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Start-up and Innovator visas guide

Table of content


The Start-up Visa and Innovator Visa were introduced in March 2019 to replace the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa and the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa respectively following a 2015 review by the Migration Advisory Committee.

It’s important to note the difference between the two visas categories, the start-up is for first-time entrepreneurs with high potential, who are starting a business in the UK and have not yet have commenced trading and the Innovator category is for those with more business experience and applicants will need minimum investment funding of £50,000.

Start-up visas

Start-up visa allows entrepreneurs to set up a business in the UK; the route is open to first-time entrepreneurs who have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea.

Visa requirements

In order to be eligible for the Start-up visa, you will have to show that you:

  • Are over 18 years of age,
  • Are endorsed by an approved organisation that is either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs,
  • Must be able to show that your business idea is:
    • a new idea – you cannot join or invest in a business that is already trading,
    • innovative – you must have an original business idea which is different from anything else on the market,
    • viable, with potential for growth.
  • Satisfy the English Language Requirement at Level B2 of the CEFR,
  • Can show minimum maintenance funds of £1270.

The application process is in two stages. In stage one, you will need to identify an appropriate endorsing body (or multiple) which is suitable for your business idea and make application to it. Stage two will be the application to the Home Office.

You don’t have to be the sole founder of the start-up and can be part of a start-up team sharing the same business idea and plan as other founders. However, you must fulfil the requirements on an individual basis.

Credibility assessment

Your application will be assessed for its credibility, the decision maker must be satisfied that all of the following requirements are met:

  • The applicant genuinely intends to undertake and is capable of undertaking any work or business activity in the UK stated in their application,
  • The applicant does not intend to work in the UK in breach of their conditions,
  • Any money which the applicant claims to be available is genuinely available as described and the applicant intends to use it for the purposes described in the application.

The decision maker will take into account any endorsement of the applicant required and may also take into account any or all of the following factors:

  • the evidence the applicant has submitted and its credibility,
  • the applicant’s previous educational, work and immigration history,
  • declarations made to other government departments regarding the applicant’s previous employment and other activity in the UK,
  • any other relevant information.

The decision maker may request additional information and evidence from the applicant or (where relevant) the applicant’s endorsing body. The requested documents must be received at the specified address within 20 working days of the date of the request.

The decision maker may ask the applicant to attend an interview. If the applicant fails to attend the interview without providing a reasonable explanation, the decision maker may decide the application based on the information and evidence the applicant has already provided.

The decision maker may decide not to carry out the credibility assessment if the application already falls for refusal on other grounds. The decision maker reserves the right to carry out this assessment in any reconsideration of the decision.

Get in touch with our expert immigration lawyers to learn how to apply for your visa.

Getting endorsed

One of the major requirements of the Start-up visa includes getting an endorsement from an endorsing body approved by the Home Office which may be higher education institutions or business organisations that have a history of supporting entrepreneurs in the UK.

The endorsing bodies must be able to competently assess the Start-up business ventures against the endorsement criteria.

In order to get endorsed, you will need to identify a problem specifically within the UK market and find its solution. This process will require a business plan to be developed, detailing your business idea, strategies and projections. There may be a fee and separate requirements for each endorsing body at this stage.

Rather than being generic, your business plan should have certain values, philosophy and social purpose. It is advisable to understand what the endorser is looking for and your application must explain how:

  • your business idea will bring innovation in the UK and also contribute to its economic growth,
  • your product or service not only solves the problem but how it does it better than your competitors,
  • valuable you are to the local community and in particular the kind of employment you will create in the local economy.

The role of an endorsing body

An endorsing body for a Start-up 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 they endorse to check that they are still making progress with their business ideas.
  • Decide, at checkpoints, whether they are satisfied that applicant is continuing to work on their business ventures. You are expected to have demonstrated reasonable progress with your original ideas or new business ideas that are also innovative, viable and scalable.
  • Withdraw your endorsement if, at checkpoints, an applicant has not demonstrated the above.

Relevant factors

The endorsing body must provide you with a letter confirming they have assessed your business on the following criteria: Innovation, Viability and Scalability.

The letter will have to answer these questions: does the applicant have a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage? Does the applicant have, or are they actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to run the business successfully? Is there evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national markets?

There are very specific evidential requirements in the Rules for the endorsement letter that must be issued by the endorsing body and which forms part of your application.

Your start-up visa can be curtailed if your endorsing body withdraws your endorsement or loses its status as an approved endorsing institution.

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.

They will provide you with an endorsement letter if your business is viable.

Knowledge of English

Applicant will be required to prove their knowledge of the English language by either passing an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B2 in reading, writing, speaking and listening or having an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by Ecctis (formerly UK NARIC) as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD.

You can also prove your knowledge of English by having a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English gained through study at a UK school that you began when you were under 18 You will not need to prove your knowledge of English if you’re a national of one of the majorities of English-speaking countries.

Financial requirements

You need to have had at least £1270 in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply, or if you’ve been in the UK for less than a year and applying to switch to this visa.

If you wish to find out more about your immigration matters, our team of experienced lawyers is happy to assist.

Application process, cost and timeframe

You must apply online for a Start-up visa.

Once you’ve applied online, proved your identity and provided your documents, you’ll usually get a decision on your visa within:

  • 3 weeks, if you’re outside the UK
  • 8 weeks, if you’re inside the UK

You may be able to pay for a faster decision.

The decision maker will only consider documents received by the Home Office before the date the application is considered. If specified evidence is missing, a document is in the wrong format (for example, if a letter is not on letterhead paper as specified), or a document does not contain all of the specified information, the decision maker may contact the applicant or their representative in writing to request the correct documents. The requested documents must be received at the specified address within 10 working days of the date of the request.

How much you pay for a Start-up visa depends on your situation and where you apply from.

Who you’re applying for Apply (outside the UK) Switch (in the UK)
Yourself £363 £493
All dependants £363 each person £493 each person

You’ll also have to pay the healthcare surcharge as part of your application.

As part of the application process, you’ll need to have your fingerprints and photograph taken at a visa application centre.

Switching to this visa

You might be able to apply to change (‘switch’) to a Start-up visa if you’re already in the UK on a different type of visa.

Your partner or children will need to apply separately to switch their visa. They can either apply at the same time as you, or at any time before their current visa expires.

You cannot switch to this visa if you have one of the following:

  • a visit visa
  • a short-term student visa
  • a Parent of a Child Student visa
  • a seasonal worker visa
  • a domestic worker in a private household visa
  • immigration bail
  • permission to stay outside the immigration rules, for example on compassionate grounds

You must leave the UK and make your application from abroad if you’re here on a different type of visa.


How long you can stay

You can stay in the UK for 2 years on a Start-up visa. Any time you’ve already spent in the UK on a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa counts as part of the 2 years.

You cannot apply to extend this visa; however, you may be able to switch to an Innovator visa if you set up a business while on a Start-up visa and:

  • your endorsing body assessed and agreed it
  • it is active, trading and sustainable
  • you have day to day involvement in it

Supporting documents

You’ll also need to submit your supporting documents that you can either upload into the online service or have them scanned at your UKVCAS appointment.

When you apply you need to provide:

  • an ‘endorsement letter’ from an authorised body,
  • a current passport or other valid travel identification,
  • bank statements showing you’ve had at least £945 in savings in your bank account for 90 consecutive days before you apply,
  • your tuberculosis test results if you’re from a country where you have to take the test,
  • proof that you have knowledge of the English language,
  • a blank page in your passport on which to put the visa,
  • a certified translation of any documents that are not in English or Welsh.

You may need to provide additional documents depending on your circumstances.

If you are switching to this visa from within the UK, your application will be treated as withdrawn if you travel outside of the UK or to Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man while your application is being processed.

Family members

Your family members can travel with you when you come to the UK on this visa, they must have a visa if they’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. A ‘dependant’ is any of the following: your husband, wife or partner, your child under 18 or your child over 18 if they’re currently in the UK as a dependant.

You must have £630 for each dependant in addition to the £945 you need to support yourself. This is to show that your dependants can be supported while they’re in the UK. You need proof you have the money in your bank account or your dependant’s bank account for at least 90 days before you or they apply.

If you have children while you’re in the UK, you can apply online to add them to your visa as your dependant.

For a free visa assessment, speak to us. To make an enquiry you can call our dedicated Immigration enquiry line on: +44(0)7869806506 or by email at info@kassolicitors.uk

To discuss your UK visa application with one of our immigration lawyers, contact our immigration lawyer team or select one of our packages below.

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