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Innovator Visa or Startup Visa: Which is Best for You

Innovator Visa or Startup Visa: which is best for you

For an entrepreneur seeking a visa route to the UK, there are 2 options offered by the Home Office. The Innovator Visa and the Startup Visa have a lot in common, but there are some important differences between them.

If you’re thinking of bringing your business idea to the UK, it’s important to apply to the one that best suits you. With the costs and timeframes involved, you wouldn’t want to start an application only to discover you were better off with the other option after all.

This article explains some of the most important differences between the Innovator and Startup schemes so you can select where your future lies. 

What Can You do on the Visa?

The two visa schemes come with different levels of freedom and responsibility while in the UK. Likewise, they offer different perks for being on them. 

In both cases, the visa allows you to live and work in the UK so long as you’re working on your business. They also support your family’s visas, so you may bring them with you when you move to the UK.

Innovator Visa

The Innovator scheme has a more limiting set of rules. Innovator Visa holders are only permitted to work on their business while they’re living here. Their families may still hold other jobs, but the visa holder may not. 

However, the Innovator Visa offers more options for the future. This visa lasts for 3 years and allows renewal or settlement at the end.

If you wish to renew your Innovator Visa, you may continue working on your business as you were. The conditions are exactly the same, so this will have a low impact on your life so far. This is often chosen when the business has not yet reached the levels the founder wishes for it. 

This scheme is a route to permanent residence. So long as the business meets certain growth conditions, an Innovator Visa holder may apply for leave to remain indefinitely in the UK.

Startup Visa

The UK Startup Visa offers more freedom for the work you do. Your endorsing body must remain satisfied that you’re putting enough work into your business, but you may hold an additional job on this visa.

There are some limitations on the work you can do – you can’t work in sports, for example – but you can work to support yourself until the business is successful enough. Again, your family may work as normal.

The Startup offers more freedom during its time, but is non-renewable so doesn’t have the same opportunities afterwards. This visa lasts for 2 years and isn’t a settlement route.

Once those 2 years are up, you’ll have to move to a different visa. Startup Visa holders often move to an Innovator Visa once their business is properly established. This means that if you wish to settle in the UK, you’ll have to invest more time into being eligible. 

What do You Need to do?

Both visas are very similar in their conditions for eligibility. It’s the one difference that will select which route you apply for.

The similarities

Businesses are required to meet the three standards set out by the Home Office.

  • Innovative – a business can’t be the same as any business currently operating in the UK.
  • Scalable – the Home Office wants businesses to create employment in the UK. You have to show how you will grow to create jobs.
  • Viable – the business has to be able to thrive and survive in the UK

Applicants must show that they have had £1270 in their bank account for at least 28 consecutive days before applying. This shows that you can support yourself while you start your business. This amount will increase based on the dependants that apply with you.

You may need to provide proof of your knowledge of English to apply. Some English speaking countries are exempt from this, otherwise you’ll need to show you’ve met one of the visa’s criteria. Other countries carry health conditions that you must also meet.

The Difference

For a business to qualify for an Innovator Visa, it must have at least £50000 in funding secured. If more than one founder is applying with the same business, they must each provide their own £50000. 

This can come from external investment or from your personal funds. If you’re moving from a Startup to an Innovator Visa, this can come from the business’s grown value from the Startup Visa period.

The Startup Visa requires no such funding. So long as you and your business plan meet the required standards, you may apply for this visa.

Which is Best?

The answer to this question comes down to that £50000. If you have £50000, the Innovator Visa is likely the route you want to take.

If you don’t currently have £50000, you have a choice to make. You can try to raise the funding through investment or apply for the Startup Visa. Which of these is better for you is a matter of personal choice.

If you want to settle in the UK permanently, you may want to try and find the investment for the Innovator Visa. It is possible, however, that you won’t be able to as things are. If you’re willing to wait longer to get yourself established first, the Startup Visa may be a better choice. 

Further details on both of the visas, including a more in depth breakdown of the differences and responsibilities can be found in Boardroom Advisors’ Investor Visa and Startup Visa Ebook. If you have a business idea you want to bring to the UK, this book lays out everything you need to know before you apply. 


About the Author

John Courtney is Founder and Chief Executive of BoardroomAdvisors.co which provides part-time Executive Directors (Commercial/Operations/Managing Directors), Non-Executive Directors and paid Mentors to SMEs without either a recruitment fee or a long term contract.

John is a serial entrepreneur, having founded 7 different businesses over a 40 year period, including a digital marketing agency, corporate finance and management consultancy. He has trained and worked as a strategy consultant, raised funding through Angels, VCs and crowdfunding, and exited businesses via MBO, MBI and trade sales. He has been ranked #30 on CityAM’s list of UK Entrepreneurs

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