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If you’re a non-European, foreign national wishing to start up and run a business in the United Kingdom, the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa is the main ‘gateway’ for you to work and live in the UK. The entrepreneur visa lasts for up to 3 years and 4 months, beyond which you could also apply for an extension and eventually seek ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK.
Whether you’re applying from outside or from within the UK, or looking to switch from your existing visa, Lexoo can quickly get you multiple, fixed-fee quotes from hand-picked Tier 1 Visa lawyers, for free.
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The entrepreneur visa (like any UK visa) is a highly complex beast with a multitude of rules, exceptions and grey areas. While we can’t cover every detail, we’ve done our best to keep things simple and give you the main points.
This guide covers:
The main part of the process is based on points. The magic number is 95 - to get there, you’ll need to show:
You’ll need to provide a vast amount of documents and evidence to support these points; a large number of applications are refused due to the documents not being right. And because you cannot formally ‘appeal’ these decisions to an independent tribunal (you will normally only be granted an ‘administrative review’), it is critical to get things right first time.
Got the money but no plan? Think again. In 2013 the government cracked down on applicants pretending to be entrepreneurs by introducing the “genuine entrepreneur” test. You may be interviewed - think “Dragon’s Den” but without the fame. You’ll now (from April 2015) need a business plan, detailing your proposed business activities in the UK and how you expect to sustain your business, as well as a raft of other documentation proving that you are a genuine business-person.
It’s important to remember this sits outside the points system; it is a subjective test. This means that even if you score the full 95 points, the immigration officer can still reject your application if you fail this test. So a solid, well-written business plan is vital, as well as other extensive documentation to prove your business credentials.
Normally, you will need to show that you have £200,000 available to invest into business in the UK, although this is sometimes reduced to £50,000 (see below).
If the funds are yours or made available to you by a third party (e.g. an investor or spouse), the amount required is £200,000. Previous investments can also be counted towards the threshold as long as they were made in the 12 months prior to your application.
The amount drops to £50,000 if the funds come from one of the following government ‘approved sources’ which includes:
This option is particularly popular with migrant startup founders in the tech sector.
There’s also the option of forming an ‘entrepreneur team’ with a maximum of one other applicant for the entrepreneur visa, allowing you to share the same investment funds. Keep in mind you’ll each have to submit separate applications and name each other in the applications.
Migrants who are already in the UK make up the vast majority of applications for entrepreneur visas. So in all likelihood, this means you! Your option is typically to ‘switch’ your existing visa to an entrepreneur visa. There are several switching routes, but here are a few examples:
If you’re on a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa, you can switch to a Tier 1 entrepreneur visa if you have £50,000 to invest, made up of your own money or together with third-party funds. Just like applicants using the £200,000 threshold can have previous investments counted, the same goes for graduate entrepreneurs, except the investment window is extended to 24 months prior to the application date.
If you’re on the Tier 4 (Student) visa, you can switch to a Tier 1 entrepreneur visa if you have £50,000 in funding from one of the above sources, but not venture capital firms.
Similarly, migrants on Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visas can also switch, provided (bear with us, this starts to get tricky):
Again, previous investments made within the 12 month window before the date of application can be counted.
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The government fees per person - that is, the minimum spend just to apply - is £1,180 (applications by post or online) or £944 (applications in person outside the UK). It’s slightly less for applicants from Turkey or Macedonia.
However, due to the complexity of the rules (which are ever-changing), most applicants use experts such as immigration lawyers to prepare and submit their applications. Of course this will cost you extra, but it gives you the best chance of success.
Enquiries for Tier 1 visas are a popular here at Lexoo and we’ve helped a lot of startup founders and entrepreneurs get quotes from specialist entrepreneur visa lawyers. In our experience, prices have typically ranged from £1,300 - £3,500 depending on the complexity of the applicant’s circumstances.
- We recently helped the owner of a UK-based media studio find assistance in relation to switching to the entrepreneur visa from her Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa. After receiving a selection of quotes, she selected a quote from a specialist Tier 1 visa lawyer for £1,450. It included a face-to-face meeting and assistance with all aspects of the application through to completion.
- Another enquiry was for a London-based, FinTech startup that needed entrepreneur visas for two members of the founding team, who are from the United States. Quotes ranged from £1,375 to £2,625 per co-founder for the preliminary advice through to complete application.
The UK entrepreneur visa allows you to stay and work in the UK for up to 3 years and 4 months. You can apply for an extension of a further 2 years, but you’ll need to satisfy a few criteria:
Be warned however, the rejection rate for renewing this type of visa is very high (at around 50%). But if you succeed, it can also lead to an indefinite ‘leave’ (or right) to remain in the UK.
Entrepreneurship is no walk in the park. Unfortunately, getting a UK entrepreneur visa is no different. Even the most sophisticated, world-class entrepreneurs find the process both daunting and highly challenging.
Not only are the rules complex, supplying the mountain of documentary evidence to support your application is a massive burden. Remember, you’ll also be relying on your investors and bankers to help you supply the paperwork, so knowing exactly what’s required is super important. You’ll normally only be given one bite of the cherry, so make sure you get it right first time.
To make sure you get the right help, send us an enquiry and we’ll get you multiple fixed-fee quotes from entrepreneur visa lawyers within 24hrs, for free.
Interested in the Tier 2 Sponsored Visa Scheme? Read more here.
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