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UK Innovator Visa

As an overseas investor or entrepreneur looking to invest in or start a business in the UK, you need to ensure you meet UK immigration regulations and visa application requirements.

Those looking to invest can apply for the Tier 1 Investor visa. Until 2019, entrepreneurs would have applied for a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa or Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa. However, these have now been replaced by the Start-up visa and Innovator visa.

At Thorntons, we are experienced in dealing with investors and entrepreneurs from all around the world and can advise you on your visa options and nationality application requirements and assist you throughout the immigration process.

Visa routes

Here we look at the different types of visa referred to in relation to overseas investment and entrepreneurship. 

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa route has now been replaced for new applicants by the Innovator visa, which you can find more information on below. However, in certain circumstances, existing Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa holders and those looking to extend their existing leave as a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa or settle in this category may be eligible to apply in this category.  This is subject to strict timescales.  It is therefore important to seek legal advice prior to making this application.    

The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa is no longer open to new applicants. It will still have relevance for Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa extensions. It has been replaced by the Start-up visa (see below).   Existing Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa holders may still be eligible to switch into Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa route or to a Start-up visa.  As stated above for the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, this is subject to the requirements being met and the application being made within strict timescales.  

You can apply for an Innovator visa if you:

  • Want to set up a business in the UK
  • Are from outside the EEA and Switzerland
  • Have an endorsement from an approved body to demonstrate you have a new business idea with growth potential  (see the Home Office’s approved list of endorsing bodies)
  • Meet certain requirements, such as meeting the English language requirement, proving that you can meet the maintenance requirements and having at least £50,000 in investment funds – although in certain circumstances, you may be able to apply without any investment funds


You must have obtained an endorsement from one of the approved Innovator endorsing bodies, before you are able to apply for this visa online. This route is for more experienced business people with the endorsement letter confirming that that you have either: -

  • “New business” endorsement – the endorsing body will assess the business plan to ensure that the business idea meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage, the applicant has, or is actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to be successful and there is the potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets; or
  • “Same business” endorsement – an assessment on the business plan previously submitted for the last endorsement, confirming among other things that the 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.


If you are granted the visa, you will be able to stay in the UK and carry out your business interests in the UK, subject to certain conditions, for three years. You may then be able to apply for a visa extension or for settlement.

Our experienced Immigration solicitors can advise you on your visa options and guide you through your visa application.

You can apply for a Start-up visa if you:

  • Want to set up a business in the UK
  • Are from outside the EEA and Switzerland
  • Meet certain requirements, such as meet the English language requirement and prove that you are able to meet the maintenance requirements 


You must also be endorsed by a Start-up endorsing body which is made of either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation that supports UK entrepreneurs (see the Home Office’s approved list of endorsing bodies). This endorsement will show you have a new, innovative, viable and scalable business idea.

If you are granted a Start-up visa, you will be able to stay in the UK for two years. You will not be able to extend your visa or use it as a route to settlement.

This is potentially a good visa route for those looking to start new businesses or developing a spin-out from university. Our immigration solicitors can advise you if you could apply for a Start-up visa, provide you with visa and start-up support as well as assessing your options to switch into routes which do lead to settlement in the UK.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa is no longer open to applicants. Instead, you may be able to apply for a Global Talent visa which came into effect from 20th February 2020. Similar to the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa, the application process for the Global Talent visa consists of two main stage: an endorsement by an organisation that’s relevant to your qualifying field, referred to as an “endorsing body” for example the Royal Academy of Engineering for engineering and the Arts Council for acting.

This may be applicable if you come from outside the EEA or Switzerland and have:

  • Exceptional talent - as a recognised leader
  • Exceptional promise - as an emerging leaderA Tier 1 Exceptional Talent endorsement
  • An endorsement under the UK Research and Innovation funder option


Under this visa, you can apply to stay in the UK for one to five years and apply for settlement depending on the length and type of endorsement.

If you are from outside the EEA and Switzerland, you can apply for a Tier 1 Investor Visa if you:

  • Can invest at least £2 million or more in the UK
  • Can meet other eligibility requirements, such as being 18 years or older, proving the source of the funds and access to them


There is no English language requirement for this visa.

With a Tier 1 (Investor) visa, you can stay in the UK for a maximum of three years and four months. You are also able to apply to extend the visa for a further two years.

Our immigration legal advisors can assist inward investors looking to invest amounts of £2 million, £5 million and £10 million with every aspect of the process. As well as arranging immediate visas for you and your family, we will also provide strategic planning so that you and your family gain British nationality as soon as possible and can also provide top-class investment and tax advice and assistance with the purchase of property in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

This visa route, which is also referred to as the Sole Representative Visa, allows an employee, who holds a senior position, of an overseas business to enter the UK to set-up and run the UK branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of that overseas business.  This route also applies to an employee of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation posted on a long-term assignment to the UK.

To enter the UK as a sole representative, the main requirements include:

  • Apply online from outside the EEA and Switzerland;
  • Provide evidence that you were recruited and employed outside the UK by a company whose headquarters and principal place of business are outside the UK and that you will be representing this organisation to establish and operate a registered branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of that overseas business in the UK and that branch or subsidiary will operate in the same type of business activity as the overseas business;
  • Hold a senior position within the company – but not be a major shareholder – and have full authority to take operational decisions on behalf of the overseas business for the purpose of representing it in the UK;
  • Meet the English language requirements;
  • Provide evidence that you can maintain and accommodate yourself and any dependants adequately without recourse to public funds


The overseas business must have its headquarters and principal place of business outside the UK and no active branch, subsidiary or other representative in the UK.  You will be granted leave to enter in this category for an initial period of 3 years and there is the option of extending this visa inside the UK for a further period of 2 years.  Provided you can meet the requirements, this route can be quite useful as you are able to apply for settlement in this category after 5 years in the UK.

How can Thorntons help?

Our Immigration Law team offer a competitive and tailored immigration advice service to those wishing to invest or start a business in the UK.  We help clients from around the world looking to develop their business in the UK and offer advice and assistance for clients applying under the Start-up, Innovator and Tier 1 Investor visa routes.

For investors, we have a highly rated Investment Management team, meaning that we are able to invest your funds in a manner that meets the UK immigration rules under the Tier 1 (Investor) visa scheme, whilst ensuring the highest returns on your investment and without the need to involve third parties. Alternatively, we have links to a number of key international banks and investment firms who we work closely with and can use to invest your funds.

With our proactive and commercial business legal advice, our immigration solicitors can help find the right solution for your business when dealing with immigration and employment law issues.

Call the Thorntons Immigration Law team on 03330 430 350 to find out more about our immigration law services, or complete our enquiry form and we will contact you.

How can Thorntons help?

Our Immigration Law team offer a competitive and tailored immigration advice service to those wishing to invest or start a business in the UK.  We help clients from around the world looking to develop their business in the UK and offer advice and assistance for clients applying under the Start-up, Innovator and Tier 1 Investor visa routes.

For investors, we have a highly rated Investment Management team, meaning that we are able to invest your funds in a manner that meets the UK immigration rules under the Tier 1 (Investor) visa scheme, whilst ensuring the highest returns on your investment and without the need to involve third parties. Alternatively, we have links to a number of key international banks and investment firms who we work closely with and can use to invest your funds.

With our proactive and commercial business legal advice, our immigration solicitors can help find the right solution for your business when dealing with immigration and employment law issues.

Call the Thorntons Immigration Law team on 03330 430 350 to find out more about our immigration law services, or complete our enquiry form and we will contact you.


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