The Innovator Founder Visa route is a route to settlement for experienced entrepreneurs and business people who want to establish a business in the UK. It replaced the Innovator route on 13 April 2023. The Innovator Founder route is essentially a mix of two immigration routes, the Start-up Visa route which is now closed to new entrants without an endorsement issued before 13 April 2023 (it will close to all new applications on 13 July 2023) and the Innovator Visa route.
Innovators were able to extend their stay after an initial three year period, if they did not meet the Innovator requirements for Indefinite Leave to Remain ("ILR"), however given that the Innovator route has been replaced, applicants will now need to apply to extend their stay in the UK as Innovator Founders instead. Applicants who would like to remain in the UK but not as an Innovator Founder might wish to consider switching into the Skilled Worker Visa route (which includes the possibility of self-sponsorship) in order to extend their stay. This post will focus on switching from the Innovator route to the Innovator Founder route, based on the business that resulted in their endorsement for the Innovator route ("same business").
General Requirements to Switch from the Innovator Visa to the Innovator Founder Visa
In order to switch from an Innovator Visa to an Innovator Founder Visa by relying on a previously endorsed business you will need to satisfy the following requirements:
- You are aged at least 18 years old;
- You have an endorsement letter from an approved UK Endorsing Body or Legacy Endorsing Body;
- You meet the English language requirements, CEFR Level B2 (similar to IELTS 5.5.) in the four components of reading, writing, listening and speaking;
- If you have been in the UK for less than 12 months, you will need to have at least £1,270 in maintenance funds for yourself, additionally £285 for a dependent partner, £315 for the first child and £200 for each additional child;
- Your application must not fall for refusal under the General Grounds for Refusal.
Endorsement from a Legacy Endorsing Body
This requirement means that those previously endorsed in the Innovator route (with an endorsement issued before 13 April 2023) do not need to apply for a new endorsement from a new Innovator Founder Endorsing Body, however, can use their previously endorsed business and a new letter of endorsement from a Legacy Endorsing Body in order to switch into the Innovator Founder route. This is ultimately beneficial as applicants who are looking to switch will not need to come up with a new business idea that is innovative, viable and scalable.
The rules are clear that one can rely on the same business where their previous permission was "in the [...] Innovator [...] route and they are pursuing a business assessed by a Home Office approved endorsing body either for the previous endorsement or at a contact point meeting."
The reference to a previous contact point meeting is important, as it likely allows those who have changed their business to rely on the last business that was approved at a contact point meeting but which is different from what they were originally endorsed for. The list of Legacy Endorsing Bodies can be located here.
In order to rely on the same business, applicants will need to demonstrate that:
- their same business is active, trading and sustainable;
- they can show significant achievements as compared to their business plan;
- they are registered with Companies House and are listed as a director or member of the business they are relying on;
- they have an active day-to-day role in the management and development of the business they are relying on.
The applicant will need to demonstrate that they meet these requirements by providing an endorsement letter that specifically states that each of the above criteria is met. For applicants switching into the Innovator Founder route and relying on the same business, this letter will be from a Legacy Endorsing Body and will only be accepted where:
- the applicant has or, in the 12 months immediately before the application date, had permission as an Innovator Founder; and
- The Legacy Endorsing Body supporting the application (to switch) is the same Endorsing Body that supported their initial application.
The first requirement might seem a little confusing, given that one is applying to switch from the Innovator route to the Innovator Founder route and therefore, on the face of it, they would not have had permission as an Innovator Founder. The key is in the definition of Innovator Founder for the purposes of the Immigration Rules. This definition states:
"Innovator Founder means a person who has, or had, permission under Appendix Innovator Founder, or as an Innovator under Appendix Innovator of the rules in force before 13 April 2023 or under Appendix W of the rules in force before 01 December 2020." [emphasis added]
As a result, those who are currently Innovators are included in the definition of Innovator Founder and as such are treated as being Innovator Founders for the purposes of Appendix Innovator Founder.
Further Endorsement Letter Requirements
There are other specific requirements which endorsement letters from Legacy Endorsing Bodies will need to meet, these include:
- meeting the general requirements for all letters, one of which includes the letter being dated no earlier than 3 months before the date of application to switch into the Innovator Founder route;
- confirmation that the applicant's business is a business that was previously assessed by an Endorsing Body or Legacy Endorsing Body whilst the applicant had permission as an Innovator Founder (that is, an Innovator for these purposes);
- confirmation that the applicant has had regular checkpoint assessments with their Legacy Endorsing Body (these were at 6. 12 and 24 months for those who were in the Innovator route);
- confirmation that an applicant will have at least two contact point meetings (at 12 and 24 months) with the Endorsing Body at regular intervals during your grant of leave; and
- confirmation of each of the same business criteria identified further above e.g. registration with Companies House, being met.
Changes to the General Grounds for Refusal for Innovator Founders
The General Grounds for Refusal relate to some of the suitability requirements which migrants seeking to enter or remain in the UK must meet when making such applications. They can be found in Part 9 of the Immigration Rules. These have been added to as a result of the new Innovator Founder route, which is focused on ensuring that applicants are genuine innovators.
Applications for permission to stay in the UK as an Innovator Founder may now be refused if a decision maker has reason to believe that an applicant:
- is the subject of any serious civil or criminal proceeding or investigation which relates to corruption, financial misconduct or other financial crime; or
- is or has been the subject of sanctions of a non-criminal nature, which include being disbarred from acting as a director or conducting regulated financial activities in any country.
Do Those Switching From the Innovator Route to the Innovator Founder Route Still Need to Show Access to £50,000?
No, the Innovator Founder route has removed the requirement to show that there is £50,000 available to invest in a business. In any event, it is likely that some applicants would have invested this amount in their business by the time they are switching and can evidence the investment in the business. However, as part of considering whether an applicant's business is sustainable it might be the case that an applicant might be asked to demonstrate that they have considered how the business will continue to be funded and how they will keep it active and trading.
Will Those Switching Into the Innovator Founder Route Still Be Limited to Only Working for the Businesses They Have Established in the UK?
No, the Innovator Founder route is more flexible than the Innovator route as Innovator Founders are able to work for other businesses alongside their own as long as they are employed in a role which needs a skill level of at least RQF Level 3, which is equivalent to A-levels.
Individuals can also study in the UK subject to Appendix ATAS.
Application Process to switch from an Innovator Visa to an Innovator Founder Visa
Innovators will need to apply to switch into the Innovator Founder route from inside the UK before their current visa expires. The visa application fee will be £1,292 for each applicant. Applicants will also be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge fee which is £624 per year of grant for each applicant who is aged 18 years and above and £470 for dependants aged under 18 at the time of the application.
If successful, an applicant will be granted a visa for a period of 3 years.
Settlement as an Innovator Founder
The time spent in the Innovator route will count towards the 3 year continuous residence period in order to obtain ILR status in the UK. Applicants can therefore combine the amount of time spent as an Innovator (as this is looked at as time spent as an Innovator Founder) if they would like to apply to settle earlier than at the end of the three year Innovator Founder period as long as they meet the necessary criteria to settle in the UK at the time of their application.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.