Innovator and start-up: using an existing business that you have already started abroad

Can you extend an existing business from overseas to the UK for the start-up or innovator visas?

The answer is: yes, if:

the product/service is new to the UK market; and

it is targeted at UK customers, not just overseas customers.

What the rules say: The statutory guidance requires these questions to be asked:

Is the idea bringing something new to the pre-existing UK/global business market? This should involve more than simply marketing existing products or services to the applicant’s home country.”

“Is there a need for the business in the UK market that is not already being fulfilled?”

There are a number principles one can deduce from the guidance (both these and other provisions) where you already have an existing business overseas that you are looking to extend to the UK under the start-up or innovator visa:

New to the UK market: Firstly, the product or service must be new to at least the UK market. I have produced a video talking about a start-up visa example where the decision maker googled whether there were similar UK services to the applicant’s service. When he found there were, he simply cited the Google search results and refused it on that basis. That was after endorsement. That was not one of my client’s cases, but it does show how the decision makers may approach your application. You can look at examples of successful applicants’ business ideas in my start-up visa course linked below.

Targeted at UK customers: Secondly, your business must be targeted to UK customers, not just overseas customers (whether from your home country or indeed any other non-UK country). For example, if your existing business is a digital land registry and your idea for the innovator visa is that you want to set up another digital Land Registry in a third-world country that does not have one yet, then this would have no obvious UK market. There must be prospective UK customers for the product or service. Importantly, this must be verifiable, i.e. there must be validation that there is a UK market for it. I have a video coming up, which I’ll link below, on the various different ways that you can show market validation.

Visa alternatives: Another important point if you have an existing business you are looking to bring to the UK, is whether in fact its more appropriate for you to be applying under:

1. the sole representative visa, otherwise referred to as the representative of an overseas business visa; or

2. the skilled worker visa.