The Home Office introduced two new categories on 29th March 2019 namely Start-up and Innovator visa for Non-EEA nationals wishing to set up a business in the UK. To qualify for a visa in either category an applicant must have received an endorsement from approved endorsing bodies listed on Gov.UK.
The role of endorsing bodies
Endorsing bodies include leading incubators, accelerators, government agencies and business development organisations. In the Start-up category, higher education institutions can also become endorsing bodies.
An endorsing body can issue endorsements letter to applicant’s who have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea. The endorsing body will undertake to the Home Office that they will stay in contact with the applicant at checkpoints 6, 12 for Start-Up and 24 for the innovator to update on the progress of the business.
In the innovator category, further endorsements for extension and settlement are to be issued by the endorsing body if they are satisfied with the progress in line with the immigration rules listed in Appendix W.
Limitations of endorsement
The current list of endorsing bodies is limited to only 20 organisations excluding higher education institutions. Home Office guidance suggests that each endorsing body will have initially 25 endorsements, with an option to increase allocation.
Some endorsing bodies have limited to participate in an existing incubator/ accelerator programme to qualify for endorsements. Applicants hoping to receive an endorsement as a first step to obtaining a visa will have to compete not only with other non-EEA nationals but with UK and EEA applicants too. Royal Society Edinburgh and Bethnal Green Ventures are just two of the Bodies requiring acceptance on to a programme before even considering endorsing visa applicants. Some Endorsing Bodies have fixed application windows, recruiting once or twice a year, for entry on to these programmes. This highlights just two of the initial issues facing a Start-Up/Innovator applicant: low capacity and high level of competition.
Choice for applicants
There is a lot of variation among the Endorsing Bodies with some advertising themselves as ‘sector agnostic’ and open to a range of business ideas, SeedCamp and Natwest for example, while others are much more specialised and sector-focused.
Examples include CyLon (focus on cyber-security only), TechX (focus on oil and gas industry) and Deep Science Venture (pharma, energy, food and agriculture). Others such as Zinc welcome business ideas relating to a particular theme with their current Mission 3 being ‘to add 5 more years of high-quality to later life’. Other Endorsing Bodies have a regional focus and require investment and/or relocation to a specific area, for example, Ignite (focus on North-East) and Med City (London and the South-East). Whether or not your business plan and your professional background are the right fit for an Endorsing Body is just another variable to be borne in mind and another obstacle to surmount in making a successful application.
What are the alternatives?
Getting an endorsement is a first significant hurdle to clear in receiving a Start-Up or Innovator Visa. At Connaughts, we await further information from the Endorsing Bodies about their procedures, criteria and timescales. However, it may be worth considering alternative routes to investment and establishing businesses in the UK.
Our earlier insight outlines some of those potential options, which may be of particular interest to those who may struggle to identify an appropriate Endorsing Body or whose business plans may lack the requisite focus on innovation.