A Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, published on 7 March 2019, presents various changes to the system of immigration control.  Key amongst these is a transformation of what are presently the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur and Tier 1 Entrepreneur routes, into the Start-Ups and Innovators routes, respectively.

Why are there changes?

After an independent review in 2015, the Migration Advisory Committee recommended that the Graduate Entrepreneur category was working and should be expanded. However, the Entrepreneur category was in need of substantial reform, with it being a magnet for ‘low value businesses with limited potential to grow or contribute to innovation or productivity growth’.

The current Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur and Tier 1 Entrepreneur routes

Currently, you can apply for a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa if you are a non-EU graduate who has been endorsed by a higher education institution or by the Department for International Trade (DIT), as having developed genuine and credible business ideas to establish a business in the UK. A period of one year’s leave is granted in this category.

The current Entrepreneur route is for non-EU citizens who want to set up or run a business in the UK.  A key requirement is having access to at least £200,000 in funds to be invested in a UK business, or just £50,000 if the money is from certain specified funding sources. The applicant must meet the Home Office’s ‘genuine entrepreneur’ requirements and submit a business plan.

What are the changes?

The new Start-up category is the successor to the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur route and the Innovator category set to replace Tier 1 (Entrepreneur).  Both of these new categories will take effect from 29 March 2019.

Visa application A key feature of both new categories is that applicants will need to be endorsed by UK trusted bodies, as Graduate Entrepreneurs must be at present.  The endorsement will confirm that the applicant’s business venture meets the Home Office’s definitions of ‘innovation’, ‘viability’ and ‘scalability’. Endorsing bodies must stay in contact with those they have endorsed at certain intervals (‘checkpoints’) and feedback to the Home Office, where appropriate.

Applicants must show that they speak English at level B2 (higher than the current required level of B1). They must show that they have held £945 in their account for 90 days prior to the application, although these funds can now also be provided by the endorsing bodies.

The Start-up category is for those looking to establish a new business for the first time in the UK.  Under this route, key differences from the Graduate Entrepreneur route are that applicants will not need to be graduates and will not need to have secured any initial funding. Successful applicants will be granted two years’ leave and two years is the maximum time which can be spent in this category.  As with the Graduate Entrepreneur route, a start-up visa does not lead directly to settlement in the UK, although the person can switch into the Innovator route.

The Innovator category is intended for more experienced business people. As well as an endorsement, and with some limited exceptions, applicants will need £50,000 to invest in their business from any legitimate source (reduced from £200,000 for most applicants in the current Tier Entrepreneur category).

Successful applicants will be granted three years’ leave and there is no maximum time permitted in this category.  The Innovator category can lead to settlement in the UK. Innovators may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain after three years’ continuous residence in the UK as innovators, rather than the standard five years, provided that they satisfy at least two points on the list of criteria relating to investment and business growth.

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Catherine Reynolds
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