If you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business in the UK, there are currently a number of visa options that could provide you with a path to living and establishing your business in the UK.
The main visa route open to new applicants is the Innovator Founder visa, which has now replaced the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur), Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), UK Innovator and Start-up visa routes. The Tier 1 (Investor) route, which provided a non-endorsement based route for investors, was abolished in February 2022, and there is currently no replacement for it.
At Thorntons, we are experienced in dealing with entrepreneurs from around the world and can advise you on your visa options and assist you throughout the immigration process. We can also support you on other legal matters, including company formation, funding, and trade marks, and have a specialist team dedicated to providing legal support to start-ups. Although commercial law is largely similar across the UK, we can advise you on the particularities of starting and running a business in Scotland, ensuring nothing is overlooked.
The Innovator Founder visa replaced the Innovator and Start-up visas on 13 April 2023, having previously replaced the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route. You can apply for the Innovator Founder visa from outside the UK, or apply to switch to it from another visa route.
To be eligible to become an Innovator founder you must:
- Have a business proposal, supported by a business plan, which is ‘innovative, viable and scalable’ - this will usually be a new business, but you can also apply using a business previously endorsed under the Start-up or Innovator routes
- Have a letter of endorsement from a recognised UK endorsing body
- Demonstrate competence in reading, writing, listening and speaking English to CEFR B2 level
If you are applying from outside the UK, or have been in the UK for less than 12 months, you will also have to show that you have funds to support yourself and any dependants.
Benefits of the Innovator visa route include the following:
- Unlike the Innovator visa, you do not have to show a minimum level of investment. However, you should be aware that if your business proposal requires significant start-up capital, you will likely need to demonstrate sufficient investment to your endorsing body.
- Innovator founders are entitled to take up secondary employment. Your supplementary work must meet a minimum skill level (RQF 3, or A-level/Scottish Highers equivalent) and must not detract from your work on your business.
- With the Innovator Founder visa, you will be granted three years’ leave to remain. After three years, you will be eligible for indefinite leave to remain, or to extend your visa. This route may therefore be of interest to those who currently hold the Start-Up visa, which does not provide a route to settlement.
You can apply for a graduate visa from within the UK if you:
- Currently hold valid leave in the UK as a student
- Have completed a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or other eligible course for a minimum period of time under your current visa
- The education provider for your course is a licensed sponsor with a ‘track record of compliance’
If you are granted a Graduate visa, you will be able to stay in the UK for two years for most applicants, or three years if you hold a PhD or Doctorate. You can set up and establish your own business while in the UK on a graduate visa.
You will not be able to extend your visa on the graduate visa and although this route does not lead to settlement in itself, you will be able to switch into a different visa category from this visa route which could then lead to settlement in the UK. Our experienced Immigration solicitors can advise you on the best route to achieving your long-term goals.
The Global Talent visa replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa.
You can apply for a Global Talent visa if you are 18 years old or over and are a leader or potential leader in academia, arts and culture or digital technology.
To apply, you must first obtain an endorsement from a Home Office approved organisation within your field, referred to as an ‘endorsing body’, such as the Royal Academy of Engineering for engineering and the Arts Council for acting. If you have won a qualifying prize, then an endorsement is not necessary.
With a Global Talent visa, you can apply for an initial visa which can last up to five years, and you can apply to extend your visa as many times as required. Additionally, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain after three or five years, depending on your circumstances.
If you are a representative of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation who is to be posted to the UK for a long-term assignment, you will need a Representative of an Overseas Business visa. This allows you to stay for at least three years, with the potential to extend for a further two.
If you work for an overseas business that is looking to expand into the UK, you may need a UK Expansion Worker visa. This visa route is only open when the UK side of the business has not yet started trading.
Firstly, the overseas business must obtain a sponsor licence for the company that they plan to set up in the UK. The UK-based business must then apply for a certificate of sponsorship for you as the employee they wish to bring to the UK.
As well as obtaining a certificate of sponsorship from the UK-based company, you must be able to meet a number of requirements. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Proof of employment with the overseas company of at least 12 months, unless you earn over £73,900 or you are a Japanese national working for a Japanese company
- The job is on the list of eligible occupations
- The salary is at least £42,400 or is the ‘going rate’ for the job, whichever is higher
The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa route has now been replaced for new applicants by the Innovator Founder visa, which you can find more information on above.
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 holder or to apply to settle in the UK may be eligible to apply in this category. This is subject to strict timescales, and so it is important to seek legal advice prior to making the application. Our Immigration specialists can advise you on whether this applies to you and support you through the process.
The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa is no longer open to new applicants, and it has been replaced by Graduate visa routes.
However, it will still have relevance for Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa extensions. Existing Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa holders may still be eligible to switch into the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa route or to a Start-up visa. This is subject to the requirements being met and the application being made within strict timescales. Our Immigration team can advise you whether you are eligible for this switch and on the application process.
The Innovator visa has now been replaced for new applicants by the Innovator Founder visa, which you can read more about above.
If you currently hold the Innovator visa, you will have been granted leave for a period of three years. After three years have passed, you will be able to apply for a visa extension or for settlement in the UK. You can also switch into the new Innovator Founder route if you currently hold an Innovator visa.
Our experienced Immigration solicitors can advise you on your visa options and guide you through extending your visa, switching visas or applying for indefinite leave to remain on the Innovator route.
The Start-up visa has now been replaced for new applicants by the Innovator Founder visa, which you can read more about above.
Holders of the Start-up visa had to be endorsed by an endorsing body. If you hold the Start-up visa, or have a letter of endorsement for the Start-up visa dated before 13 April 2023, you will continue to be endorsed despite the introduction of the Innovator Founder visa. You may also be able to switch into the Innovator Founder visa while continuing to be endorsed by your current endorsing body.
Start-up visas are valid for two years. They cannot be extended and do not act as a route to settlement. Holders of the Start-up visa can, however, switch into the Innovator Founder route and, if successful, could be eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after three years.
If you hold a Start-up visa, you may wish to explore your options for switching to a route that will lead to settlement in the UK. Our Immigration solicitors can advise you on the best route to achieving your long-term goals.
The Tier 1 (Investor) visa route closed to new applicants in February 2022.
However, existing Tier 1 (Investor) visa holders and dependants looking to extend their existing leave or settle in the UK may still be eligible to apply in this category. This is subject to strict timescales. If you think you may be eligible under this visa route, it is important to seek legal advice prior to making this application. Our Immigration Law team are on hand to help you find the best visa route option for your circumstances.
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 all of the above routes.
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.
We offer in-person consultations with our Immigration specialists at our Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow offices, or via video call if you prefer. To arrange a consultation or to find out more about our immigration law services, please call 03330 430350 or complete our enquiry form.