Certificate of Sponsorship

The rules for issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship to sponsored workers are complex, exposing employers to compliance risks.

We help sponsors avoid Home Office penalties.

Certificate of Sponsorship

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) plays an important role when recruiting workers under the Skilled Worker and ICT routes, as well as some T2 and T5 visas and the Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas.

Before an employer can sponsor a migrant worker, they must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to confirm that the conditions of the relevant visa have been met. The worker then uses the CoS to make their sponsorship visa application.

Strict conditions and timings apply when assigning the CoS, which employers must be aware of and comply with. There are also two different classes of CoS, and employers must ensure that in each instance, they are using the correct type of CoS in the correct way.

There is a lot to consider when issuing the CoS and any errors can result in a refused visa application for the worker, and Home Office enforcement action against the employer, such a sponsor licence downgrade, suspension or even revocation.

Certificate of Sponsorship guidance

At DavidsonMorris, we support UK employers with all aspects of their sponsor licence management and compliance duties, including guidance on assigning Certificates of Sponsorship.

As a team of immigration lawyers and former Home Office personnel, we can work with you to assist with compliant use of CoS as required under your sponsor licence duties.

Our Certificate of Sponsorship services include: 

  • Advice on issuing the right type of Certificate of Sponsorship 
  • Guidance points-based visa requirements including Skilled Worker minimum salary levels 
  • Integrating the CoS requirement into existing recruitment and onboarding processes 
  • Matching the role to the relevant SOC code 
  • Advice if there is an error on the CoS 
  • Issuing CoS for visa extensions


For help and advice about issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship, please contact us.

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

The CoS is a self-certifying document that a sponsor licence holder issues to a sponsored work visa applicant.

The Certificate of Sponsorship is an electronic record with a unique reference number, rather than a physical document.

It is a mandatory pre-requisite for visa applications in the Skilled Worker, ICT, some T2 and T5 routes, as well as the old Tier 2 (General) and Tier 5 visa categories.

By assigning a CoS to an individual, the sponsor is confirming to the Home Office that proposed employment conditions comply with the requirements of the relevant visa route.

A number of strict rules apply with regards to issuing the CoS. For example, the CoS must be used by the worker to make their visa applicant within 3 months of being issued. The worker cannot, however, apply for their visa more than 3 months before the start date of the job listed on the CoS. 

Types of Certificate of Sponsorship

Prior to December 2020, there were two types of Certificates of Sponsorship; the unrestricted and restricted certificates of sponsorship.

While unrestricted CoS were for workers entering the UK to earn more than £159,000 per year, the restricted CoS was subject to an annual cap and was for those who earned less than this.

Changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020 altered both the names and features of the CoS. 

The two types of Certificate of Sponsorship are now defined and undefined certificates of sponsorship.

Prior to 2021, defined CoS were referred to as “restricted certificates”. They are predominately used to employ people from outside the UK in a role paying less than £159,600. For this type of certificate, you must apply through SMS once you have gained your licence.

Defined CoS will appear in your SMS account once they are approved, at which point you can assign it to a worker.

Removing the strict 28-day RLMT advertising requirement has resulted in significantly reducing the timescales for obtaining the visa and improved employee on-boarding timeframes.

Prior to 2021, undefined CoS were classified as “unrestricted certificates”.

It is used to employ people already in the UK who wish to switch to a tier 2 visa and are skilled workers earning more than £159,600 per year. When you apply for a licence, you will be required to estimate how many undefined certificates you will need in the first year. If you use your full allocation with 12 months, you can apply via SMS for additional CoS.

Who needs a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship is needed by individuals applying for UK leave to enter or remain under the temporary sponsored work visa categories, including the Skilled Worker, ICT, T5 and old Tier 2 and most Tier 5 visas.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility applicants do not need a CoS.

How much does a Certificate of Sponsorship cost?

It costs £199 to assign a CoS to a Skilled Worker, ICT and some T2 routes. It costs £21 for a CoS for T5 temporary workers.

There is no charge if the applicant is a national of Certificates are free for nationals of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey.

Further costs may apply depending on the type of application being made, for example, the Immigration Health Surcharge and the visa application fee.

How to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship

In order to allocate a Certificate of Sponsorship, your organisation must hold a valid sponsor licence and have access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS).

The sponsor’s nominated Level 1 or Level 2 user should submit the relevant information about the role into the SMS and a unique reference number (the CoS) will be issued.

Applications for a defined certificate are generally approved within one working day, but can take longer if the UKVI need to check further information contained within the application.

Defined certificates will appear in the SMS account once they have been approved, which you can then assign to your worker.

The worker then uses the Certificate of Sponsorship to apply for their visa within three months.

Certificates of Sponsorship are not transferrable. Reassigning the CoS to another individual would be considered a breach of your sponsorship licence duties, exposing the organisation to Home Office punitive action.

How long does it take to get a Certificate of Sponsorship?

Approval for a defined CoS generally takes around one working day, although it can be longer if the Home Office requires further clarification of information provided.

Applying for a sponsorship licence

Your organisation must have the right type of sponsor licence in place to hire a sponsored worker and assign the relevant Certificate of Sponsorship.

There are two types of sponsorship licence which largely depend on whether the workers you need to fill your vacancy are:

  • “Workers” with long-term job offers which includes Skilled Worker, Intra-Company Transfer and some T2 visas, or
  • “Temporary Workers” under some T5 categories

You can apply for one or both licences.

To obtain a sponsorship licence, you must show you are a genuine organisation operating lawfully within the UK. You will also need to prove you can carry out visa sponsorship duties and have appropriate HR and recruitment practices and systems in place.

Once you have obtained a sponsorship licence, it grants you permission to lawfully employ overseas skilled workers via your online Sponsor Management System (SMS) account which assigns a certificate number the employee must use when submitting their visa application.

Certificate of Sponsorship FAQs

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship is a self-certifying electronic document that the sponsoring employer issues to the worker to enable them to apply for a visa and be onboarded into the organisation. Sponsors must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to every foreign national they employ.

Who issues the Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship is assigned by a sponsor licence holder (employer), to every prospective employee to enable them to apply for a Skilled Worker Visa.

How do I issue a Certificate of Sponsorship?

The worker’s sponsor will issue the Certificate of Sponsorship through the online Sponsor Management System (SMS).

How long does Certificate of Sponsorship take?

Defined certificates of sponsorship take around a day to come through.

Do I need a Certificate of Sponsorship?

Every worker from overseas must be assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship and cannot work without one. Each certificate has a unique number allocated to it, which the worker can use to apply for a visa. The certificate is valid for three months. There are some immigration routes that do not require sponsorship, but other eligibility criteria will apply.


Play Video

Sponsor Licence Application: How Long Does it Take?

Jemima Johnstone

Play Video

Why do sponsor licence applications fail?

Jemima Johnstone

Play Video

Sponsor Licence Application Process

Jemima Johnstone

By far the most friendly and approachable lawyers we have ever used


In-depth guides with practical, actionable insights into areas of employment & immigration law and human resources & global mobility.

For specialist advice for employers, speak to our experts.