UK Innovator Founder Visa

You don’t always need sponsorship to come to the UK to work; if you have a business idea that you think will take off, you could apply for the Innovator Founder visa. Designed to help foreign nationals with a unique business idea make the most of the UK job market and boost the economy, the Innovator Visa is a great option for anyone wanting to move to the UK to become self-employed or start a business. 

Our UK Innovator Founder visa guide will tell you everything you need to know about this visa route, including who can apply, how to apply and what you can and can’t do when you have the visa.

About the Innovator Founder Visa

Created in April 2023 to replace the Entrepreneur visa and the Start-Up visa, the Innovator Founder visa was made to allow entrepreneurs from abroad to move to the UK to start a business

To apply for an Innovator Founder visa, you’ll need to make sure your business plan is:

  • New
  • Innovative
  • Viable
  • Scalable

If your business plan ticks each of these boxes, i.e. it has a strong chance of success in the UK, you can have it endorsed by an approved endorsing body. Only once your business plan is endorsed can you apply for an Innovator Founder visa. There are additional eligibility requirements that you must also meet for your visa application to be successful. 

Who Can Apply for the Innovator Founder Visa

UK residents do not need to apply for a visa to start a business. Any foreign national who does not have UK residency and wishes to start a business in the UK must apply for an Innovator Founder visa. 

You can apply for the visa if your business plan has been endorsed by an approved endorsing body. This means that experts in economics, business and your industry have approved your business plan as being new, unique, innovative, viable for growth and scalable once the business takes off. You will not be able to claim public funds while you’re in the UK so your business must be viable to make a profit to support you and contribute to the UK economy, so unless your business plan meets all of these requirements, it will not be approved by an endorsing body. 

When your business plan has received endorsement, you can apply for the Innovator Founder visa. You will also need to demonstrate you have sufficient finances to support yourself and any family members while you set up your business, and that you have a good level of English to live in the UK. 

How Long You Can Stay on an Innovator Founder Visa

With an Innovator Founder visa, you’ll have permission to stay in the UK for 3 years. You can apply to extend this visa if you wish to stay for longer, although you must re-apply for endorsement. You may also be eligible to apply to settle in the UK permanently. 

Each year that you’re in the UK with an Innovator Founder visa, you must have a meeting with your endorsing body to discuss the progress of your business. If your business is not progressing or you fail to maintain the conditions of your visa, you will have your endorsement withdrawn and your visa will be cut short. The exact date your visa expires if your endorsement is withdrawn will be decided by the Home Office.

Innovator Visa

What You Can and Can’t Do with an Innovator Founder Visa

The main point of the Innovator Founder visa is to allow foreign nationals to start a business in the UK, however, there are a number of other things that visa holders can do while they’re in the UK. 

As an Innovator Founder visa holder, you can:

  • Establish one or more businesses in the UK
  • Work as an employed member of your business, a self-employed person, or as a business partner
  • Work in a second job that qualifies as one of the jobs on the list of eligible occupations for the Skilled Worker visa
  • Study, as long as your work is your main occupation
  • Bring your dependants (i.e. your partner and children) to the UK with you
  • Travel to and from the UK

When you have lived in the UK for 3 years with your Innovator Founder visa, you may also apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), also known as settlement and permanent residency, provided you meet the other eligibility requirements. 

You cannot work as a professional sportsperson, including a sports coach, and you cannot receive state benefits. When you receive your visa you will also have a comprehensive list of things you can and cannot do, however, if you’re unsure, Synergy Immigration can advise you best on your personal circumstances. 

What Your Family Members Can and Can’t Do

If your dependants, i.e. your partner, spouse or children accompany you to the UK, they are not restricted with which activities they can undertake. Your children can enrol in schools, and each family member can work in any role, either employed or self-employed, as long as they do not work as professional sportspeople or coaches, as there is a specific visa for this activity.

Innovator Founder Visa Requirements

The most important requirement for the Innovator Founder visa is to have a viable business idea that has been endorsed by an approved endorsing body before beginning your application. You’ll need to submit your endorsement letter with your visa application. 

To be eligible for the Innovator Founder visa, you must also:

  • Be 18 years old or over
  • Have a sufficient command of the English language
  • Have sufficient funds to cover your initial expenses in the UK while you set up your business (including the living expenses of any family members accompanying you)

While one benefit of the creation of the Innovator Founder visa to replace the Innovator visa is that there is no longer a specific sum of money required to invest in your business, you will still need to prove to your endorsing body how much money you’ll need to invest and where the money is coming from in your business plan. 

If you’re extending your visa, you will not need to show any investment funds if your visa extension is for the business that you have already established and previously had endorsed. 

Getting an Endorsement

You can only apply for the Innovator Founder visa once your business plan has been endorsed by an approved authority. The government website has a list of approved endorsing bodies, which are:

  • Envestors Limited
  • Innovator International
  • UK Endorsing Services
  • The Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP)

When seeking endorsement for your business plan, you must approach one of these organisations to endorse your idea. You should have a comprehensive and fully costed business plan to present to the organisation so that they can clearly see if your business idea is innovative, viable and scalable. 

You must pay £1,000 to the endorsing body for the endorsement letter, however, this is more of a processing fee and does not guarantee you will receive an endorsement for your business plan. 

Before approaching your chosen endorsing body, it’s advisable to get the feedback of colleagues, experts and industry leaders on your idea so you can make any necessary adjustments to your plan so that it can be bulletproof before it is assessed for market viability by the endorsing body. 

For the Innovator visa, the precursor to the Innovator Founder visa, there was a different list of what was known as ‘legacy endorsing bodies’. If you held an Innovator visa before April 2023, you can still receive your endorsement from one of these organisations when applying to extend your Innovator visa - as long as it is for the same business idea. 

You should learn about each endorsing body before submitting your business proposal to any of them, as one may be more appropriate for your industry or idea than another. Synergy Immigration can also help you choose an endorsing body before you apply for your Innovator Founder visa. 

Financial Requirement

While there is no direct threshold for how much money you’ll need to invest in your business, you will need sufficient finances to:

  • Support yourself and any dependants
  • Pay the application fee
  • Pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS)
  • Invest in your business plan

The amount you require to support yourself is £1,270. This sum must be in your bank account for at least 28 consecutive days before you apply for the Innovator Founder visa. You do not need to show this sum if you have been in the UK with a valid visa for more than 12 months. 

£1,270 is an estimated cost to cover your living expenses for your first month in the UK before you begin to make a profit and pay your wages from your business. You must have additional funds if you’re bringing any family members to the UK with you as you will need to be able to cover their living expenses as well. You cannot use money from your investment funds to cover your living expenses. 

If you’re bringing a partner to the UK with you, you’ll need an additional £285 (so a minimum of £1,558) and an additional £315 for one child, and £200 for each other child. 

Each year that you are in the UK with your Innovator Founder visa you will have to meet your endorsing body to update them on your progress. Each meeting costs £500 and must be paid directly to the endorsing body, so it’s useful to be aware of this fee before applying.

Applying for the Innovator Founder Visa

You must apply for the Innovator Founder visa online, whether you’re applying for the first time from abroad, extending your visa from the UK or switching from a different visa within the UK. 

You will be required to submit a number of supporting documents to prove you have an endorsement, as well as sufficient finances and an acceptable level of English. You will also have to prove your identity, which you may be able to do at a visa application centre, or via a Home Office app if you’re already in the UK. 

Supporting Documents

To apply for the Innovator Founder visa, you need to provide several documents proving your identity and your eligibility for the visa. These documents include:

  • A valid passport or other travel document proving your identity
  • A letter of endorsement for your business idea from an approved endorsing body
  • Evidence proving you have sufficient funds to support yourself and any dependants (at least £1,270 in savings accounts)
  • Evidence that you meet the English language requirement
  • A negative tuberculosis test result from an approved test centre if you’re from one of the listed countries
  • A certified translation and details of the translator for any documents not in English or Welsh

If you have a previous criminal conviction, you should also provide a police certificate with details of your conviction. 

If your dependants are applying with you, you will need to provide evidence of your relationship such as birth certificates or marriage certificates. 

You may be asked for additional documents according to your personal circumstances. 

Any EU or EEA citizens without a biometric passport and any citizens outside of these countries will need a blank page in their passport for their visa to be printed. 

Bringing Family on an Innovator Founder Visa

Not every UK visa allows you to bring family members to the UK with you - new changes to the visa system introduced in 2024 now prevent many Student visa holders from bringing their close family members with them. However, you can still bring close family members, i.e. your dependants to the UK with you on an Innovator Founder visa. 

Dependants refer to your long-term unmarried partner, spouse, civil partner and dependant children. Dependant children are under the age of 18 and not living independently i.e. married, working full-time or living away from home (unless for their education). 

If you’re extending your Innovator Founder visa and your child has turned 18 while with you in the UK, they can continue living with you as your dependant child and also extend their visa. 

Each family member must submit a separate application, including proof of their identity, their relationship with the visa holder and access to finances while in the UK. 

You can easily prove your relationship with your child with a birth certificate, and your spouse or civil partner with the official certificate of your union. However, proving your relationship with your long-term partner can be more difficult. 

To bring a partner to the UK as your dependant, you must prove that you have been living together in a relationship for at least 2 years, through joint bank statements or official letters to the two of you at the same address. If you do not live together, you’ll need to explain why in your application, such as because one of you studies or works in another location so you have to live apart. However, you must also be able to prove that you communicate regularly, support one another financially, spend time together when possible and jointly take care of any children you have together. 

How Long It Takes to Get a Decision

When you first complete your application for the Innovator Founder visa from outside of the UK, it can take up to 3 weeks to receive a decision on your visa application. 

If you apply to switch from a different UK visa or apply to extend your Innovator Founder visa, your application may take up to 8 weeks to process. You can pay £1,000 for the super priority service to have a decision made within 2 working days if you require a faster response. 

There are occasional delays in visa processing, especially if your application is missing documents, so make sure your application is complete with all of the necessary supporting documents initially. Synergy Immigration can help you do this if you’re unsure of what you may need given your personal circumstances. 

As you’ll need to prove your identity, you may need to attend an appointment to speak to someone in person and hand over your documents, which may take more time to process. You’ll find out if you need an appointment when you begin your visa application.

What to Do if Your Application is Refused

If you meet all of the eligibility requirements and have no criminal convictions, you should successfully receive your Innovator Founder visa, however, in some circumstances, you may have your application refused. In the letter or email you receive from the Home Office, you will receive an explanation of why they have rejected your visa application and whether you have the right to a review or an appeal. 

Most visas are simply refused due to incomplete or insufficient supporting evidence, so make sure your application is complete with information before submitting it to improve your chances of success, and never lie on your application.

Paying the Application Fee

Applying for the Innovator Founder visa for the first time from outside of the UK will cost £1,191. Each dependant who will accompany you will also need to pay this application fee. 

When applying to extend or switch to the Innovator Founder visa from inside the UK, you will each have to pay an application fee of £1,486. 

Every applicant and their close family members must also pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS) in order to access NHS services which are free at the point of use. Even if you have private insurance and do not use the NHS while in the UK, you must pay this fee. 

The IHS for one year costs £1,035, so for the 3-year Innovator Founder visa, each applicant must pay £3,015. You will not have this refunded if you do not use the NHS. 

If you withdraw your visa application before it has been processed, you may receive a refund of the visa application fee.

Extending Your Innovator Founder Visa

If you wish to stay on in the UK for longer, you can apply to extend your Innovator Founder visa as many times as you wish. However, you must apply for your new visa before your current visa has expired, bearing in mind the 8-week processing time when applying from within the UK. 

Each dependant in the UK with you will also have to extend their visas with a new application; their visa will not automatically extend when you apply for yours. 

To extend your Innovator Founder visa, you will still need to meet the eligibility requirements of the visa, including gaining another endorsement for the continuation of your business, or an endorsement for the beginning of another business. You will not have to provide evidence of sufficient funds or your knowledge of the English language. 

To prove your identity when extending your Innovator Founder visa, you can scan your identity document with the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app. If you can’t do this, you’ll need to make an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) centre to have your biometric photograph and fingerprints taken.

Switching Your Innovator Founder Visa

You can easily switch to an Innovator Founder visa if you’re in the UK on a different valid visa. To be eligible, your visa cannot be a short-term visa such as:

  • A Visitor visa
  • A Seasonal Worker visa
  • A Short-Term Study visa (up to 6 months)
  • A Marriage visa

You can also switch from an Innovator Founder visa to another visa while you’re in the UK if you’re eligible. If your Innovator Founder visa is cut short because your business has not taken off, or you decide to change your job at any point while in the UK with the visa, you can apply for a new visa instead, provided you meet the eligibility requirements. 

For example, you could decide to begin working as a CEO or manager of another business, which may qualify you for the Skilled Worker visa. You can check the eligibility requirements, and if you meet them, apply for this visa while in the UK. 

Synergy Immigration can help you decide which visa you’re a good fit for if you decide to change course while you’re in the UK. Just make sure your current visa is still in date and has a couple of months before its expiry when you start any visa applications. 

If you do switch visas, your partner and children will need to apply to switch theirs as well, or they will have to leave before the expiry of their current visas.

Settling in the UK

Settling in the UK, also known as gaining permanent residency or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) is a great option if you wish to live long-term in the UK as it allows you to live freely, without the restrictions of various visas. While not granting you full British citizenship, you can live, work, study and travel with almost no restrictions. 

With most visas, you must be living legally in the UK for at least 5 consecutive years, with no more than 180 days a year spent outside of the UK. You can also apply if you’ve spent at least 10 consecutive years living in the UK with various visas. 

One of the great benefits of the Innovator Founder visa is that you can apply for settled status in the UK after just 3 years. So if you intend to continue living and working in the UK after setting up your business, you can directly apply for ILR, rather than extending your visa. 

If you meet the requirement for the length of your stay, you must then pass the Life in the UK test, prove your knowledge of the English language and pay the application fee. This can save you a lot of money and hassle receiving endorsement each year that you’re on the Innovator Founder visa. To maintain permanent residency in the UK, you must not leave for more than 2 consecutive years. Otherwise, you can live freely in the UK and apply for British citizenship after a further 12 months.

Conclusion

If you have a great idea to start a business and want to make the most of the UK’s incredible job market, opportunities, access to resources and thriving economy, then the Innovator Founder visa is for you. 

Applications for UK visas don’t have to be hard either. With specialised visa agencies like Synergy Immigration Solutions, you can have a helping hand every step of the way.

About Synergy Immigration Solutions

An OISC-registered business, Synergy Immigration Solutions Ltd provides a comprehensive range of UK immigration visa services to individual and corporate clients who require help with their visa-related challenges and concerns, from initial applications to maintaining eligibility. 

We help UK companies get sponsorship licences so they may hire talent from abroad, as well as processing visas for innovators and skilled workers across a variety of industries, from technology and manufacturing to healthcare and beauty - and everything in between.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact Synergy Immigration Solutions today!

Innovator Founder Visa FAQs

The Innovator Founder visa is quite straightforward; as long as you have a new, innovative, viable and scalable business plan, enough savings to support you and a good level of English, you can apply for the visa. But what about getting married? Can you travel? How good does your English have to be? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Innovator Founder visas.

Can You Self-Sponsor Instead of Getting the Innovator Founder Visa?

Self-sponsorship in the UK is not a specific type of visa, but rather a way for business owners to stay/live in the UK to run their active trading business. This involves using a Skilled Worker visa, combined with having a sponsor licence for your own UK-based business. Essentially, it’s like sponsoring yourself through your business to work in the UK. However, it’s important to seek expert advice, as this isn’t a straightforward visa category. Self-sponsorship is mainly a strategy for business owners to start, grow, or manage their business in the UK.

Is There an English Language Requirement for the Innovator Founder Visa?

Yes, there is an English language requirement for the Innovator Founder visa as you will need a good level of English in order to efficiently run your business in the UK. That includes speaking with clients, colleagues and consultants, as well as staying on top of the general admin involved in the running of your business and day-to-day life outside of work. 

When extending your Innovator Founder visa or switching from a different visa that required a suitable level of English, you will not have to provide evidence of your knowledge of English again. 

The level of English is decided according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale, which starts at the basic level of A1, up to the native fluency of C2. For the Innovator Founder visa, you must have at least B2 level English and a certificate to prove your level. This means you can competently communicate in and understand English. 

You will usually have to provide a certificate of a SELT (Secure English Language Test) from an approved exam provider, although if you have completed a university degree or equivalent qualification in English, this certificate will suffice. 

If you’re a native English speaker, you won’t have to prove your knowledge of English. Countries and territories that have English as the main official language that do not need to provide evidence of their English language abilities are:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • British Overseas Territories
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

Citizens of any other nation will have to prove their competency in English to be eligible to apply for the Innovator Founder visa.

Can You Get Married on an Innovator Founder Visa?

Yes, you can get married while staying in the UK on an Innovator Founder visa, as long as you’ve been in the UK for at least 7 days when you apply for your marriage licence. You must apply for your marriage licence between 29 and 365 days before your proposed wedding date, and provide the registry office with details of your wedding venue and various personal details including:

  • Your and your fiancé(e)’s valid passports
  • Proof of your and your fiancé(e)’s home addresses
  • Proof of any previous name changes
  • A passport-sized photo for you and your fiancé(e)
  • Proof of the immigration status of you and your fiancé(e) if you’re not British citizens (as shown on your passports)

Once your local registry office has these details, they will issue you with your marriage licence and you’re free to tie the knot, whether just you or both you and your fiancé(e) are non-British citizens. You may have to register your marriage in your home country for it to be legally recognised there, however.

Can You Travel in and out of the UK with an Innovator Founder Visa?

You can travel in and out of the UK as many times as you wish with the Innovator Founder visa. Your primary concern with this visa is maintaining the conditions of the visa, which will be checked every 12 months, so too much travel will not benefit your business or your visa, although there are no restrictions on where you can go or how often. 

Bear in mind, however, that if you wish to apply for indefinite leave to remain after 3 years in the UK, you need to have spent a certain number of days in the UK each year to be eligible.

Who Can Start a Business in the UK?

If you’re British or Irish, you don’t need a visa to start a business. However, any foreign national with a viable, scalable and innovative business idea - and has endorsement from an approved endorsing body - may apply for the Innovator Founder visa and start a business in the UK. 

You cannot work as a self-employed person with other UK visas, so you should seek endorsement for your business idea if you’re planning to start a business in the UK.

    Contact the Synergy Team