Imagine you have a business idea which you would like to grow or start in the UK. You consider yourself to be an entrepreneur, but have noticed this visa no longer exists. You’re innovative, dedicated and believe your business is scalable. If this applies to you, then you should consider the Innovator Visa. However, you then learn your business will require endorsement from an approved endorsement body. What does this mean, are you able to apply for this visa and where do you go from here?
What is required?
The applicant must have a business idea, or current business, which is innovative, viable, and scalable.
What does this mean?
- The business must be considered ‘new’, i.e. meets “new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage” (innovative);
- The applicant has the requisite skills, experience, relevant knowledge, and market awareness required for the business (viable);
- The business must have the potential for job creation and growth into UK national, and ideally international markets (scalability).
What is endorsement and who are the endorsement bodies?
The majority of the endorsing bodies will only consider endorsing those who have been accepted onto their pre-existing programs for business creation or acceleration. Often these spaces are limited and highly specialised.
If a specific body’s area of expertise and program requirements matches the potential applicant’s business proposal, there is a good chance of endorsement, pending acceptance to the endorsement body’s program. For those whose business idea fall outside of the bodies’ focus area, or who are not accepted on their programs, endorsement is almost impossible to secure.
Therefore, the endorsement process must be at the forefront of the minds of anyone wishing to apply under this route.
When can endorsement be obtained?
The majority of endorsement bodies are currently accepting applications, and a full list can be found here. Depending on the program offered, and assuming a place has been secured, it could take anywhere from 3 weeks to several months before endorsement is forthcoming. This may not concern those who wish to have oversight and guidance while building their business, but for the experienced entrepreneur with previous funding, it may present an unwelcome inconvenience.
How to approach and application for endorsement.
Prepare a business plan and be prepared to pitch your business to the endorsement body. Ensure that your idea/current business aligns with the sector, goal, and specific program offered by the endorsing body. Applications should obviously correlate to the body approached.
Note that this is not a guaranteed route to gaining endorsement and that the process is at the discretion of the endorsing body.
Each endorsing body has its own specific application criteria. This should be researched thoroughly before approaching them with the application.
What is the playing field?
The list of endorsement bodies is quite tech-centered, however a multitude of sectors are represented, ranging from medical, engineering, fin-tech, social welfare, corporate innovation to cyber security, including several endorsement bodies who have no sector specific approach, and instead assess applications on a case-by-case basis.
Encouragingly, there is therefore scope within which to consider an endorsement application, given the breadth of the sectors represented, although the number of available endorsement places is far more limited than had initially been expected, and therefore high competition should be expected.
What is the timeline?
The timeline will vary depending on the endorsement body’s criteria, i.e. application process and mandatory program. However, the visa itself must be applied for no more than 3 months prior to the intended date of travel. This of course hinges on having secured endorsement prior to applying.
Is the visa flexible?
The innovator visa is refreshingly flexible. It can lead to settlement in the UK and you can switch to and from an Innovator visa from other visa categories. The initial leave granted under an Innovator visa is three years, and this can be extended by a further application at the end of this period.
Work flexibility does not exist, however. You must work exclusively in and for the business you have been endorsed to establish. You will not be allowed to take on other work or study.
Are there alternatives?
Alternatives must be judged on a case-by-case basis, and we would be happy to discuss the options with you. From a purely entrepreneurial standpoint, the Start-up visa may be suitable but for potential applicants who do not fit within the endorsement bodies’ criteria, the route to a visa can become much more complicated.
In the event that you would like to discuss any issues relating to the Innovator visa category or endorsement, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
Paralegal in our General Immigration team
Trainee Solicitor and joint head of our Corporate Team