The Complete Guide to Start-up Visa

So you want to be a founder. You have a disruptive business idea that can transform an industry or how people interact with a particular technology or change their daily habits. These are usually the qualities of a successful startup. However, the idea isn’t enough for success, but that’s a subject of another conversation.

You may be an ex-pat living in the UK or a non-UK resident who spotted an opportunity in the UK market. Either way, you can apply for a few different visas the UK Government offers. The Start-up Visa is one of them. So if you think that your business idea has the above mentioned potentials, it’s the one you should apply.

What Is Start-up Visa?

The UK provides Start-up Visa to people who have innovative business ideas that differ from what’s already on the market. In other words, your business must present a unique solution to a market need. To apply for a Start-up Visa, you have to meet some eligibility requirements.

You can apply for a Start-up Visa either inside the UK or outside. Both of their processes and terms are pretty much similar. For example, you will have permission to stay for two years if accepted. You can’t extend this visa but can apply for switching to an Innovator Visa. You can also switch to this visa even if you have another visa to live and work in the UK.

What Are the Requirements?

For starters, you must have approval from an authorised endorsing body —a higher education institution or an organisation with a background in supporting UK entrepreneurs. We’ll get into more detail further in this article.

You have to verify that your idea is new, innovative, and viable. What does it mean?

  • New idea: You can’t apply with an already trading business.
  • Innovative idea: Your business must have a product or service distinctively different from others in the market.
  • Viable idea: You must prove there’s growth potential.

You must also prove that your English level is proficient. The UK Government expects the B2 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale. Still, you can be exempt from language proof if you’re a national of one of the countries below.

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

Otherwise, you must prove your knowledge of English by doing one of the following.

  • Pass a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider. Providers and authorised test centres may vary depending on your location.
  • Display your certification if you have a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English gained through study at a UK school that you began when you were under 18.
  • Show your diploma if you graduated from a degree-level academic qualification that was in English. If you studied abroad, you need to apply for confirmation through Ecctis that your qualification is equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD.

Last but not least, you need proof that you can support yourself before your business starts to make revenue. You must have at least £1,270 on your bank account at least for 28 days before the day you apply, or your endorsing body confirms you have funds that are equal to —or more than— the same amount.

startup visa uk - apply for a start-up visa

Can You Apply with Your Employees and a Co-founder?

You can apply with co-founders but not employees. However, you need to prepare your business plan accordingly and state that you will have a partner whilst you’re applying for the endorsement and visa. Also, the documents you need to submit may change in the case of having a co-founder.

The co-founder should have separate approval from endorsing bodies. You can’t both apply for one endorsement. So there’s a chance that only one of you to get approval for endorsement or visa. That’s why you should prove in your business plan that both parties have the necessary skills, knowledge, experience, and market awareness to run the business successfully.

Employing non-UK residents and bringing your team —if you’re applying outside the UK— needs approval from the UK Government to sponsor Skilled Worker Visa. Also, Your job offer must meet the requirements of this type of visa. Needless to say that it complicates the application process. If you need a team, applying with several co-founders is a safer route.

How Do Endorsing Bodies Work?

There are literally hundreds of endorsing bodies in the UK for Start-up Visa. You can contact UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) or Home Office business helpdesk to get information. Still, you should start your research and contact them after you tried very hard to find a piece of specific information.

Before applying for the endorsement, you should check

  • if the endorsing body is associated with your sector,
  • where the endorsing body endorses businesses,
  • when the endorsing body intakes applications,
  • if there are any restrictions on applications.

Endorsement letters are valid for three months. So you have to apply for the visa within three months after receiving your endorsement letter. Some of the endorsement bodies may delay issuing endorsements because of pandemic circumstances. So contacting your endorsing body and discussing if you can set up and run a business in the UK under the current situation carries utmost importance. You have to confirm that you can apply for Start-up Visa and travel to the UK.

Is It Possible to Switch to Start-up Visa or Extend Start-up Visa?

You can apply to switch to a Start-up Visa if you’re in the UK with a different type of visa, except your visa is

  • a visit visa
  • a short-term student visa
  • a Parent of a Child Student visa
  • a seasonal worker visa
  • a domestic worker in a private household visa
  • immigration bail
  • permission to stay outside the immigration rules

The UK government allows you to stay in the UK for two years after getting your Startup-up Visa. After that, you cannot apply to extend your visa, but you can switch to Innovator Visa if your endorsing body agrees to change your visa type. Also, your business should be active and trading, and you should have daily involvement with it for switching to Innovator Visa.

Consulting firms can help you with the endorsement and visa processes and guide you in preparing your application documents. For example, Qualegal, a company that offers guidance in Start-up Visa applications, built a team of experienced entrepreneurs who can offer bespoke advice in their own relevant sector. The company headquarters at Level 39, one of the top endorsement bodies in the UK, with over 250 startups. You can book a free consultation session by visiting their website.