Is 2020 the year you plan to launch your business on the UK market? If you are from outside the European Economic Area, the Startup or Innovator Visa provides a route not only to enter the UK, but to work towards Settlement and British Citizenship.

The Startup Visa and Innovator Visa were launched in March 2019. They replaced the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa and the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa respectively. The new visa categories were introduced following a 2015 review by the Migration Advisory Committee.

The eligibility requirements for getting an Innovator Visa or Startup Visa are as follows:

Innovator Visa

Both Innovator and Startup Visa applicants will be assessed on the following three merits:

  • Innovation - your business concept needs to be unique. A business plan which proves your idea meets an existing market need or provides a competitive advantage in a particular sector is also required.
  • Viability - you need to prove you have or are developing the required experience, skills, knowledge, and commercial expertise to run the business.
  • Scalability - evidence of a clear growth strategy and job creation plans must be provided.

You will also need to show:

  • Evidence you have been endorsed in this category by an approved endorsing body.
  • Proof of £50,000 of investment funds available. In the case of a business team applying, each member must have £50,000.
  • Proof you can speak English to a B2 level.
  • A credible business plan.
  • You have at least £945 in your bank accounts for 90 days prior to applying.

Start-up Visa

The Start-up Visa is for people who are at the initial stages of building their business.

The same eligibility requirements apply as listed above. However, you are not required to have £50,000 in investment funds.

The role of an endorsing body

The role of an endorsing body

An endorsing body for a Startup or Innovator Visa is required to issue endorsements to visa applicants based on Home Office guidance. Furthermore, they are required by the Home Office to:

  • Stay in contact with the business founders you endorse. You can choose to do this as closely as you like but, as a minimum, we ask you to make contact at checkpoints after 6, 12 and (in the Innovator category) 24 months. This is to check that they are still making progress with their business ideas.
  • Decide, at these checkpoints, whether you are satisfied that applicants are continuing to work on their business ventures. They should have demonstrated reasonable progress with their original ideas. If they are no longer pursuing their original business ideas, they must be pursuing new business ideas that are also innovative, viable and scalable.
  • Withdraw your endorsement if, at these checkpoints, an applicant has not demonstrated the above. You should also consider withdrawing your endorsement if an applicant misses a checkpoint without your authorisation.
  • Let us know if you have any reason to believe someone you have endorsed is working in breach of their visa conditions, although we will not ask you to police this actively. We will then investigate appropriately.

If you have an Innovator Visa, the endorsing body will provide further endorsement if you apply for an extension and/or Indefinite Leave to Remain.

How an endorsing body will assess a business?

Startup Visa

The endorsing body must provide you with a letter confirming they have assessed your business on the following criteria:

To measure your business venture against the above criteria, the endorsing body must consider:

  • Is there a need for the business in the UK?
  • Does the business bring anything new to pre-existing markets?
  • Has the applicant done enough market research?
  • Are there realistic, sustainable product goals in place?
  • Is there a long-term plan for the venture?
  • Will the business gain sufficient "traction" in the market?
  • Is there potential for growth in the UK?

It is vital to understand that it is not enough for your business to merely compete against existing traders - it must offer something unique.

Innovator Visa

The guidance states that although the endorsement criteria for Innovator Visa applicants is similar to that of a Startup Visa applicant, there is a greater expectation of skills and experience applied to Innovator Visa submissions.

The assessment criteria for an Innovator Visa are:

Before offering to endorse you, the body will seek your permission as to whether they can monitor your commercial progress and share any relevant information with the Home Office.

In summary

You may notice that there is little in the way of guidance for endorsement bodies. This fact has concerned many immigration lawyers and business groups who worry that, due to lack of direction and management, potentially profitable, scalable business ideas will fail to achieve endorsement.

For long-term success, it is imperative to treat your relationship with your endorsing body as a partnership. Proactively contact them to update them on your progress. Because of the lack of guidance provided, it would be prudent to ensure there is no reason for the body to withdraw their endorsement of you.

Working with an immigration Solicitor can provide a competitive advantage when it comes to gaining endorsement and entry into the UK. Your lawyer can assist you with collating the necessary documents to prove you meet the criteria of innovation, viability, and scalability and create robust covering letters to support your application.

It's your future. Don't leave it to chance.