UK Business Visas: Start-up and Innovator

The UK immigration policy provides for several categories of visas for foreign nationals wishing to develop their business in the UK. Each type of permit has its own subtleties and is suitable for certain situations. For some visas it is possible to transfer from one visa to another, and some visas also provide an opportunity to obtain UK citizenship over time.

Visas existing for business

The United Kingdom is interested in economic development, which is reflected in the creation of a favourable environment for attracting new projects and competent professionals. The following categories have been developed specifically for this purpose:

  • UK Start-Up Visa;
  • UK Innovator Visa;
  • visa of the Sole Representative of a foreign company;
  • Tier 1 Entrepreneur;
  • Tier 1 Investor.

From 13 April 2023, the Startup and Innovator visas are closed and an even better category, the UK Innovator Founder Visa, has been created.

The last three types are closed to new applications. Their holders stay in England legally until their expiry date and then, switch to other suitable visa types or apply for permanent residence if all the necessary conditions already allow it.

Startup visa to the UK and Innovator visa

When it comes to registering your own business in England, it is worth considering the Startup and Innovator visas. Both of them imply the opening of a company and give a prospect for further development, including the possibility of obtaining citizenship. After all, running a successful business requires constant supervision, involvement and labour. Both visas have significant similarities in obtaining and subsequent obligations, but differ in several important points.

The main thing when applying for any of these visas is to develop a good business plan, which will be approved by the authorised body. It considers the projects and makes a decision, which can be either approval (in the form of a letter) or refusal. In the second case, it is worth revising the documents, making adjustments and you can resubmit the papers for consideration. For a more successful examination it is recommended to contact immigration lawyers, who at the stage of preparation will be able to determine the prospects of the business idea with an experienced eye, give advice on improving the project, as well as suggest what additional documents should be attached to the case.

Startup visa to the UK

It is suitable for first-time entrepreneurs and does not require any financial investment. However, it is issued only once and for a maximum period of 2 years and cannot be extended. In connection with the expiry of the period of validity, it is possible to apply for another type of visa. When the enterprise is successful and has prospects for further growth, businessmen choose the Innovator’s visa, which leads to the possibility of obtaining a residence permit and later citizenship.

The application processing period varies from 3 to 12 weeks. The shortest period is for those who send documents from another country. If the businessman is in England, it takes up to 3 months to analyse the collected information.

There is a system of accelerated processing of applications – applied exclusively for non-residents. It can be used to shorten the period to 10-15 days.

Thus, obtaining a Startup visa to immigrate to the UK becomes a great springboard to a promising and successful future.

Conditions for issuing a Startup visa

  • The applicant must be of legal age.
  • Must not currently have a business in the UK, nor have previously registered one.
  • Go through the business project approval procedure and attach the relevant document to the application. When starting a joint business as part of a team, each participant receives a letter of approval for himself/herself.
  • Keep a sum of money in your bank account that will be enough to pay for your accommodation at the time you set up your business. This is currently £1,270.
  • Pass an English language proficiency test. The result should be at least B2 in all areas: reading, writing, speaking.
  • Attached certificate of absence of tuberculosis (in countries where this is required).
  • No criminal record in the home country.

A letter of endorsement

A letter of approval from the authorised bodies is a mandatory part of the documents submitted. This analysis shows how well the project meets the criteria of innovativeness, viability and scalability. The main measures for assessing the prospects of a business for economic development are:

  • innovativeness: the proposed idea must address a specific need of the buyers of the product or service and either represent a unique product or the quality of this proposal must be an order of magnitude higher than that of competitors;
  • Viability: the applicant is capable of building a business and bringing it to prosperity – it is appropriate to submit documents from past jobs proving competence or paperwork for current completion of relevant educational courses, and it is important to have sufficient resources to start a business;
  • scalability: the government is not interested in a small business with a small number of employees and low labour efficiency – it is important for officials to make sure that there are prospects for further business development, which will entail the creation of additional jobs and increased output. In this way, the English government gets the development of the economy as a whole.

Performance audits

The United Kingdom is concerned about the appropriateness of issuing visas, so it inspects newly established businesses twice: six months and one year after the first visa is issued. It is expected that during this timeframe the results of business development, growth prospects, and compliance with the original planning will be visible.

If a letter of recommendation is withdrawn, you will have to re-collect the documents for its issuance. When the organisation that issued the letter loses its licence, it is necessary to find another organisation.

Freedoms and restrictions of a Startup visa holder

Unlike many other categories, the holder of this type of visa can take a parallel job to gain experience and earn money. He/she is also allowed to bring family members (husband/wife, children) into the country, at the same time the minimum amount to be kept in the bank account increases. For a more detailed discussion of the required documents, it is worth contacting an experienced immigration lawyer.

It is forbidden for an entrepreneur to become a doctor and an athlete, as well as to request benefits and money from the government.

Innovator’s visa to the UK

This is a new category, replacing the Tier 1 Entrepreneur. In this way the state attracts additional funds into its economy and increases its sphere of influence in the global industry. This type of visa implies opening a business in the United Kingdom with a simultaneous investment of at least £50,000. You can either be the sole founder or a team, but the amount of investment remains the same for each member. The business itself must be a new start-up.

Conditions for issuance of the Innovator’s visa

  • The age of the person requested must be 18 years of age or older.
  • Availability of a TB certificate (in countries where this is required).
  • There must be no record of any liability for wrongdoing.
  • English language proficiency should be at least B2 in reading, writing and speaking. In order to avoid the test, you must present documents of higher education in English and approved by NARIC. Citizens of other countries where English is recognised as the official language will not be asked to take the test.
  • The entrant’s bank account must show a balance of at least £1,270 within 28 days for the main applicant. In the opinion of the UK authorities, this amount should be sufficient to cover living expenses for the first time and this money is not included in the amount invested.
  • It is important to get approval from authorised bodies, including proving the availability of the resources and education required for the business.
  • The £50,000 claimed must have a transparent history to ensure it belongs to a specific individual and can be utilised in the UK economy. Money is only not required when moving from Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Startup visas if it has already been invested.

Project approval letter

The package of documents must include an opinion of an authorised body on the assessment of the project’s compliance with three criteria – innovativeness, viability and scalability. In other words, the business idea and its implementation must necessarily bring any innovations to the market of goods and services, and the project organisers must have sufficient competence to start and run the business. According to the third point, the project must have the potential to increase the number of offices or production facilities, which will create new jobs and help develop the economy.


The initial validity of the visa is 3 years. Subsequently, it is possible to repeatedly renew the Innovator’s visa for another 3 years. This category also opens a direct path to citizenship of the United Kingdom: after 3 years of stay in the country on this visa you can collect documents for obtaining a permanent residence document, then after another 2 years you can apply for citizenship.

It is important to successfully pass the mandatory checks of the approving authority in order not to have problems with extensions in the future. The first inspection is six months after the visa is granted, the second one – after one year, and the third one – after 2 years. These procedures are used to monitor the success of the project and its compliance with the previously announced plan.

The deadline for applying for a visa is three months before the proposed move. The review itself will take from 3 to 12 weeks and depends on the applicant’s location and the accuracy of the documents. It is possible to use an accelerated processing of the application – only 10-15 days, but this service is not always available.

Rights and obligations of the Innovator visa holder

A businessman with the Innovator status can conduct commercial activities of one project or several, but he cannot take another job as a hired labour force. A businessman with the Innovator status can conduct business activities of one project or several projects, but he cannot take other jobs as a hired labour force.

The Innovator visa holder may bring a spouse or civil partner and financially dependent children. However, it is prohibited to claim any state benefits or allowances for yourself or them.

How do I get permanent residence status in England on the basis of a Novator visa?

The UK Innovator visa allows you to apply for permanent residence after three years of living and working in England, remembering that this also requires the support of an approval organisation. This specialised institution must assess the outcome of your business activities in the country after six months, one year and two years from the start of the project. It can issue a favourable opinion on the company’s performance if the business meets at least two of these seven points:

  • over three years, investment in the expansion of the business exceeded £50,000;
  • the company’s activity involves developments in the field of science and technology, with the possibility of patenting them;
  • the company was able to double its base of interested clients over a three-year period, and their total value became larger than that of competing firms;
  • In the last financial year, the firm’s turnover exceeded £1m;
  • in the preceding financial year the turnover of the company was £500,000, of which exports totalled at least £100,000;
  • at least ten full-time vacancies have arisen since the start of your business, which are open to English nationals and permanent residents. Foreign employees who come with you are not eligible for these jobs;
  • five positions were created and filled in the firm for British citizens with an annual income in excess of £25,000, together with all taxes.

What other conditions are there for applicants for British residence?

  • if you need to travel outside England, do not be absent for more than 180 days in any 12 consecutive months;
  • The English language skills of all adult applicants must be at B1 level, plus a special Life in the UK test, which will reflect your understanding of British culture and lifestyle.

The whole family of an Innovator, i.e. husband or wife, civil partner, children under the age of 18, and adult children who have reached that age in Britain while living on the full support of the main applicant, can apply for UK residence.

English citizenship – how do I get it?

12 months after you and your close relatives have become permanent British residents and have been in the UK for at least five years, you can start the process of applying for British citizenship. It usually takes between 4 and 6 weeks for the application to be processed and a decision to be made, assuming that each applicant fulfils these conditions:

  • During the 5 years preceding the application for British citizenship, you cannot be absent from the country for more than 450 days in total, of which 90 days are in the last 12 months;
  • Is not allowed to break the law and have fines;
  • If you do not have an education document from an educational institution where classes were taught in English, you will need to take a language proficiency test if you did not do so when you obtained your residence permit;
  • It is also a prerequisite to take the Life in the UK test, which you can prepare for in advance.

Immigration lawyers as helpers at any stage of the process

When submitting documents for visas, it is necessary to take into account all the nuances, make sure that the papers are correctly composed and filled in. Often self-preparation ends up in rejection because of trifles. To avoid wasting time, you can turn to immigration lawyers. Experienced English lawyers know exactly the legislation, have the right to represent the applicant in front of the authorities and carefully monitor changes in procedures and legislation.

FAQs about Startup and Innovator visas

How do I not lose my business in England on a Startup visa if it no longer meets the requirements of the approving organisation?

The authorised body should periodically confirm your right to allow the company to continue working on a previously agreed project. In the event that the organisation withdraws the approval letter and the reason for any discrepancies is up to you, then rectify them. However, there are times when the UK Home Office may have good reason to revoke the licence of your sponsoring organisation and you may have to leave Britain for unforeseen circumstances.

In any case, whatever threatens the loss of your visa, you should apply for an approval letter as soon as possible to another specialised organisation authorised by the government to assess business projects.

In such stressful and demanding situations, it is advisable to enlist the timely support of a qualified immigration lawyer to do everything necessary to preserve your visa and business as soon as possible. Remember that you only have two years to run your project on a Startup visa, including the process of obtaining a new permit. Your firm must have time to show high performance in order for you to be able to apply for another visa category, during the current term. Therefore, we advise you to solve all unexpected cases promptly with professional help and not to lose precious career time.

How long is a Novator visa to England for and can it be extended?

With the Innovator visa you will have three years to develop your innovative business project on a large scale in the United Kingdom. Don’t forget that during this time the company must meet the stated requirements so that the work permit from the special approving organisation is not lost. If it so happens that the firm has problems and further approval is not granted, then if at all possible, resolve them as soon as possible and obtain a recommendation from another authorised body to avoid losing your visa.

If your firm has been expanding as planned for three years, you will also be able to stay in the UK for the next three years. Please note that you and your dependent family members must apply for visa extensions at the same time.

This procedure of visa continuation can be repeated many times, but most often foreign entrepreneurs, if they fulfil all the necessary conditions, immediately take the chance to get a British residence permit. Moreover, it is possible to become a permanent resident of England after three years if your business project has achieved great results.

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