Innovator Visa UK

Does the COVID-19 travel ban affect your Sole Representative or Innovator visa?

By Amer Zaman

on October 20, 2022

Read Time: 7 Minutes

While the COVID-19 pandemic has largely receded from the news headlines in recent times – and from many people’s consciences – the virus is continuing to make its impact felt in a multitude of ways, not least in relation to visas and immigration.

The Telegraph recently reported that as of late September, 74 countries around the world had now scrapped all COVID-19 travel restrictions. Included in this, as well as many parts of the rest of the world, were nearly all European countries, of which the UK is one.

So, if you are a holder or candidate in relation to popular UK visa routes such as the Sole Representative or Innovator visa, have we simply returned to a state of “as you were”? Or are there lingering impacts that you will need to know about in the maintenance of your immigration status?

The background of COVID-19-related travel bans and restrictions

The UK of February 2021 was quite a different place to today, in a number of respects. At that time, the country was still in the grip of the coronavirus crisis, even as vaccines began to come on stream.

With there still being an imperative to help prevent the spread of the virus to relieve pressure on the NHS, measures were put in place to ensure this, including at the UK’s border. On 9th February, the then-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, made a statement in the House of Commons, in which he outlined “new measures to keep this country safe from coronavirus.”

Those measures were three-pronged, to take effect from 15th February that year:

  • Hotel quarantine for residents of the UK and Ireland who had visited a ‘red list’ country in the last 10 days, and home quarantine for all passengers from any other country
  • A three-test regime for all new arrivals
  • Firm enforcement of pre-departure tests and passenger locator forms

None of these three measures any longer applies for those travelling to the UK. However, there is no question that they caused considerable chaos and uncertainty at the time for many holders and applicants for UK visas such as the Innovator and Sole Representative visa.

What are the current COVID-19 immigration rules in the UK?

As of October 2022, prospective travellers to England are not required to complete a UK passenger locator form prior to travel, take any COVID-19 tests prior to or after their journey, or quarantine on their arrival in England. In Wales, too, the previous coronavirus-related rules in relation to international travel and arrival into the country have been removed.

The latest information on the coronavirus immigration rules that might apply in other UK nations can be found at www.gov.scot (Scotland) and www.nidirect.gov.uk (Northern Ireland) respectively.

This loosening of rules should greatly simplify life for a wide range of migrants applying for, travelling to, and living and working in the UK with valid immigration permission. But with the pandemic by no means ‘over’, and not all parts of the world having yet removed their COVID-19 travel restrictions, it is important to educate yourself on the latest rules in the relevant territories to inform your immigration decisions.

What is the Sole Representative visa route?

The term ‘Sole Representative visa’ is another name for what is officially known as the Representative of an Overseas Business visa. It is a visa that can be applied for by employees of overseas newspapers, news agencies, or broadcasting organisations that have been posted on a long-term assignment to the UK.

If your application for this visa is approved by the Home Office, you will be permitted to remain in the UK for an initial period of three years. Following those three years, it may be possible to have your visa extended for a further two years.

One reason why this UK visa is so popular, is because it can serve as a route to permanent settlement in the country for those who have spent a total of five years in the UK.

Those who are successful in being granted this status – known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’, or ILR – will gain the right to live, work, and study in the UK for as long as they wish. Such status would also provide a platform for a subsequent application for British citizenship.

What is the Innovator visa category?

The Innovator visa is a sought-after immigration route, aimed at those who wish to establish and run an innovative business in the UK. In order for candidates for this visa to be successful in their application, the business will need to be “different from anything else on the market”.  

If you intend to apply for the Innovator visa, you will need to have had your business or business idea endorsed by a Home Office-approved body known as an “endorsing body”, in addition to satisfying the other eligibility requirements.

Those eligibility requirements include being at least 18 years of age, satisfying the English language requirement, and being able to prove that you have sufficient personal savings with which to support yourself during your time in the UK. If you wish to set up a new business as an applicant for this visa, you will also be expected to have a minimum of £50,000 in investment funds.

Being approved for the Innovator visa, or switching to this visa from another visa category as someone who is already in the UK, will give you the right to remain in the country for three years. It will also be possible, when the expiry date of your visa nears, to apply to remain in the UK for an additional three years. There is no limit to the number of times Innovator visa holders can extend their visa.

Like the Sole Representative visa, the Innovator visa provides a potential route to ILR status, otherwise known as settlement in the UK. As a holder of this visa, you may have the right to apply to settle in the UK once you have spent three years in the country.

One concern that many applicants for an Innovator visa may have had amid the coronavirus crisis, is that of their endorsing body’s endorsement expiring due to the applicant’s inability to travel to the UK. However, the Home Office’s policy on this is that applicants in such circumstances may still be eligible for a visa, with such applications being considered on a case-by-case basis.

Will COVID-19 affect my indefinite leave to remain (ILR) application?  

There are various circumstances in which COVID-19 might have had implications for an ILR application or existing ILR status.

It is normally the case, for example, that holders of a visa that leads to ILR status are not permitted to spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period, for the duration of the five-year qualifying period. However, this requirement does not apply for every visa route, and the exact situation will also depend on the date your visa was issued.

Although the Home Office does stringently enforce the 180-day limit, in cases where an applicant has absences that exceed the limit, it will still consider granting indefinite leave to remain. In this situation, the applicant will need to provide evidence that there were serious or compelling reasons for the excess absences.

The UK Immigration Rules on continuous residence set out that any period spent outside of the UK will not count towards the 180-day limit if the reason for the absence was “travel disruption due to natural disaster, military conflict, or pandemic”. In the event, however, that you do spend an extended period outside of the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic, our specialists in immigration law would advise you to keep evidence of COVID-19 being the reason. Such evidence could take various forms – for example, of travel bans in specific countries, or of a need for you to care for unwell relatives.

Can I lose my indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status due to COVID-19?

If you already applied for and was granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status, but you have remained outside of the UK for more than two years due to COVID-19 travel bans restricting your ability to travel, your ILR status will have now lapsed.

However, the good news is that if your ILR lapsed on or after 24th January 2020, and coronavirus-related travel restrictions were the reason why you were unable to return to the UK, you may be able to apply through the Returning Resident visa route.

A successful application for this visa would enable you to regain indefinite leave to remain status. You will be required to apply online, and the Home Office will expect you to explain how COVID-19-related restrictions prevented you from coming back to the UK.

Contact our expert solicitors for advice and support with your immigration case

We can understand that if you are an applicant or holder of a Sole Representative or Innovator visa, are considering the suitability of these visa routes, or have a more complicated case, you may be unsure as to what your next steps should be. Here at Cranbrook Legal, we can provide access to the award-winning immigration lawyers that can advise and project-manage your case for a fixed fee. For more information about our service and to arrange your free consultation with us, please do not hesitate to give us a call, on 0208 215 0053, or to complete and submit our online contact form.

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