Understanding the new innovator founder visa

By Claire D Nilson, left, Counsel, and Abilio Jaribu, pictured right, Paralegal at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

The Innovator Founder visa is a new immigration route for foreign entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in the UK based on an idea they have generated or to which they have contributed significantly. This visa route replaces the Innovator and Start-Up visa routes, making it the only category currently available for foreign entrepreneurs. The application process for the Innovator Founder visa consists of two stages: securing an endorsement from a Home Office-approved endorsing body and submitting a visa application to the Home Office.

The three currently approved endorsing bodies are Envestors Limited, Innovator International, and UK Endorsements Services. The endorsing body must assess the applicant’s business idea, business skills, and potential for success. The endorsing body must confirm the applicant is a ‘fit and proper person’ to receive an endorsement, including verifying the source of funds. Prior-approved endorsing bodies will be able to continue supporting individuals whom they endorsed before April 13 2023.

Once the business is endorsed, the visa application must be submitted within three months. Applicants must be awarded a total of 70 points for meeting certain criteria, including the business plan, knowledge of English, and financial requirement. 50 of the 70 points will be awarded for meeting the business eligibility criteria.

Where the applicant is requesting the endorsement for a new business, the applicant receives 30 points for having a business plan where they have generated or contributed significantly to the ideas, have a day-to-day role in carrying out the business plan, and are the sole founder or an instrumental founding team member. Additionally, applicants receive 20 points for having an innovative, viable, and scalable business plan that meets market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage, is realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources, and has evidence of structured planning, the potential for job creation, and growth into national and international markets.

For the existing business criteria, applicants must have a business that was previously endorsed by the Home Office as a part of a Start-Up, Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur), Innovator, or Innovator Founder visa application, and hold immigration permission under one of these routes at the time of the application. They receive 50 points by demonstrating that the business is active, trading, sustainable, and showing achievement against the goals set out in the initial business plan, the applicant has an active day-to-day role in the management and development of the business, that the business is registered with Companies House and they are listed as a director or member of the business, and that they have participated in at least two contact point meetings with the endorsing body during the period they held the relevant immigration permission.

Applicants are awarded 10 points for meeting the English language requirements. They can meet this requirement by taking an English language test with a Home-Office-approved provider or submitting degree certificates for an English-taught course. Some applicants will be exempt from this requirement, e.g., nationals of majority English-speaking countries.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

The final 10 points are awarded for meeting a financial requirement. Applicants must demonstrate they have access to at least £1,270 and they must have held these funds in their accounts for at least 28 days in a row. The 28th day must have been no more than 31 days prior to the application’s submission date.

Once the application fees (endorsement, visa application, and Immigration Health Surcharge) have been paid, the applicant must attend a visa appointment where they submit their supporting documents, and their picture and fingerprints will be taken.

Advantages of the Innovator Founder visa over its predecessor routes include (a) the removal of a set minimum level of investment and, instead, relying on a business plan explaining how the business is self-sustainable regardless of the level of funds required, (b) that additional professional employment can be undertaken by the visa holder alongside running their business, (c) a quicker path to UK permanent residence (three rather than five years, as long as certain eligibility requirements are met), and (d) a lowering of the costs associated with applying for endorsement.

The Innovator Founder visa is an interesting proposition for entrepreneurs for the above reasons. We must now wait and see if the visa route proves to be a more attractive option than its predecessors.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024