Start up and Innovator visas for the UK (DEFINITIVE GUIDE) 2020

Welcome to my definite guide to the new UK Start Up and Innovator visas!

✅ 1. Start up visa

The basics

Your options

The start up visa is for people looking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. There are two new visa routes: the start up visa and the innovator visa. Each of them is designed to incentivise innovation in the UK and economic growth through a residency programme.

The criteria

The start up visa is for people looking to establish a business in the UK for the first time.

You must be endorsed by an recognised body to apply. But this is broadly defined and can include appropriate incubators and universities.

It is for 2 years and does not directly lead to settlement in the UK and citizenship. However, the innovator visa does, and you can switch from the start up visa to innovator visa when you have set up your business.

The endorsement criteria are:

  • Innovation The applicant has a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage.
  • ViabilityThe applicant has, or is actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business.
  • ScalabilityThere is evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national markets.


The great thing is that you can switch to this visa from other visas while within the UK. This is true if you are:

  • A Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
  • A Tier 2 (work visa) holder
  • A Tier 4 (General) student
  • A visitor who has been undertaking permitted activities as a prospective entrepreneur
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✅ 2. Innovator VISA

How to make an application

Your options

You can get an innovator business either by switching from the start up visa, or by applying afresh.

If you switch from the start up visa, then the Home Office will look at the same business that was the subject of your start up visa.

The criteria

The main criteria which need to be satisfied (and confirmed by the endorsing body) are:

  • You have shown significant achievements, judged against the business plan assessed in your previous endorsement.
  • Your business is registered with Companies House and you are listed as a director or member of that business.
  • Your business is active and trading.
  • Your business appears to be sustainable for at least the following 12 months, based on its assets and expected income, weighed against its current and planned expenses.
  • You have demonstrated an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of your business.
  • (f) You will spend your entire working time in the UK on continuing to develop business ventures. 

Some pointers

If you apply for the innovator visa afresh, without going through the startup pathway, then:

  • You need to have at least £50,000 available to invest.

These can be:

  • your own funds;
  • funds from a 3rd party; or
  • funds that have already been invested into the business.

You can apply as a team, but you need £50,000 per person.

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✅ 3. Pathway to Settlement

How to secure settlement

Accelerated settlement

When it comes to actually applying for indefinite leave to remain, applicants may apply for accelerated settlement ( normally requires 5 years residence) as soon as their businesses satisfy at least two of the criteria, providing they have spent at least three years in the category. There are unlimited extensions to the innovator visa, so you can in theory spend as long as you want, extending the innovator visa, before applying for settlement.

The settlement criteria

Your venture has to meet two of the criteria for settlement through the innovator visa:

  • (i) At least £50,000 has been invested into your business and actively spent furthering the business plan assessed in the applicant’s previous endorsement.
  • (ii) The number of your business’s customers has at least doubled within the most recent 3 years and is currently higher than the mean number of customers for other UK businesses offering comparable main products or services.
  • (iii) Your business has engaged in significant research and development activity and has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK.
  • (iv) Your business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of £1 million in the last full year covered by its accounts.
  • (v) Your business is generating a minimum annual gross revenue of £500,000 in the last full year covered by its accounts, with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas.
  • (vi) Your business has created the equivalent of at least 10 full-time jobs for resident workers.
  • (vii) Your business has created the equivalent of at least 5 full-time jobs for resident workers, which have an average salary of at least £25,000 a year (gross pay, excluding any expenses).

Job creation

If you are relying on the criteria for creating jobs:

  • (i) The jobs must have existed for at least 12 months and comply with all relevant UK legislation, including (but not limited to) the National Minimum Wage Regulations in effect at the time and the Working Time Regulations 1998.
  • (ii) Each of the jobs must involve an average of at least 30 hours of paid work per week. Two or more-part time jobs that add up to 30 hours per week may be combined to represent the equivalent of a single fulltime job, as long as each of the jobs has existed for at least 12 months. However, a single full-time job of more than 30 hours of work per week does not count as more than one full-time job. 
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