In the last few years, the UK has been seen to introduce a stricter and less open immigration system. In the wake of Brexit, this has made some consider the country a less attractive option when looking for places to work and start a business. However, the UK Home Office has introduced several new visas as part of the revamped system to ensure that the UK can still attract people from overseas who could have high potential or high value to the UK’s industries and economy.
What we’re looking at today is the UK Start-up visa. This visa is similar to the High Potential Individual visa or the Sponsor Licence visa but is in some ways less restrictive and less based on your employment status at the time of application. This may explain why, in terms of UK visa applications, it actually has quite a high success rate, but we’ll talk about that more later.
There are no set restrictions for a particular level of personal qualification or the availability of personal finance that need to be considered for the start-up visa route, although an applicant must be at least 18 years old. They are also expected to have some established and demonstrable ability in running a business. However, the two most important criteria are focused more on the business itself than the individual behind it.
Firstly, the business idea must be one which can meet three prime criteria of being innovative, viable, and scalable. While this is something you will have to demonstrate within your application, the ideas’ suitability will be decided by an external organisation known as an endorsing organisation. In order to ensure that the business ideas meet these three categories, the Home Office has compiled a list of organisations across all disciplines that they feel can offer an expert level of view regarding your business idea for the scheme.
Once you’re paired with an endorsing organisation, they’ll be able to assess your idea and its viability, and if they find it suitable, they will include a letter of endorsement to support your application. Their involvement in your business doesn’t stop there, however. At 6, 12 and 24 months, your endorsing organisation will contact you to follow up on your business’s progress. It will do this by measuring it against your agreed business goals.
That all sounds great so far, but there are a few things to consider before you rush headlong into applying. The visa carries a maximum timescale of 5 years, which is a good amount of time to live and work in the UK and should provide ample opportunity to start your business and see it begin to thrive before the end of the validity of the visa. The issue is that the visa is not eligible for renewal after those five years. This could seem a little off-putting for those looking to start a business in the UK when they consider that after five years, they may not be able to stay in the same country in which their business is established.
Rather than returning to your country of origin (although this is an option if you are able to run your business from an overseas location), there is a route which allows you to stay in the UK past the limited term the start-up visa offers. However, it is slightly more complex than a straightforward visa renewal.
After holding your start-up visa for a period of 2 years, you will become eligible to apply for the investor visa. Although this application will require some additional conditions to be met, they should be fairly straightforward if your business has been successful. This is because they are largely financial criteria, such as proving to the Home Office that you have maintained a minimum bank balance of £1270 through the last 28 days prior to submitting your application. You may also require a sum of £50,000 that you are able to invest into a new business, depending on the details of the application you’re submitting. If this application is a success, then your investor visa may entitle you to apply for indefinite leave to remain. After a year with ILR status, you would become eligible to apply for British citizenship.
So as you can see, moving from a start-up visa to gaining citizenship is not the simplest route someone may use to obtain that status, but it is possible if you’re willing to invest in the process.
As we said at the start of the article, this visa route does have a surprisingly high success rate, 93.17% in 2019 and 97.21% in 2020. However, this is no guarantee that an application that is underprepared or an underdeveloped business idea won’t be rejected. In order to ensure that your application is well prepared and as much relevant documentation can be collated to support it as possible, it could be useful for you to engage the services of an immigration advice service who can assist you with the start-up visa process.
To summarise then, the start-up visa is a work-based visa that, on the surface, has fewer restrictions on who can apply than others. The result of this, however, is that you must provide a large amount of evidence to show your business idea meets the core criteria, and you must work with a secondary organisation that will endorse you. The visa isn’t eligible for extension beyond its 5-year limit, but you do have some options which can eventually lead to citizenship if you wish to make your time in the UK permanent once your business is established.
Imogen Loveday is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service.