Cyprus Innovation and Startups

CYPRUS STARTUP VISA SCHEME FOR NON-EU NATIONALS

 

In 2017 the Council of Ministers of the Cyprus Government adopted the policy on Innovative Startup Businesses aiming to attract the establishment of such businesses in Cyprus. The policy applies to the founders of such businesses, to its managers and support staff.

The application period for the Scheme has been extended for two years. This revised Scheme is valid as from March 2019 to March 2021 and during this period up to 150 visas may be issued.

The Cyprus startup visa scheme allows talented entrepreneurs (non-EU nationals and non-EEA nationals), individually or in a team, to enter, reside and work in Cyprus in order to establish or operate or develop a startup with a high growth potential.

The scheme is subdivided in two plans, the individual and team plan. It is possible to switch from the individual plan to the team plan.

  • INDIVIDUAL STARTUP VISA SCHEME 


I.        Requirements to be fulfilled by the individual desiring to benefit:

  • Non-EU national.
  • Sole founder of the business and owns the majority of the enterprise’s shares.
  • Access to €20.000, which may include venture capital funding, crowdfunding or other sources of funding.
  • Very good knowledge of the Greek and/or the English language.

II.       Requirements to be fulfilled by the Enterprise:

  • It must be innovative. The enterprise will be considered innovative if its research and development costs represent at least 10% of its operating costs, in at least one of the three (3) years preceding the submission of the application, certified by an external auditor. For new enterprises, without any financial history, the evaluation will be based on the business plan required to be submitted by the applicant. 
  • The business plan must provide that the enterprise’s head offices and tax domicile will be established in Cyprus. The head offices may be common co-working spaces (e.g. business accelerators, incubators, digital hubs etc) or a co-location with other enterprises.

III.      Benefits for the founders:

  • Right to economic activity and residence in Cyprus for one year, with the possibility of a further year of renewal.
  • Right to self-employment or right to paid employment in his/her registered company within Cyprus.
  • If the enterprise succeeds: prospective unlimited duration of residence in Cyprus; enjoyment of family reunification and the prospective recruitment of a specific number of non-EU national personnel, without requiring to obtain the prior approval of the Labour Department.
  • The success or failure of the enterprise will be assessed at the end of the second (2) year.

IV.      Procedure to be followed:

Step 1: submit an application for the establishment/operation/development of a startup with a high growth potential

  • The application may be submitted either whilst applicant (founder) is abroad or staying legally in Cyprus.
  • The application is submitted via e-mail startup.visa@mof.gov.cy to the Ministry of Finance or authority designated by the said Ministry.
  • All documents submitted should be in English.
  • A business plan (BP) must accompany the application. The BP must include the location/s where the enterprise is planning to operate in Cyprus and the number of employees the enterprise intends to recruit.
  • CV
  • Proof of knowledge of Greek or English language.
  • Copy of valid passport or other travel document of the applicant, with a validity covering at least two (2) years, at the time of submission of the application. 
  • Bank account statements
  • If an existing enterprise, recent audited accounts.

Step 2: Evaluation of the Application for the establishment/operation/development of a startup with a high growth potential

  • Evaluation of the application and business plan by the Competent Authority as well as the qualifications (skills) of the applicant.
  • The evaluation of the business plan is based on five (5) criteria, which are given points from 0-3 and at least 11/15 is required for approval.

         -Significant international market with upward trends

         -High-growth business with an innovative and expandable business model

         -A clear and sustainable competitive advantage

         -Management Team 

         -Intellectual Property Protection

  • As part of the evaluation process, the applicant may be called for a personal or online interview, for presenting, inter alia, his/her startup and the business plan.
  • Evaluation process set at five (5) weeks.
  • Upon a positive evaluation result, a Notification of Initial Approval is given to the applicant. The Initial Approval grants the applicant with the right of exercising the business activity for two (2) years from the date the Notification is issued.

Step 3: Submit an application for a visa or entry permit 

  • Within six (6) months from receipt of the Notification of Approval as above, the applicant, if abroad, must submit an application for a visa from the Consular Authorities of Cyprus or at the Migration Department in Cyprus to secure an entry permit or residence permit.
  • In the case of an entry permit application, the applicant must state if he or she is to enter and reside in Cyprus for self or paid employment in his or her enterprise in Cyprus. In the case of paid employment, the company must already be registered with the Cyprus Registrar of Companies and an employment contract must be in place, with a monthly gross salary of at least €850.00. If the applicant is self-employed then he/she must prove that s/he has access to €10.000 per year for living expenses.
  • The application will be examined within three (3) weeks after its submission. If approved, the applicant should arrange his/her entry into Cyprus within the validity period of the permit.    

Step 4: Submit an application for a work and residence permit 

  • If the applicant is in Cyprus at the time of receiving the Notification of Initial Approval, within one (1) month he/she must submit an application to the Migration Department to register and obtain a residence permit for the establishment/operation/development of a startup, as the case may be, by paying the corresponding official fees.
  • In the case of the applicant being a paid employee, the company (employer) must be registered at the Cyprus Registrar of Companies.
  • At the time of submission of this application and its supporting documents, the biometric data (photograph and fingerprints) as well as the signature of the applicant will be taken.
  • In the case that the applicant has obtained an entry permit, he/she will have to submit the remaining documents instead of filing an application anew. Biometric data, as well as the signature of the applicant, will be taken.
  • The residence permit application will be examined in three (3) weeks after its submission. If approved, a residence permit will be issued, with a validity period of one (1) year commencing from the date of the Notification of Initial Approval. 
  • If the applicant is staying in Cyprus with a different residence status, before submitting an application for a residence permit for a startup, he/she must file a written request to the Migration Department for a change of residence status. This request will be examined within five (5) weeks and the applicant will be notified accordingly.

Step 5: Submit an application for the renewal of a residence permit in Cyprus 

  • The application for renewal should be filed at least one (1) month before the residence permit expires.
  • The supporting documents for renewal are amongst others proof of settlement of taxes (if any), social insurance contributions. Biometric data will be taken at the Migration Department as well as the signature of the applicant.
  • The application for renewal will be examined within three (3) weeks from the date of submission. If approved the validity period will be for one (1) year.   

V.       Recruitment of foreign personnel in the enterprise

  • It is possible to transfer to the Team Scheme, provided that the requirements for that Scheme are met.
  • If the Team Scheme requirements cannot be met and/or the founder wishes to recruit in his/her enterprise additional foreign personnel, then the existing procedures for recruiting foreign personnel should be followed by obtaining the approval of the Labour Department. It is clarified that the Labour Department will approve additional recruitment of foreign personnel in the cases where the total number of foreign workers in the enterprise does not exceed 30% of the total staff.

VI.      What happens once the renewed residence permit expires?

  • Two (2) months before the expiration date of the renewed residence permit, the founder must submit a new application to the Competent Authority. The Competent Authority will evaluate whether the startup is successful by presenting sufficient development (scale up) or has failed or despite not presenting sufficient development, has a positive potential of success.
  • The application will be submitted via email to the Competent Authority startup.visa@mof.gov.cy indicating: “Application for ‘Cyprus Startup Visa’ Name: …  Surname: … “All documents should be in English.
  • The application must be accompanied by a revised business plan and:
  • Proof of payment of contributions/status of insurable earnings to the Social Insurance Fund.
  • Corporate tax clearance certificate from the Tax Department.
  • Annual corporate tax payment receipt (Levy) from the Registrar of Companies and Official Receiver.
  • Company’s personnel status form.
  • Audited financial accounts signed by independent auditors.
  • Bank Account statements.
  •  The Competent Authority during its assessment will take into account the number of jobs created, the taxes paid by the enterprise, the enterprise’s exports, the enterprise’s revenue and any additional investments made within the enterprise.
  • The Competent Authority will assess the request within five (5) weeks and will take one of the following decisions:

 A.   The company is scaling up:

If the evaluation shows that the startup has achieved sufficient development (scale up), then the applicant will receive a relevant Notification of Final Approval, which will state the following:

 

In cases where there is a registered company with tax domicile in the Republic:

  • The personnel working in the company at the time that the Notification of Final Approval is issued will be ensured the right of residence and employment in Cyprus, at the relevant company, with no time limit. For paid employees there will be a potential of a two-year issuance/renewal of residence permits and for the self-employed one year, by paying the corresponding fees. These persons will be able to directly exercise the right to family reunification, in accordance to immigration laws.
  • The company will be able to recruit additional foreign personnel, not exceeding three (3) individuals, without the prior approval of the Labour Department, provided that the latter will receive a gross monthly salary of at least €1,500. Such personnel shall be entitled to reside and be employed in the Republic, in the relevant company, with no maximum duration and if the provisions of the immigration law are met, be able to exercise the right to family reunification.
  • The company will be able to recruit additional foreign personnel following the established procedures relating to residence and employment of third country nationals, subject to the prior approval of the Labour Department. The General Employment Policy will be applied in the case of this personnel.

In cases where there is no registered company with tax domicile in the Republic: 

  • Self-employed persons in the enterprise at the time of the Notification of Final Approval will be ensured the right of residence and employment in the Republic, in the specific enterprise, with no time limit, with one-year renewal, and by paying the corresponding fees. He/she will be able to directly exercise the right to family reunification in accordance to the immigration laws.
  • The enterprise will be able to recruit additional foreign personnel but not exceeding three (3) individuals, without the prior approval of the Labour Department, provided that the latter will receive a monthly gross salary of at least €1,500. Such personnel shall be entitled to reside and be employed in the Republic, in the specific company, with no time limit and if the provisions of the immigration law are met, be able to exercise the right to family reunification.
  • The business will be able to recruit additional foreign personnel apart from the above, following the established procedures relating to residence and employment of third country nationals, subject to the approval of the Labour Department. For this kind of personnel, the policy governing General Employment will be applied. The self-employed founder with the larger number of shares in the enterprise will be considered as the employer. In the case of a partnership, shareholding is not taken into account. Each partner in a partnership pays social insurance fees as an independent self-employed person.  

 B. The enterprise has failed:

  • If the application’s evaluation is negative, the applicant will receive a notice by the Competent Authority, which will be notified also to the Department of Civil Registry and Migration and will state the need for the applicant to arrange to stay under a different migration status or depart from the Republic, as appropriate.
  • If the applicant was on a self-employed basis and wishes to continue to reside in the Republic for the purpose of paid employment, he/she must depart from the Republic and follow the existing procedures providing approval from both the prospective employer and the applicant, from the Labour Department.

C. The enterprise, despite not presenting scale up, has a positive outlook for success: 

  • If the assessment of the application by the Competent Authority considers that the startup, despite not presenting sufficient development, has a positive outlook for success, then the applicant will receive a Notification of Intermediate Approval.
  • Upon receipt of the Notification of Intermediate Approval, the applicant should immediately and before the expiration date of the residence permit held, apply to the Department of Civil Registry and Migration for renewal of his residence permit, by paying the corresponding fee, and submitting the required documents and biometric data.
  • The application for renewal of the residence permit is examined within three (3) weeks after its complete submission. In case of approval, the residence permit will be valid for one (1) year from the date of the Notification on Intermediate Approval and the applicant is notified accordingly.
  • Two (2) months before the expiration date of the renewed residence permit, the founder will have to re-apply to the Competent Authority for final evaluation of whether the startup has succeeded or has failed.
  • The application will be submitted free of charge, via email to the Competent Authority.
  • The application will be accompanied by other documents that may be requested by the Competent Authority.
  • The Competent Authority will assess the request within five (5) weeks and will take a final decision on whether the operation has succeeded or failed and will accordingly inform the applicant and the Department of Civil Registry and Migration for further action.  

TEAM STARTUP VISA SCHEME

 

I.        Requirements of a team: 

  • Non-EU nationals, comprising solely of founders who meet the requirements of the enterprise below and are a maximum of five (5) individuals.
  • At least one (1) founder and other senior executives, whose total does not exceed five (5) individuals. The senior management must belong to the third level of the administrative hierarchy (managers) (C-level employees) and will have the right to stock options.
  • Posses, in total, more than 50% of the company’s shares.
  • The founder has access to €10,000. In case the founders are more than two (2) the total capital must be €20,000, which may include venture capital funding, crowd funding or other sources of financing.
  • At least one of the team members holds an undergraduate or an equivalent professional qualification.
  • All team members have a very good knowledge of Greek and or / English Language.

 

II.       Requirements of the Enterprise:

  • It must be innovative. The enterprise will be considered innovative if its research and development costs represent at least 10% of its operating costs, in at least one of the three (3) years preceding the submission of the application, as certified by an external auditor, on the basis of international accounting standards. In cases where the enterprise is new, without any financial history, the evaluation will be based on the business plan required to be submitted by the applicant.
  • The business plan must provide that the enterprise’s head offices and tax domicile will be established in Cyprus. The head offices may be common co-working spaces (e.g. business accelerators, incubators, digital hubs etc) or a co-location with other enterprises.

III.      Benefits for the founders:

  • Right to economic activity and residence in Cyprus for one year, with the possibility of renewal for at least one more year.
  • For the Founders: right to paid employment in their registered company within Cyprus.
  • For the senior executives: right to paid employment in a company that the founders will register in Cyprus.  
  • Prospective residence in Cyprus, without any maximum time restrictions, if the enterprise succeeds.
  • Enjoyment of family reunification, if the enterprise succeeds.
  • Prospective recruitment of a specific number of personnel from non-EU countries without prior approval of the Labour Department, in case of success of the enterprise. The success or failure of the enterprise will be assessed at the end of the second (2) year.

 

IV.      Procedure to be followed:

Step 1: submit an application form for the establishment/operation/development of a startup with a high growth potential

  • The application form may be submitted either whilst the team members are abroad or whilst staying legally in Cyprus.
  • The application is submitted free of charge, via e-mail startup.visa@mof.gov.cy to the Competent Authority (the Ministry of Finance or authority designated by the said Ministry).
  • All documents submitted should be in English.
  • The application must clearly state the names of all team members, their company status (founders or senior managers) and indicate a contact person.
  • A business plan must accompany the application. It must state, inter alia, the location/s where the enterprise is planning to operate in Cyprus and the number of employees the enterprise intends to recruit.
  • CV of all team members.
  • An undergraduate degree or an equivalent professional title, a duly translated and certified copy of such academic qualification/s, of at least one (1) team member.
  • Proof of very good knowledge of Greek or English language.
  • Copy of valid passport or other travel document of all team members, with a validity of at least two (2) years, at the time of submission of the application.
  • Bank account statements indicating that at least two (2) founders have access to €20,000.00.   
  • If an existing enterprise, recent audited accounts.

 

Step 2: Evaluation of the Application for the establishment/operation/development of a startup with a high growth potential

  • Evaluation of the application and business plan by the Competent Authority.
  • Personal or online interview of the team members (to present his/her startup and business plan).
  • Evaluation process set at five (5) weeks.
  • Upon a positive evaluation result, a Notification of Initial Approval is given to the contact person. The Initial Approval grants the right of exercising the business activity for two (2) years from the date the Notification is issued. The Notification will state the names of the team members and their status.
  • In the case of a negative evaluation of the application, the applicant will be informed by way of a rejection letter. 

 

Step 3: Submit an application for a visa or entry permit 

  • Within six (6) months from receipt of the Notification of Approval as above, the team members, if abroad, must submit an application individually, for a visa from the Consular Authorities of Cyprus or at the Migration Department in Cyprus to secure an entry permit or residence permit.
  • In the case of an entry permit application, each applicant must state that he/she is to enter and reside in Cyprus for paid employment in the specific company in Cyprus. The company must have already been registered with the Registrar of Companies and all team must have an employment contract, duly signed and sealed (by the Labour Department), with a gross salary of at least €850.00.
  • The application will be reviewed within three (3) weeks after its submission. If approved, each applicant should arrange his/her entry into Cyprus within the validity period of the permit.
  • If rejected, each applicant will be informed accordingly.  

 

Step 4: Submit an application for a work and residence permit 

  • If all team members are in Cyprus at the time of receiving the Notification of Initial Approval, within one (1) month they must submit an application to the Migration Department to register and obtain a residence permit for the establishment /operation and development of a startup, as appropriate, by paying the corresponding fees.
  • In the case of any team member being a paid employee, the company (employer) must be registered at the Cyprus Registrar of Companies.
  • At the time of submission of this application and its supporting documents, the biometric data (photograph and fingerprints) as well as the signature of each applicant will be taken.
  • In the case that a team member has obtained an entry permit, he/she will have to submit the remaining documents instead of filing an application anew. Biometric data, as well as the signature of the applicant, will be taken.
  • The residence permit application will be examined in three (3) weeks after its submission. If approved, a residence permit will be issued, with a validity period of one (1) year commencing from the date of the Notification of Initial Approval. The applicant will be informed accordingly, also in the case of rejection.
  • If any team member is staying in Cyprus with a different residence status, before submitting an application for a residence/work permit for a startup, he/she must file a written request to the Migration Department for a change of residence status. This request will be examined within five (5) weeks and the applicant will be notified accordingly.

Step 5: Submit an application for the renewal of a residence permit in Cyprus 

  • The application for renewal should be filed at least one (1) month before the residence permit expiration date. 
  • The supporting documents for renewal are amongst others are proof of tax settlement, social insurance contributions. Biometric data will be taken and the signature given at the Migration Department.
  • The application for renewal will be examined within three (3) weeks from the date of submission. If approved the validity period will be for one (1) year. If rejected
  • each applicant will be informed. 

V.       Recruitment of foreign personnel in the enterprise

  • At any time within the two (2) years of the Notification on Initial Approval, there is a possibility for completing the maximum number of five (5) team members, provided that the requirements for that Scheme are met and provided that the number of 150 visas has been reached.
  • In case the requirements for the Team Scheme are not met (see p.10), and/or the founder wishes to recruit in his/her enterprise additional foreign personnel, then the existing procedures for recruiting foreign personnel should be followed by obtaining the approval of the Labour Department. It is clarified that the Labour Department will approve additional recruitment of foreign personnel in the cases where the total number of foreign workers in the enterprise does not exceed 30% of the total staff.

VI.      Procedure to be followed once the renewed residence permit expires

  • Two (2) months before the expiration date of the renewed residence permit, the team must submit a new application to the Competent Authority. The Competent Authority will evaluate whether the startup is successful by presenting sufficient development (scale up), has failed or, despite not having presented sufficient development, has a positive potential of success.
  • The application will be submitted free of charge, via email to the Competent Authority startup.visa@mof.gov.cy indicating: “Application for ‘Cyprus Startup Visa’ Name: …  Surname: … “All documents should be in English.
  • The application must necessarily be accompanied by a revised Business Plan and:
  • Proof of contributions payment / status of insurable earnings to the Social Insurance Fund for all team members.
  • Corporate tax clearance certificate from the Tax Department.
  • Annual corporate tax payment receipt (Levy) from the Registrar of Companies and Official Receiver.
  • Company’s personnel status form.
  • Audited financial accounts signed by independent auditors.
  • Bank Account statements.
  • Proof that at least two (2) team members have access to €10,000 each which may include venture capital funding, crowdfunding or other sources of financing.
  • The Competent Authority during its assessment will take into account the number of jobs created, the taxes paid by the enterprise, the enterprise’s exports, the enterprise’s revenue and any additional investments made within the enterprise.
  • The Competent Authority will assess the request within five (5) weeks and will take one of the following decisions:

A.       The company is scaling up:

If the evaluation shows that the startup has achieved sufficient development (scale up), then the applicant will receive a relevant Notification of Final Approval, which will state the following:

  • Personnel working in the company at the time that the Notification of Final Approval is issued will be ensured the right of residence and employment in the Republic, in the relevant company, with no time limit. For the paid employees there will be a potential of a two-year issue / renewal of residence permits and for the self-employed one year, by paying the corresponding fees. These persons will be able to directly exercise the right to family reunification, in accordance to immigration laws.
  • The company will be able to recruit additional foreign personnel that do not exceed three (3) individuals without prior approval of the Department of Labour, provided that the latter will receive a gross monthly salary of at least €1,500. Such personnel shall be entitled to reside and be employed in the Republic, in the relevant company, with no time limit and if the provisions of the immigration law are met, be able to exercise the right to family reunification.
  • The company will be able to recruit additional foreign personnel following the established procedures relating to residence and employment of third country nationals, prior to approval from the Department of Labour. For these personnel the policy governing Employment will be applied. 

 

B.       The enterprise has failed:

  • If the application’s evaluation is negative, the applicant will receive a notice by the Competent Authority, which will be notified also to the Department of Civil Registry and Migration and will state the need for the applicant to settle otherwise his stay in the Republic or depart from the Republic, as appropriate.

C.       The enterprise, although It has not presented scale up, has a positive look for success: 

  • If the assessment of the application by the Competent Authority considers that the startup, although it has not presented sufficient development, has a positive look for success, then the applicant will receive a Notification of Intermediate Approval.
  • Upon receipt of the Notification of Intermediate Approval, the applicant should immediately and before the expiration date of the residence permit held, apply to the Department of Civil Registry and Migration for renewal of his residence permit, by paying the corresponding feed, and submitting the required documents and biometric data.
  • The application for renewal of the residence permit is examined within three (3) weeks after its complete submission. In case of approval, the residence permit will be valid for one (1) year from the date of the Notification on Intermediate Approval and the applicant is notified accordingly.
  • Two (2) months before the expiration date of the renewed residence permit, the team members will have to re-apply to the Competent Authority for final evaluation of whether the startup has succeeded or has failed.
  • The application will be submitted free of charge, via email to the Competent Authority.
  • The application will be accompanied by other documents that may be requested by the Competent Authority.
  • The Competent Authority will assess the request within five (5) weeks and will take a final decision on whether the operation has succeeded or failed and will accordingly inform the applicant and the Department of Civil Registry and Migration for further action. 

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