UK Startup and Business Visas: 2020 Overview

Read the below guide to help you identify the visa program that best suits your needs.

The Sole Rep Visa Program, formally known as the Representative of an Overseas Business Visa, allows a senior employee or minority shareholder of an established overseas business to obtain UK settlement by establishing a UK branch or fully owned subsidiary on behalf of the foreign parent company.

Recent program changes implemented on 4 June 2020 have sought to clarify and consolidate existing rules, while also seeking to curb the practice of company establishment purely for the purpose of obtaining UK settlement.

For more detailed information on the Sole Representative Visa and the program’s requirements in 2020, view our main program page here.

2. The UK Innovator Visa

The Innovator Visa is a relatively new route to UK settlement, and exists outside of the Points Based System. The visa is issued for a period of 3 years, and can be extended indefinitely. Innovator Visa holders are allowed to set up one or multiple business enterprises during this time, and you will also be eligible to legally work for your own business. It is important to note that you will not be allowed to seek gainful employment outside of your own business.

The program allows non-EEA residents to establish and run a business in the UK. UK based applicants who presently hold other types of UK visas can apply to switch to the UK Innovator Visa.

Examples of other visa types from which an applicant can switch include the relatively new Start-up Visa, the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa, The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa as well as any of the other Tier 2 Visa categories. Applicants are event allowed to apply from inside the UK on a standard visitor visa, however they’ll then need to prove that they came to the UK to secure funding, along with need to secure a supporting letter for their business from an appropriate endorsing body.

How to apply:

The first challenge associated with obtaining this visa is the need to obtain an endorsement for the business idea from an approved body in the UK. These approved bodies exist and operate outside of the UK Home Office.

Generally speaking, the business idea must be new and/or innovative, and the business must have significant growth potential. The program does not allow applicants to invest in pre-existing businesses. If the applicant’s idea is approved, they’ll receive a formal letter of endorsement. This document must be submitted in support of the UK Innovator Visa application.

Key program requirements:

In addition to the above requirement, applicants will also have to meet the following criteria:

  • Applicants have to be 18 years or older at the date of application.

  • A minimum capital investment of £50,000 per applicant is required.

  • Applicants must be demonstrably proficient in English at CEFR Level B2 in speaking, listening, writing and reading. This requirement can also be met by applicants holding a degree, taught in English, and recognized by UK NARIC as equivalent to a UK degree.

  • Applicants will have to prove the means to support themselves and any dependents in the UK without recourse to state financial support. You will have to have at least £945 in your bank account for 90 consecutive days prior to making your visa application. For any additional dependent applicants, an additional £630 must be reflected in your account for 3 months.

Additional dependent applicants (spouse / civil / life partner and children under 18)

Under the Innovator Visa Program, your spouse and minor children are eligible to join you in the UK. Financially dependent children over the age of 18 are also eligible to apply. Dependent family members will receive the same period of leave to reside in the UK as the main applicant, and their spouse of partner will be allowed to seek gainful employment in the UK as well. 

Can I get Indefinite Leave to Remain on the UK Innovator Visa?

Once the visa holder and their family have resided in the UK for a period of 5 years, they will become eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). Once ILR status has been held for a period of 12 months, applicants will become eligible to apply for British citizenship.

3. The UK Startup Visa

The Startup route is another visa category that exists outside the UK’s Points Based Immigration System. Successful applicants can launch a start-up business and legally reside in England for a period of 2 years, without the need to make a minimum eligible capital investment.

How to qualify for the Innovator Visa:

As with the UK Innovator Visa, applicants are required to have their business idea vetted and approved by an authorised body in the UK. The business idea has to be deemed suitably original and innovative, and the proposed enterprise should have significant growth prospects. Similarly to the Innovator Visa program, investments in existing business are not eligible for the Startup Visa either.

Key program requirements:

In order to successfully apply for the UK Startup Visa, applicants must meet the following key criteria:

  • Applicants have to be 18 years or older at the time of application.

  • Obtain a formal business plan endorsement letter from an authorized UK body (typically a tertiary institution or authorized commercial organisation.

  • Applicants must submit proof of having the means to support themselves and any dependent applicants throughout their time in the UK without the need for recourse to state funds. You will have to have a minimum balance of at least £945 in your bank account for 90 days prior to the visa application, with an additional £630 per dependent applicant.

  • Applicants must be proficient in English (CEFR Level B2 proficiency in Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing). Alternatively, this requirement can also be met if the applicant holds a tertiary qualification, taught in English, that is deemed to be equivalent to a UK degree by UK NARIC.

The Startup visa is valid for 2 years only and cannot be renewed, however it is possible to switch to the UK Innovator Visa from this category of visa. Holders of the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, any of the Tier 2 Visas or of the Tier 4 Student Visa can switch to the Startup Visa, but it is important to note that time spent in the UK on a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa will count towards the two year period for which the Startup Visa is issued.