UK Start-up visa

Start a business in the UK: a better version of Graduate Entrepreneur visa

This is a better version of the old visa category, Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur). A Start-up visa is open to everyone with a suitable business idea. It remains open to graduates from UK universities but also to those coming from abroad to establish a business in the UK. Until end of 2020 it is open to non-EU nationals, from 1 January 2021 it also covers European citizens under the post-Brexit rules. You may be an experienced entrepreneur outside the UK or may be only planning your first ever business – as long as this is your first business here in the UK and it will be a new business, i.e. you cannot join a British company  that is already trading. 

This visa is issued for up to 2 years. It doesn’t lead to settlement in the UK but allows switching to several categories that do, such as a general work visa if you secure sponsorship from a UK employer (under the very generous post-Brexit rules), Innovator visa if you progress with a business or Spouse/Partner visa. 

This has been one of the most exciting proposals in post-Brexit immigration rules –  return of what was known as Post-Study Work visa. It existed in the past under Tier 1, was very popular but then was closed in 2012. Now it will be re-opened under the new name (such as graduate immigration route) for international students who have completed a degree in the UK from summer 2021. You’ll be able to work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for up to 2 years.

At this point we are still awaiting for details, such as whether it will be limited to graduates in certain subjects, namely STEM, i.e. science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or whether it will be opened to everyone like in the past. It is, however, certain that if you hold a UK degree in one of the STEM subjects, this visa will be possible. Potentially, you would be able to look for work, to work at any job (skilled or not, relevant to your degree or not) or run your own business for 2 years before switching to a visa that leads to Settlement.

The first step is to secure endorsement of your business idea.  

If you are coming to study at a UK university: at the end of your degree course, you can approach your Sponsor (i.e. your university) to endorse your idea for a Start-up visa. Most universities offer this, although your particular university has to confirm they are authorised on the date of your application. Some will consider any graduate of theirs (Queen Mary University of London, London School of Economics), while others – only those accepted on their own Accelerator Programme (The Robert Gordon University) or meet some other criteria for select graduates (University of Bath). Some, however, do not impose any restrictions, such as Oxford Brookes University, University of Cambridge. 

If you graduated from a UK university in the past: some universities accept applications from alumni with some time limit, such as last 12 months (University College London – UCL), 2 years (Nottingham Trent University) or last 3 years (Newcastle University). 

These are examples, for your particular situation please contact us for a consultation. 

If you are planning to come and start a business in the UK (without studying here first), then you can pitch your business plan to a business organisation, i.e. not a university. Example: Tech Nation for digital technology businesses. Most of the endorsing bodies require participation in their own acceleration programme and some even insist on investing in your business for % of future profits. Some focus on specific industries (such as biochemistry, pharmaceuticals or cyber security) but a few do not impose any limiting criteria (Emsworth). 

Under the Immigration Rules, your business has to be Innovative, Viable and Scalable. In practice, the following ideas are likely to be accepted:

Cloud technology, such as Software As A Service (SaaS) platforms. 

Mobile applications and technology in the food and drinks industry.

Mobile applications and use of technology in financial services (“fintech”).

Mobile application and use of technology in the property industry (“proptech”): construction, property management, housing, such as SaaS platform for housing associations.

Mobile applications and use of technology in travel/transport (“traveltech”), such as providing SaaS platform for taxi companies. 

Supply of technology and Artificial Intelligence to the retail sector. 

Mobile Application in health and fitness industries. 

Development and use of neural-control interface (NCI).

Innovations in pharmaceutical, biochemical and similar industries.

3D Printing and Virtual Reality.


The list is not exhaustive. Unlike the old Tier 1 visas, this category does not prevent from residential property development or property investment but such an idea is unlikely to pass the “Innovation” criteria. If you, however, have an innovative idea (even not on the list above), please get in touch for a more detailed consultation. 

We are immigration entrepreneurs with over 10 years of successful experience. Business visas are one of our specialities. A good business plan is vital to secure an endorsement. It has to describe your business idea but also to explain how you will be meeting specific UK visa requirements. 

1st 4Immigration is unique: we offer a one-stop shop for UK business visas. All under one roof: a business plan, help with endorsement and a visa. Plus we have a well-trusted support network for your business needs: accountants, tax advisers, employment lawyers and so on.

Start-up visa does not lead to settlement in the UK, time spent on it does not count towards the common sense path of 5 years. If you wish to remain here longer, and eventually secure a British passport, you would need to switch to a visa category that leads to settlement. 

Innovator visa if you decide to progress with your business, you would need a new endorsement for that, from the same or different endorsing body, for the same or different business. Your idea still has to be innovative, viable and scalable. Settlement after minimum 3 years, most commonly 5 years. 

General work visa (Tier 2): if you are offered a job from a UK company which is willing to sponsor you for a work visa. You will be allowed to work only for this company and only as an employee, not as a contractor or freelancer. There are rules on the types of jobs (skill level), appropriate salary plus your employer has to have a licence or be willing to apply for it, which we can help with. Settlement after 5 years. 

Spouse/Partner visa: if you are in a relationship with someone who has permission to be in the UK, you could apply as a family member. Examples: if your partner is British, European, has a permanent residency status in the UK or has a work/business visa that allows dependants. Settlement after 5 years. 

10 years of continuous residence: if you have spent 10 years in the UK on any visas, continuously and legally, you can qualify for settlement. 

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