UK Innovator Visa

 The long-awaited Innovator Route is now open for applicants with experienced business track records who are aiming to establish a business in the UK. This route is open for applicants who are able to demonstrate that they have a new business idea, which will have been assessed by a third party (an ‘endorsing body’) against 3 main criteria: Innovation; Viability; and Scalability. Applicants must also show the availability of investment funds of at least £50,000. This route leads to settlement in the UK after 3 years if all the conditions set out below are met.

A separate Start-Up Route has also opened for applicants with less business experience who can prove a potential to successfully establish and run a new business in the UK, and can show that they are actively developing the necessary skills to do so. The applicant’s business idea will also be assessed by an endorsing body for the same criteria as the Innovator category, however they are not required to show the availability of any funds for investment. This route is open for early-stage entrepreneurs and does not lead to settlement and is limited to a maximum of 2 years, but the applicant is able to switch into the Innovator category after the 2 years.  

The below information will be based on the Innovator Route and the requirements that must be met to for Entry Clearance and ILR.

Entry Clearance

To be eligible for Entry Clearance, you must satisfy the following 4 main requirements:

-         Endorsement from an Endorsing Body

-         Available Investment Funds

-         English Language

-         Maintenance Funds

1)     Endorsement

This is a main element of the new Innovator Route. The Home Office currently has a list of 24 organisations who have a track record of supporting entrepreneurs/businesses, that are able to endorse you, however more bodies are expected to join the list in the future as the route develops. (Higher Education Institutions are also endorsing bodies for the Start-Up Route).

This requirement has shifted the credibility assessment from the Home Office to a separate body that is expected to have its own process of selecting applicants to endorse, based on its expertise, while following closely the underlying criteria set by the Home Office.

It is expected that some endorsing bodies will be accepting open applications for endorsement and others only recruiting from a pool of entrepreneurs with whom they already have a pre-existing relationship. You are therefore free to explore the different bodies, their specific criteria and selection process.

An endorsement is obtained by way of a letter from the endorsing body which must confirm that your business venture meets the requirements of Innovation, Viability, and Scalability, i.e. confirm the genuineness and originality of the business venture; confirm that you have the skills and knowledge to successfully establish the business; and to confirm that you have the potential and have carried out the necessary planning to develop in the UK market and create economic growth. If your endorsement is successful, you would have to submit the letter of endorsement with your application to the Home Office.

Aside from providing the initial endorsement, the endorsing body is expected to follow up with you. There are set checkpoints at 6, 12, and 24 months where the endorsing body will assess the progress made. The way these assessments are made will depend on the endorsing body and their internal criteria and expectations, however in general they should be satisfied that you are making reasonable progress.

2)     Investment Funds

Under the Innovator Route, you would need to show that you have at least £50,000 to invest into a new business which have been held for a continuous period of 90 days, or that you have already invested this amount into your new business. Your endorsing body may confirm that the funds are available or have already been invested. They may also choose to provide you with the funds.

The sum of £50,000 may be held by yourself, or can be provided to you by an organisation in the UK or overseas. Two applicants may apply to be the directors of the same business, but each applicant must have access to separate funds of £50,000, and to be endorsed on their own merits.

3)     English Language

You must demonstrate that they have a good command of English at level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). This can be shown by sitting an IELTS test (or any other test at a centre approved by the Home Office) and scoring at least 5.5 (out of 9) in all the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). The IELTS for UKVI test is available at British Councils and its approved test centres around the world.

Alternatively, you can meet the requirement if they have a bachelor’s degree (or higher qualification) that is considered to be taught in English from any university inside or outside the UK. For degrees obtained outside the UK, a formal assessment from the National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) in the UK confirming the academic level of the degree and the English language substance level of that degree will satisfy this requirement.

4)     Maintenance

In addition to showing the necessary investment funds, you must also show that you have additional cash savings of at least £945 in your personal account, held for a minimum of 90 days prior to making your application. This amount increases depending on the number of dependants accompanying you. An additional amount of £630 will need to be shown for each dependant.

Maintenance can also be provided by the endorsing body and certified in their letter.

Journey of Rules

If your application to enter the UK under the Innovator Route is successful, you are given an initial 3 years to establish your business. During this time, you will be required to set up your business, begin trading, and invest your funds so that at the end of the 3 years, you may apply for settlement (ILR) if you meet certain criteria. If you do not meet them, you may still be able to extend your leave in the category for a further 3 years. There is no limit on the number of extensions you can apply for as long as you continue to be endorsed and satisfy the rules at each stage.

During your time under the Innovator Route, you are not permitted to undertake any employment other than working for your own business.

Settlement

In order to qualify for settlement, you must show that:

-         Your last grant of leave was in the Innovator category;

-         You have sufficient knowledge of English;

-         You have sufficient knowledge of Life in the UK;

-         You are not in the UK in breach of immigration laws;

-         You do not fall for refusal under the general grounds for refusal;

-         You meet the continuous residence requirement by having spent at least 3 years in the Innovator category inside the UK (if you previously spent time in the Start-Up Route prior to the Innovator Route, this time will not be counted towards the 3-year requirement). Absences from the UK will not break the continuity period provided they total 180 days or less in any consecutive 12 months.

-         Endorsement: endorsement by an endorsing body is required both at the initial application stage and again when applying for settlement (however this does not need to be the same endorsing body as in your previous leave).

-         Progress and Achievement: By the next endorsement you will need to demonstrate enough progress and achievement in your business to meet the settlement criteria.

To demonstrate your progress, you must show that:

-         You have shown significant achievements, judged against the business plan assessed in your previous endorsement;

-         You have registered your business with Companies House and enlisted as a director or member;

-         Your business is active and trading;

-         Your business appears to be sustainable for at least the next 12 months, based on its assets and expected income, weighed against its current and planned expenses; and

-         You have demonstrated an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.

To demonstrate your achievement, you must show at least 2 of the following:

-         At least £50,000 has been invested into the business, and actively spent furthering the business plan assessed in the applicant’s previous endorsement;

-         The business has created the equivalent of at least 10 full-time jobs for resident workers;

-         The business has created the equivalent of at least 5 full-time jobs for resident workers, each with an average salary of at least £25,000 per year (gross, excluding expenses);

-         The number of the business’ customers has at least doubled within the most recent 3 years and is currently higher than the mean number of customers for other UK businesses offering comparable main products or services;

-         the business has engaged in significant research and development activity and has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK;

-         The business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of £1 million in the last full year covered by its accounts;

-         The business is generating a minimum annual gross revenue of £500,000 in the last full year covered by its accounts, with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas.

If two or more applicants have been endorsed for the same business, just as they must each show a separate £50,000 and be endorsed in their own right, each applicant must also meet their own 2 success criteria from the list above. The same criteria may be relied upon twice, as long as it has been doubled to reach 2 individual success criteria (e.g. at least £100,000 has been invested into the business, and the business has created the equivalent of at least 20 full-time jobs for resident workers).

Job creation: 

Job creation is not mandatory if at least two other criteria can be met. If you are relying on this, your job creation must meet the below requirements:

Each job must:

-         Have existed for at least 12 months;

-         Involve at least 30 hours of paid work per week. (2 part-time jobs may be combined to make 1 job, as long as each job has existed for at least 12 months);

-         Comply with all relevant UK legislation (National Minimum Wage, Working Time Regulations 1998).

A ‘job’ means a post filled, and does not refer to the number of employees. A single job may be filled for over 12 months by different employees at different times and count as one job having existed for at least 12 months.

Extension – Alternative

If you do not meet the above criteria to qualify for settlement, you may apply for an extension of a further 3 years. You must be endorsed again by an endorsing body.

To qualify, you must demonstrate enough progress for the same business as your initial entry, by showing that:

-         You have shown significant achievements, judged against the business plan assessed in your previous endorsement;

-         You have registered your business with Companies House and enlisted as a director or member;

-         Your business is active and trading;

-         Your business appears to be sustainable for at least the next 12 months, based on its assets and expected income, weighed against its current and planned expenses; and

-         You have demonstrated an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business.

It should be noted that the Home Office makes a distinction between applicants relying on a “new business” or the “same business”. This means that if you are already on the Innovator route, you may decide after 3 years to apply for an extension using a different business, in which case you must satisfy the same requirements (endorsement letter, investment fund) as an initial applicant, and will be granted 3 years. To apply for ILR, you must be relying on the same business as your previous leave.

When applying for settlement or an extension, you are permitted to be endorsed by a different body than your previous one, i.e. if your previous one is no longer an endorsing body.

If you genuinely believe that you would be able to meet the requirements to apply as an Innovator, you are welcome to contact us to discuss your individual case in greater detail to see how we can assist you further.

Disclaimer:

Please note that the above summary and explanation is for information purposes only and subject to change in line with the immigration rules and policies. This summary does not in any way constitute legal advice as every application is unique.

 

Article by Atef Elmarakby  - Immigration Law Specialist Consultant at GOOD ADVICE UK

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