Innovator Founder Visa Guide: How To Apply

Feb 09, 2024
Last Updated on Mar 14, 2024

Introduced by the UK Government on 13 April 2023, the Innovator Founder route replaces both the Innovator and Start Up visas and is a primary visa category for foreign entrepreneurs who are planning to set up a business in the UK.

This article will provide a detailed overview of the UK Innovator Founder Visa.

Is it difficult to get an Innovator Founder Visa?

There is no sense in sugarcoating it. The Innovator Founder Visa is an incredibly difficult category and the barriers to entry are incredibly high.

As you will see from the process listed below, it is a lengthy process that requires extensive preparation. Securing an endorsement is not always easy, and there are no guarantees that your application will then be successful.

If you want to start a business in the UK, we recommend the Self-Sponsorship route. We have helped many individuals to start a business or expand into the UK with this visa route.

What is the process of securing a visa through Self-Sponsorship?

With Self-Sponsorship, you will essentially establish a business in the UK and then sponsor your own visa to enable you to move to the UK and grow your business. This might sound like it is against the rules, but we assure you that it is a viable route towards starting a business in the UK.

You could have already established a business elsewhere and have your sights set on expanding into UK markets. Or you might have seen a business for sale in the UK that you would like to purchase. This is an incredibly flexible route that does not require an elusive endorsement.

You can see our complete guide to self-sponsorship here.

Still curious about the Innovator Founder Visa? Read on to learn more…

Introducing the Innovator Founder Visa

This visa category is intended for start-up entrepreneurs and experienced businesspersons who would like to start a business in the UK. As the name suggests, this needs to be an innovative business idea. It must also be viable, scalable, supported by a business plan and endorsed by a recognised third party.

The applicant must be heavily involved in the company, and must be responsible for the business idea – or have contributed a significant portion. The Innovator Founder must also intend to play a significant role in the day-to-day running and ongoing development of the business.

The visa will allow you to live and work in the UK for up to three years. After this time, you’ll be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This is faster than most routes, which require you to reside in the UK for five years before applying for ILR. You can also bring your partner and dependent children under the age of 18 to the UK with you.

If you already own an existing UK business, you might be better suited to the Skilled Worker visa through self-sponsorship. This is when your own company is able to sponsor your visa application. 

Innovator Founder Visa Eligibility and Requirements

The applicant must meet several requirements and will score points for meeting the relevant criteria. Some points relate to the individual and some points are awarded for the applicant’s business plan. A total of 70 points are needed for a successful application.

The individual must meet the following requirements to be eligible:-

  • Meet the English language requirement (CEFR Level B2)
  • Be at least 18 years old on the date of the application
  • Be able to prove that they have held enough personal savings in their bank account for 28 days in order to support themselves whilst in the UK (£1,270 for themselves, £285 for a dependant partner, £315 for the first child and £200 for each additional child) if they have been in the UK less than 12 months
  • Not fall foul of the general grounds for refusal which include having committed certain types of crime

The applicant will score 10 points for meeting the English language and a further 10 points for meeting the financial requirements.

The applicant’s business idea must also meet the Home Office requirements. An endorsement letter from an endorsing body must have been issued no more than three months before the date of the application. There are several endorsing bodies that are authorised by the Home Office to perform this role.

The endorsing body must deem that the applicant has made a significant contribution to the business plan and will have a day-to-day role in running the business. The applicant must also have at least two contact point meetings with the endorsing body within their period of permission.

The endorsing body will also examine the applicant’s business plan to decide if it is new, innovative, viable and scalable. The Home Office’s guidance states that the business the Innovator will start must be:

  • New – an applicant cannot join a business that is already trading
  • Innovative – the applicant’s business idea must be genuine and original
  • Viable – the business plan must be realistic and achievable, and the applicant must have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to run the business
  • Scalable – the applicant must give evidence of planning that includes job creation and national/ international growth

30 points are awarded for the business plan itself, and 20 points are awarded for the venture being innovative, viable and scalable.

If an applicant is switching from the old Innovator or Start-up visas, they do not have to show that their business is new so long as their business was the one they used for their previous applications. Furthermore, they may still gain endorsement from legacy endorsing bodies that the Home Office no longer permit to endorse new Innovator Founder visa applications. The business must be shown to be performing well against the original business plan and the applicant must still be active in the day-to-day management of the business. Points are awarded for previous visa application success, business performance and the applicant’s continued involvement in their business.

Who is a good candidate for the Innovator Founder Visa?

The Innovator Founder Visa is best suited to entrepreneurs with a business idea they would like to establish in the UK. Since you are required to secure an endorsement for your business, you will need to show how your business idea is innovative, viable and scalable.

Your business plan will be vital to securing this endorsement. You also have to show that you made a significant contribution to the business plan.

It is possible to secure an endorsement to join a company that is already registered with Companies House but has not yet started trading. To achieve this, you will need to demonstrate how you contributed to the business plan.

If your business is already up and running elsewhere in the world and you would like to expand into the UK market and establish a presence in the UK, you may be more suited to the Expansion Worker Visa. If you are hoping to join an existing company, then the Skilled Worker route would be better suited to your situation. 

Investment funds for the Innovator Founder Visa

You don’t have to prove that you have investment for your visa application, but you will need to demonstrate this to secure an endorsement.

There are requirements to show that your funding isn’t from illicit or unexplained sources. Transparency and 

Securing endorsements for the Innovator Founder Visa

In order to be eligible for the Innovator Founder Visa, you need to secure an endorsement from one of four recognised endorsing bodies. These are:

  • UK Endorsing Services
  • Innovator International
  • Envestors Limited
  • The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)

Some of these bodies, like the GEP, will only endorse candidates who have been invited to participate in their programme. One of the best ways to understand what these endorsing bodies are looking for is to study the guidance offered to endorsing bodies from the Home Office.

This document outlines how endorsing bodies should assess applications, so this could be a vital tool for ensuring that your application meets the requirements.

Other requirements: language and financial

As with the majority of UK visas, there is also the language requirement to consider. If you’re planning to conduct business in the UK and establish a viable business, you need to be able to communicate confidently in the local language.

There are many ways you can prove your English language proficiency. First, you should check if you are a resident of a country that is exempt from the rules. The Home Office website has a list of countries where English is the majority spoken language.

There are other ways you may be exempt from the rules. For example, if you have a degree from a recognised university and the course was primarily taught in English.

If you studied at a UK school when you were under 18 and you have any of the following qualifications, you will also be exempt: GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English. 

And finally, you could also take a test to prove your proficiency. You can take the SELT exam with one of these approved providers.

Steps for securing your visa

Now that you know the requirements of the visa and what the Home Office is looking for when they issue this type of visa, you can think about the steps and the timescales for applying for this visa.

When it comes to business plans and ideas, time is of the essence. If you don’t move quickly with your idea, there is the risk that someone could be one step ahead of you. If you’re ready to take your business idea to the next level, these are the steps you will need to take to secure your Innovator Founder visa:

Step one: Get in touch with our team

The best way to complete your application is under the expert guidance and support of a professional. We can help assess the merit of your business idea and ensure you approach the right endorsing body for your needs. 

Step two: Prepare your business plan

If you haven’t already completed this step, you will need to create a business plan to present your idea to the endorsing bodies. We can help guide this process to give you the best chance of success. 

Step three: Secure an endorsement

After presenting your business idea to your chosen endorsing body, they will assess your pitch and determine if the concept meets their requirements for an endorsement. They will take the time to get to know you, your business idea, your cash flow forecast and your plans for growth and expansion. 

Step three: Due diligence and KYC

At this stage, the endorsing body will need to dig a little deeper to make sure there are no reasons that they shouldn’t endorse your business idea. This will include a deep dive into your background (also known as the Know Your Client checks). They will also want to know more about the source of your funding. Any ambiguity or opacity at this stage could derail your plans.

Step four: The application

After securing an endorsement, you can move forward with your Innovator Founder Visa application. We advise seeking legal advice for this stage to help minimise the risk that small mistakes or omissions on your application could derail your plans. There are strict requirements for this visa, and your evidence needs to be presented professionally and without errors.

Step five: Approval and arrival in the UK

If your application is approved, you will be granted leave to enter the UK. This will allow you to move to the UK to start your business. It’s important to maintain contact with your endorsing body as this will likely be a requirement of your visa. Your endorsing body may be able to provide ongoing mentorship to help you establish your business and then scale.

Innovator Founder Visa Fees

An applicant from outside the UK must pay £1,191 for themselves. Each individual dependant must also pay the same fee. An applicant who is currently inside the UK and wishes to either extend their Innovator Founder visa or switch from a different visa must pay £1,486 for themselves. Each of their dependants must pay the same fee.

Applicants must also pay the healthcare surcharge as part of their visa application. This is currently £624 per year of the visa for every adult applicant, and £470 per year for dependants under 18 (due to increase in 2024). The visa would be issued for 3 years at a time.

Benefits of the Innovator Founder Visa

There are several benefits to the Innovator Founder visa route, including:

  • An applicant may bring their dependants with them on this visa
  • An applicant may travel abroad and return to the UK
  • An applicant may apply to settle permanently in the UK, known as an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) application – under the Start Up visa this was not the case time spent did not count towards a settlement application
  • There is no minimum requirement for investment – the previous Innovator visa required applicants to invest at least £50,000
  • The applicant may do another job alongside running their own business (as long as it is ‘skilled work’) – this was not allowed under the Innovator visa

Downsides to the Visa

The major disadvantage to the innovator founder visa is that the applicant’s business must be endorsed by one of the Home Office authorised bodies. This will take time and effort as it is a lengthy and complicated process. It requires the applicant’s business venture to meet the aforementioned criteria of being innovative, viable and scalable. Moreover, if the endorsing body withdraws its endorsement, it could lead to the termination of the Innovator Founder visa, which could lead to the departure of the applicant from the UK.

What alternative options are there for entrepreneurs?

An alternative route to the Innovator Founder visa is the Self-Sponsorship route. The Self-Sponsorship route combines the well-established Worker Sponsor licence application with the Skilled Worker route. The applicant can, with the assistance of a regulated legal advisor, set up a UK company, apply for a sponsor licence and then go on to be assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship in support of their own Skilled Worker visa. After 5 years in the UK as a Skilled Worker, the individual can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Self-Sponsorship does not require a letter of endorsement from an endorsing body, avoiding a lot of time and effort, and also removes the risk of the visa being cancelled because an endorsement is withdrawn. In addition to this, an applicant’s Self-Sponsorship company does not have to meet the innovative, viable and scalable thresholds – it can be any business, which makes it much easier. The Self-Sponsorship route does have strict requirements that need to be met, but these are generally less onerous than the Innovator Founder route.

Final Words

The UK Innovator Founder visa is a well-known route for foreign businesspeople who wish to move to the UK and set up a business. It allows them to bring their dependants, travel abroad and eventually settle in the UK.

However, its requirements, particularly the need for an endorsement, can make it difficult to attain.

Bearing in mind the complexity involved in obtaining an Innovator Founder visa, the Self-Sponsorship is another option for foreign entrepreneurs who wish to set up a UK company. It is worthwhile weighing up both options and seeking legal advice before making a visa application.

Transform Your Business Together

A Y & J Solicitors is a specialist immigration law firm with extensive experience with all visa for entrepreneurs and businesspeople. We have an in-depth understanding of immigration law and are professional and results-focused. For assistance with your visa application or any other UK immigration law concerns, please contact us on +44 20 7404 7933 or contact us today. We’re here to help!

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A Y & J Solicitors

A Y & J Solicitors is a multi-award winning, 14+ years experienced, recommended by Legal 500, boutique UK immigration law firm based in Central London. Having assisted 5000+ clients, we are well equipped to help you with our ‘In It To Win It’ approach. For your assurance and confidence, we are pleased to share our trust rating of 4.9/5 based on 1000+ reviews on Trustpilot & Google.

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