apply to extend your innovator founder visa or switch visas to a different route. The crucial point is that if you are extending an innovator founder visa, or applying for settlement based on your innovator founder visa status, you will need endorsement by an endorsing body as you cannot rely on your initial endorsement.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors 

For advice on business visas call the expert London immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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