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Business Start-Up and Innovator Visas

In a move that was intended to send exactly the right message to international entrepreneurs, UK Visas and Immigration recently announced the latest changes to the Immigration Rules in the Statement of Changes, proving that, in a world of Brexit uncertainty, access to business talent is high on the agenda. Nicola Richards examines the two new options available for gaining a start-up visa.

Both the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) and the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route have been removed and replaced by “start-up” and “innovator” routes. As of the end of March, these two new categories have now opened. The changes are significant as the funding requirement has almost disappeared, save for the Innovator Visa which now demands funds of £50,000.

For both routes, applicants will need to:

The Innovator and Start-up endorsing bodies are currently:

Start-up applicants can also be endorsed by HEI endorsing bodies. The above list is not finite and is likely to change over time.

What is important to note is that the above bodies (as is the current case with Tech Nation) will not make a decision on the outcome of the entire application and rather they are there to make an assessment of the eligibility of the applicant for the endorsement.

Start-up visa

The Start-up category is for those who are looking to establish a business in the United Kingdom for the first time. In order to qualify under this category, applicants need a business idea that is (a) innovative, (b) scalable, and (c) viable. There is no funding requirement for this category and the applicant does not need to be a graduate. The idea itself must be supported by an endorsing body as outlined above. If successful, the grant of leave is for two years. What is important to note is that this category does not lead directly to settlement. Visa holders can then switch to the Innovator category which does offer the opportunity to apply for settlement (subject to satisfying the criteria).

On 6 July 2019 the current Graduate Entrepreneur route will be closed to new applicants.

Innovator visa

The Innovator category is intended for more experienced business people looking to set up in the UK. As well as an endorsement, the applicant will need £50,000 to invest in their business from any legitimate source (this has been reduced from what was the £200,000 requirement for Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas). What is a positive step is that this funding requirement will be waived for those applicants switching from the Start-up category who have made significant achievements against their business plans. The category may also lead to settlement in the UK.

The three main endorsement criteria are, as is the case for start-up visas, innovation, viability and scalability. However, it is important to note that in this category, the applicant is expected to show that they already have the necessary skills (whereas start-ups can show that they are “developing” them), and that there is potential for growth into national and international markets (rather than national only for start-ups). As was the case for Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Visas, Innovators cannot work other than for their business.

Innovators will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (settlement) after three years’ continuous residence in the UK as innovators, provided they satisfy at least two of a list of criteria relating to how much money they have invested, how much the business has grown and/or how many jobs they have created.

It remains to be seen how these new categories will fare compared to the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) and the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) routes. However, the reduction in the amount of funds required is a welcome change to an increasing prohibitive UK immigration system.

There are likely to be more significant changes to Tier 2 at a later stage, depending on whether the Withdrawal Agreement is followed.


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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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