The rules for issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship to sponsored workers are complex, exposing employers to compliance risks. We help sponsors onboard sponsored workers correctly to avoid Home Office penalties.
The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) plays an important role when recruiting workers under UK sponsored work visa routes.
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 sponsored visa application to the Home Office.
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.
A Certificate of Sponsorship is a reference number given to a sponsored work visa applicant by their proposed sponsor. It is an electronic record rather than a physical document.
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.
Following changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020, there are now two types of Certificate of Sponsorship – ‘defined’ and ‘undefined’ certificates of sponsorship.
Defined certificates of sponsorship (formerly ‘restricted certificates’) are issued to Skilled Worker visa applicants applying from overseas. For this type of certificate, employers apply through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) when they have gained their sponsor licence.
The defined CoS will appear in the SMS account once approved, at which point the employer can assign it to the worker.
Undefined CoS (previously known as ‘unrestricted certificates’) are required to sponsor Skilled Worker visa applicants already in the UK and applicants for all other sponsored visa routes.
When you apply for the sponsor licence, you will have to submit an estimate of 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 certificates.
A Certificate of Sponsorship is needed by individuals applying for UK leave to enter or remain under UK sponsored work visa categories, including:
Sponsors have to pay a fee to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to a worker. The fee amount will depend on factors such as the type of visa being applied for and how long the CoS is assigned for. For example, a Skilled Worker visa CoS costs £239, while a CoS for a Temporary Worker visa costs £25.
The following table sets out the latest CoS fees for sponsors.
|Premium Sponsor Service (12 months) Worker sponsor and Temporary worker sponsor – large sponsors
|Premium Sponsor Service (12 months) Worker sponsor and Temporary worker sponsor – small sponsors
|Premium Sponsor Service (12 months) Student sponsors
|The expedited processing of a sponsorship management request made by a Worker sponsor or Temporary worker sponsor
|Priority service for expedited processing of sponsor licence applications
|Worker sponsor licence (large sponsor )
|Worker sponsor licence (small sponsor)
|Student sponsor licence
|Temporary Worker sponsor licence
|Worker and Temporary Worker sponsor licence (large sponsor)
|Worker and Student sponsor licence (large sponsor)
|Worker, Temporary Worker and Student sponsor licence (large sponsor)
|Temporary Worker and Student sponsor licence
|Worker sponsor licence (large sponsor), where sponsor currently holds a Temporary Worker and/or Student Sponsor Licence
|Endorsement fee for a Scale-up sponsor licence under Endorsing Body Pathway (payable to the endorsing body) excluding VAT
|Student sponsor basic compliance assessment
|Sponsor action plan
|Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): Skilled Worker, T2 Minister of Religion, Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker
|Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) – Temporary Worker including Global Business Mobility – Graduate Trainee, UK Expansion Worker, Service Supplier and Secondment Worker route, and Scale-up route
|Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for International Sportsperson route – Over 12 Months
|Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for International Sportsperson route – Up to 12 months or less
|Confirmation of Acceptance for Study (CAS) for student, child student
Undefined certificates of sponsorship
When submitting a sponsor licence application, you will be required to estimate the number of Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship you will require in the first year.
You must provide evidence that you require the requested number of certificates, as well as the necessary information and documentation for the role(s) and migrant(s).
For undefined certificates of sponsorship, there is no restriction on the number of available.
You can renew your annual allocation or submit a request for additional Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship at any time during the year in response to changes in circumstances. For example, you may require an additional Certificate of Sponsorship if an existing sponsored worker will be switching to a different visa category or if a sponsored worker needs to extend their permission to remain in the UK.
You do not need to include in the calculation any potential migrants you wish to sponsor who are applying from abroad, as they require a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship and a different procedure applies.
Defined certificates of sponsorship
Unlike the previous CoS rules, there is no limit on the number of available Defined Certificates of Sponsorship, and sponsors do not need to apply on the first business day following the fifth of each month.
You may submit a CoS application at any time for a migrant worker who requires it.
When requesting a CoS allocation, you must specify the roles you intend to recruit for, provide information about the migrant, if known, and explain how the migrant was identified for the position.
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 enforcement action.
Applying for defined Certificates of Sponsorship
You must be an A-rated licence holder to apply for a defined Certificate of Sponsorship.
The Home Office SMS Guide 12 details the steps necessary to assign a defined CoS:
Assigning undefined Certificates of Sponsorship
The Home Office SMS Guide 8 details the steps necessary to assign a defined CoS:
For employers with a licence that has a provisional rating, only one certificate of sponsorship can be assigned to the authorising officer to permit them to enter the UK. You should then upgrade your licence to an A-rating and request additional certificates of sponsorship using the SMS.
The Annual CoS allocation (CoS Year) runs 12 months from the date your sponsor licence was granted, or 12 months from the last renewal application was granted.
When making the licence application, you will need to estimate and request the number of undefined CoS you expect to use for the coming 12 months. This number will need to be justified and you may need to provide additional information to support your request.
If approved, the Home Office will allocate the CoS to your SMS, and these should be used within the 12 month period. It is possible to request additional CoS if you use all of the allocation.
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.
Employers with a sponsor licence that has a provisional rating are only allowed initially to assign one certificate of sponsorship to their appointed Authorising Officer, in order for them to enter the UK. Once they have their visa, the company’s licence can be upgraded to an A-rating and up to 4 additional certificates of sponsorship can be requested using the SMS.
An assigned Certificate of Sponsorship may be cancelled using the SMS. Under the ‘Manage live CoS’ option under ‘Sponsorship duties’, the sponsor should input the relevant CoS details and then select ‘withdraw CoS’. This will have the effect of cancelling the CoS where it is no longer required for the individual.
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:
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.
All organisations granted a sponsor licence by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) use the Sponsor Management System (SMS) to administer and manage their sponsor licence, so as to comply with their sponsor licence compliance duties.
It is a secure, online portal operated by the Home Office that is accessible by nominated individuals within the organisation.
Sponsor licence holders must adhere to a stringent set of duties and responsibilities, including reporting, recordkeeping, and monitoring, with the primary objective of preventing illegal working.
The SMS allows sponsors to request and assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to sponsored workers and report changes to the Home Office.
As a holder of a sponsor licence, you must use the SMS appropriately for its intended purpose or your sponsor licence may be downgraded, suspended, or revoked. Consequently, you may lose the ability to sponsor foreign employees. In addition, you risk of receiving a civil penalty fine per breach if you are discovered to have employed an illegal worker, or even criminal prosecution.
Only a select few (users) are permitted to access and utilise the SMS. These are designated as:
On a practical point, only level 1 and level 2 users have access to the SMS by default. However, they can grant level 1 or level 2 access to the Authorising Officer or to the Key Contact as necessary.
Access to Level 1 can also be granted to external third parties, such as immigration lawyers supporting with sponsor licence compliance.
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:
For help and advice about issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship, please contact us.
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 sponsor.
A Certificate of Sponsorship is assigned by a sponsor licence holder (employer) to enable sponsored visa applicants to apply for their work visa.
The worker’s sponsor will issue the Certificate of Sponsorship through the online Sponsor Management System (SMS).
Defined certificates of sponsorship take around a day to come through.
Sponsored workers from overseas in most cases need to be assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship from their sponsor 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.