Start-up visa (UK) – what you need to know

This is my note explaining the key requirements for the UK start-up visa, as well as the pathway through to permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain).

You need to be sponsored by a university or incubator. It’s usually best to go with an incubator, because the start-up visa only lasts for 2 years, and after that you need to switch to the so-called ‘innovator visa’ if you wish to stay in the UK working on your business.

At the moment the Universities (with one exception) cannot endorse for the innovator visa, so for simplicity is usually better to start with an incubator and stay with them for the innovator visa (and until you settle in the UK, if that is your preference).

You need to be careful which incubators you work with. One had its licence withdrawn. There are a core of reliable ones, however.

Qualifying for the start-up visa (years 1-2)

To qualify for the start-up visa you need to:

  1. have a business idea that is innovative, viable and scalable (this is usually a digital product or platform based business);
  2. have a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage;
  3. have a business plan is realistic and achievable based on your available resources. Later in the visa process (when you get to the success criteria for indefinite leave to remain under the innovator visa), one of the main pathways for showing success is to prove that you have invested at least £50,000 in your business. Also, even for the start-up visa, in practice to show viability (which includes financial viability) I would recommend that you have at least £50,000 available to invest into your business. Setting up a new business can be expensive, and if you do not have these kind of funds available, it would be surprising if you made traction with this route;
  4. have, or be actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business;
  5. have evidence of structured planning;
  6. have evidence of potential for job creation;
  7. have evidence of growth into national markets;
  8. not have established a business in the UK previously;
  9. your English language is at the required level;
  10. have funds of at least £1,270 for 28 days in your account;
  11. not have any relevant conduct issues (criminal convictions, relevant visa refusals);
  12. be a genuine applicant (i.e. applying for business rather than exclusively residency purposes). Once you are in the UK on the start-up visa, you can work as well as having your start-up business. Work (including self-employment and voluntary work) is permitted (except for employment as a professional sportsperson or sports coach).

Moving to the innovator visa (years 2-5)

If you get the start-up visa, then before the 2 year visa expires, you need to switch to the innovator visa. You would typically do this on the basis that you would be continuing with the same business. You would need to show:

  1. You are pursuing the same business as the one for which you were endorsed;
  2. The business is active, trading and sustainable;
  3. You have shown “significant achievements” against the business plan;
  4. You are active in the day-to-day management and development of the business;
  5. Your English language is at the required level; and
  6. You have funds of at least £1,270 for 28 days in your account.

Getting permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain)

You can then apply for permanent residence after 3 years (i.e. 5 years after you first got the start-up visa). You need to:

  1. Show what your business venture has done and the main products or services it has provided;
  2. Show that you have made significant achievements, judged against your business plan (as endorsed when you got the innovator visa);
  3. Show that your business is active and trading;
  4. Show that your business is sustainable for at least the following 12 months (i.e. years 5 to 6 from when you first received the start-up visa), based on your assets and expected income, weighed against your current and planned expenses);
  5. Show that you have played an active key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business;
  6. Show that you have done 2 of 7 things (the success criteria) which, as usually relevant, are:
    (a) that at least £50,000 has been invested into the business and actively spent furthering the business;
    (b) show that the business has:
    (i) engaged in significant research and development activity and
    (ii) has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK.

I have helped many clients with this visa and would be happy to speak with you if you are interested in the visa route.