The Tier 1 Innovator visa is aimed at those who can demonstrate relevant experience in business. It requires an individual to set up or run an existing business in the UK. The applicant must be at least 18 years of age and have at least GBP 50,000 in investment funds if they want to set up a new business. They do not need funds if their business is already established and has been endorsed for an earlier visa. The funding can come from any source.
Before one applies, one needs to have one’s business or business idea assessed by a Home Office–approved endorsing body. They will assess the viability of the business or business idea and, if approved, provide an endorsement letter to submit with the application.
The immigration rules distinguish between applicants who apply under the ‘new business’ criteria and those who apply under the ‘same business’ criteria. Individuals who go to the UK for the first time will need to apply under the ‘new business requirement.
Successful innovators are granted leave for three years at a time and can bring their family members to the UK. After three years, innovators can apply to extend their stay for a further three years or to settle permanently in the UK under indefinite leave to remain (ILR). Each of these three stages (initial application, extension, settlement) requires endorsement from an endorsing body. To qualify for ILR under the Tier 1 Innovator visa category, applicants are required to meet certain criteria, detailed in the downloadable UK Innovator Program factsheet.
Criteria for the UK Innovator Program
You can apply for a Tier 1 Innovator visa if:
- You want to set up or run a business in the UK. You need to have your business or business idea endorsed by an approved body
- You are outside the UK
- You meet the other eligibility requirements (that is, are 18 years old, have sufficient personal savings, and speak the English language)
Procedures and time frame of the UK Innovator Program
The completed application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the diplomatic post in the applicant’s country of residence. The time frame from the submission of the application is dependent on the embassy receiving the application, and approval may take between one and eight weeks. Upon expiry of the initial three-year period, the main applicant must apply for an ‘extension of stay’ from within the UK. The authorities will issue the applicant with a three-year extension if all relevant criteria are met. Upon being granted settlement and spending a minimum of five years in the UK (the applicant must have held ILR in the last 12 months of that period), it is possible to apply for British citizenship.