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Innovator Founder Visa Route Application Guide

The Innovator and Start-up routes first opened in Spring 2019, with the view of replacing the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route. The introduction of these routes took the decision making power regarding the viability of a business from the Home Office, instead giving it to business experts in the form of Endorsing Bodies, an approved list of organisations as decided by the Home Office. These routes have not been without criticism, so the news received on 09 March 2023, that the routes are to be replaced with one single route – the Innovator Founder Visa route – did not come as a huge surprise. 

The new Innovator Founder Visa route will open on 13 April 2023. This articles takes a look at the new Innovator Founder route, answers a number of frequently asked questions regarding the Innovator Founder route and examines the changes from the Innovator and Start-up routes. 

Do Innovator Founder Visa Applicants Still Need Endorsement?

Yes, Innovator Founder Visa applicants will still need to obtain endorsement from an approved Endorsing Body. Under the Innovator and Start-up routes there are a number of Endorsing Bodies, but this will be reduced to just three from 13 April 2023 under the new route. 

Previous Endorsing Bodies will be known as ‘Legacy Endorsing Bodies’ and they will continue to support those whom they endorsed under the Innovator Rules until they reach Indefinite Leave to Remain. Those endorsed before 13 April 2023 by a ‘Legacy Endorsing Body’ will be permitted to rely on the endorsement provided that their endorsement letter is dated before this date – they need not apply for new endorsement from one of the three remaining endorsing bodies. 

If an applicant was previously endorsed by a Legacy Endorsing Body as a Start-up, they will be permitted to be endorsed by the same Legacy Endorsing Body as an Innovator Founder. This is only permitted if relying on the same business category and the endorsement from the Legacy Endorsing Body was obtained prior to 13 April 2023. 

For the same business criteria, endorsement from a Legacy Endorsing Body in support of an application under the same business criteria will only be accepted if:

  1. The applicant has or, in the 12 months immediately prior to the date of application, had permission as an Innovator Founder; and
  2. The Legacy Endorsing Body supporting the current application is the same as the Endorsing Body for that previous permission

Do Innovator Founder Visa Applicants Still Need to Show a Business Plan That Is Innovative, Viable, and Scalable?

Yes, applicants still need to show that their business plan is innovative, viable, and scalable where the applicant is applying on the basis of a new business idea. Applicants can apply on the basis of the same business criteria if they were previously endorsed as an Innovator Founder, Start-up, or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur). 

Do Innovator Founder Visa Applicants Still Need Have at Least £50,000 to Invest?

No, the requirement for Innovators to show that they had access to at least £50,000 to invest into the business plan has been dispensed with. This is one reason why there is no longer a need for the Start-up route which had no minimum investment funds.

This will offer greater flexibility to applicants, however, some applicants, depending on their business plan may still need to show that they have sufficient funds to establish their business. This is because, as above, there is still a requirement to show that the business plan is viable. If the business idea is one which requires significant investment, then the Endorsing Body may wish to see evidence of how the applicant proposes to fund this. 

Do Innovator Founders Still Need to Keep in Touch With Their Endorsing Body?

Under the Innovator route, Endorsing Bodies were required to contact Innovator applicants at the following checkpoints – 6, 12, and 24 months. 

Under the Innovator Founder route, Endorsing Bodies only need to hold two contact point meetings at regular intervals during the period of permission. However, this is a minimum and the Endorsing Body may decide that more regular contact is required. This is, again, a more flexible approach as it allows for different businesses to develop at different rates. 

Can Innovator Founder Visa Holders Undertake Additional Work?

Under the Innovator route, applicants are excluded from working for any other business other than the business(es) that they have established, though this was permitted for Start-up migrants. The Innovator Founder route is much more flexible in that it allows employment outside of the applicant’s business(es). Innovator Founders can take up secondary employment provided that the employed role is at least RQF Level 3, equivalent to A-levels. 

This is, of course, much more flexible and is another reason why the Start-up route is no longer required.

Study is also permitted, subject to the requirements of Appendix ATAS. 

Do Innovator Founders Still Need to Meet the English Language Requirement?

Yes, Innovator Founder Visa applicants must show that they meet the English language requirement at CEFR level B2 in all four components (reading, writing, speaking and listening).

Do Innovator Founders Still Need to Meet a Financial Requirement?

Yes, Innovator Founder Visa applicants must show that they have either been in the UK for a period of at least 12 months, or that they have held at least £1,270 for a 28 day period. Applicants applying with dependents are required to show higher levels of funds. 

Are There Any Other Changes Innovator Founder Visa Applicants Need to Be Aware Of?

Endorsing Bodies now need to confirm that:

  • An applicant is a fit and proper person to receive endorsement; and
  • They have no concerns over the legitimacy of sources of funds, or modes of transfer of funds invested by the applicant into their endorsed business; and 
  • They have identified no reason to believe that the applicant or their endorsed business may be the beneficiary of illicit or otherwise unsatisfactorily explained wealth. 

It is possible that these changes have been made to account for previous criticisms of the Investor Route which closed in February 2022. 

Can I Settle in the UK as an Innovator Founder?

Yes, the Innovator Founder Visa route is a route to settlement. Applicants can apply once they have completed at least three years in the UK with permission as an Innovator Founder. The new Immigration Rules will define ‘Innovator Founder’ as”

““Innovator Founder” means a person who has, or had, permission under Appendix Innovator Founder, or as an Innovator under Appendix Innovator of the rules in force before 13 April 2023 or under Appendix W of the rules in force before 1 December 2020.”.

Therefore, time spent in the UK as an Innovator counts towards the settlement period as an Innovator Founder. 

Contact our Immigration Barristers

For expert advice and assistance in relation to an application for an Innovator Founder Visa, contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or via the enquiry form below. 


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