Following the introduction of a new single points-based immigration system for all EEA and non-EEA nationals on 1 January 2021, UK-based employers now usually need to have in place a valid sponsor licence to hire a worker from outside the UK. This includes new arrivals from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, or citizens of these countries who do not have permission to live and work in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme.
The following guide provides practical advice for UK companies on how to sponsor someone, from the licence eligibility requirements to the ongoing obligations for sponsors.
What is a sponsor licence?
If you want to employ a person who is not a settled worker, and who does not otherwise have permission to work in the UK, you will need to be approved by the Home Office. This approval is known as a ‘sponsor licence’. A sponsor license is essentially the permission needed for UK-based employers to recruit foreign migrants to work for them in the UK.
There are two types of sponsor licence — Worker and Temporary Worker — each with a number of individual routes. The Worker routes are designed for long-term workers, including skilled workers and intra-company transferees. The Temporary Worker routes are to recruit migrants on a short-term basis within a variety of roles including, for example, charity workers, creative and sporting workers, religious workers and seasonal workers.
You will need to decide which route(s) you wish to be licensed under. You can apply to be licensed in more than one route, provided you are eligible. If your application is approved, these will then be the routes on which you can sponsor workers and issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). The CoS is an electronic certificate containing a unique reference number that the worker will need to submit a visa application to the Home Office.
You don’t need to have a sponsor licence to employ someone with an existing right to work in the UK. This includes EEA nationals or family members with either settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The deadline for most people to apply under the scheme was 30 June 2021, although a qualifying individual may still be able to apply if they meet one of the criteria for a later deadline or have ‘reasonable grounds’ for not applying by the original deadline date, such as valid medical reasons.
What are the sponsor licence eligibility requirements?
To be eligible for a sponsor licence, the Home Office must be satisfied that you are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK. To prove this, you must provide certain mandatory documentation to demonstrate that your business is genuine, and that you have an operating or trading presence in the UK. You will also need to provide any additional documents as may be requested by the Home Office to help them decide your application.
Additionally, to be granted a sponsor licence, the Home Office must be satisfied that:
- you are honest, dependable and reliable, and are not engaging and have not engaged in behaviour that is not conducive to the public good: to judge this, the Home Office will look at your history and background, including any criminal convictions, civil penalties or evidence of previous non-compliance. They will also look at any people involved in the day-to-day running of your business and the key personnel named in your application. The key personnel are the people who will manage sponsorship within your business;
- you are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties: the Home Office will judge this by looking at your HR systems and recruitment practices, in some cases, by visiting your premises before your licence is granted, to make sure you’ll be able to meet your ongoing obligations as a UK sponsor;
- you can meet the specific requirements of the immigration route, or routes, in which you’re applying to be licensed, for example, you can offer genuine employment that meets the skill level and salary requirements under the Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer routes.
If you, your key personnel or anyone involved in the day-to-day running of your business have any unspent criminal conviction for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering, the Home Office will automatically refuse your application.
Your application may also be refused if you’ve been convicted of any offence relevant to your ability to carry out your sponsor duties. If you’ve been issued with a civil penalty or charge for previous non-compliance with your sponsor duties, you may be subject to a cooling-off period of between 12 months and 5 years, provided the penalty has been discharged in full.
What is the sponsor licence application process?
To apply for a sponsor licence, you will need to register your details with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and complete an online application form.
The online form requires you to nominate key personnel, some or all of whom will have access to the Home Office sponsorship management system (SMS) after a licence is granted. The form will also ask you to provide an estimate of the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) you may want to assign in your first year under each route for which you’re applying for a licence.
Nominating key personnel
You will need to appoint an authorising officer for your licence. This must be the most senior person in your organisation responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers and ensuring you meet your sponsor duties. The authorising officer will also be responsible for deciding how many staff need to have access to the SMS and their level of permission.
Additionally, you must nominate a key contact, ie; your main point of contact with UKVI, and a level 1 user who will responsible for the day-to-day management of your sponsor licence using the SMS. Once you have your licence in place you can appoint an optional level 2 user, although they’ll have fewer permissions than a level 1 user.
The key personnel roles can either be filled by the same person or different people, but they must usually be paid members of staff or office holders. They must also be based in the UK most of the time, not be subject to a bankruptcy or debt relief restriction order or undertaking, or have a history of non-compliance with sponsor requirements.
Deciding on CoS allocation
You will need to decide how many workers you’re likely to sponsor in your first year, as this will determine how many CoS you’re going to need. You will need to assign a CoS to any migrant worker you wish to sponsor before they can apply to enter or stay in the UK. This means that you must think carefully about how many workers you’re likely to employ during the year and why, as you must be able to justify your request to UKVI.
You may also need to provide additional information about current vacancies and workers you wish to sponsor depending on the applicable route, for example, the Skilled Worker route.
Submitting the application
Having completed your online application, you must pay the relevant fee. You must also email the submission sheet at the end of the application, signed and dated by your authorising officer, together with your supporting documents within 5 working days.
If you fail to submit the required documentation for the applicable route(s), or these documents are incorrect, your application will be rejected. If there are any documents missing from your application, other than mandatory documents, or if UKVI require any more documents or information, you will be contacted by email. It’s therefore important that your authorising officer and key contact are available while your application is being considered.
You must also tell UKVI in a covering email or letter accompanying your submission sheet if you, your key personnel or anyone involved in the day-to-day running of your business:
- have been removed or suspended from any sponsor register within the last 5 years
- have any pending criminal prosecutions
- are aware that an organisation you’ve been involved with in any similar role has failed to pay VAT or any other form of excise duty.
How much does it cost to sponsor someone?
When sponsoring a migrant worker there are various costs involved. These include fees for:
- your application for a sponsor licence
- applying to renew an existing licence
- applying to extend the scope of an existing licence
- each CoS you assign, unless the worker is exempt
- any additional premium services once your licence has been granted.
The fee for your initial sponsor licence application depends on the type of licence you’re applying for, as well as the size or status of your organisation. You’ll be eligible to pay a lower fee if, for example, you’re applying for a licence under the Temporary Worker routes only, or are classed as a small or charitable sponsor. Details of licence and other associated fees can be found on the Home Office website. The licence application fee will not be refunded if UKVI refuse your application or you withdraw it after consideration of it has begun.
If you’re sponsoring a worker under either the Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer routes, you may also be liable to pay an Immigration Skills Charge for each worker.
Having submitted your application and paid the licence application fee, the standard processing time is usually around 8 weeks, although this can be longer if UKVI need to conduct a sponsor visit to verify that you are trustworthy and capable of carrying out your sponsor duties. You may be able to pay an additional £500 to get a decision within 10 working days, although you’ll be told if this is possible after you apply.
What are the ongoing obligations for sponsors?
If your licence application is approved, you’ll be able to sponsor migrant workers by assigning them a CoS, provided you have jobs suitable for sponsorship. Your sponsor licence will be valid for a period of 4 years, although you’ll be at risk of losing your licence if you do not meet your ongoing obligations as a sponsor, including:
- keeping copies of relevant documents for each migrant worker, such as their passport and right to work information, and ensuring their contact details are up-to-date
- tracking and recording attendance, informing UKVI if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa, for example, if they don’t turn up for work or are absent without permission for a significant period
- reporting any significant changes in your own circumstances, for example, if you change the nature of your business or are involved in a merger or take-over
- informing UKVI of any change to your details, such as key personnel named on the licence.
If you fail to comply with any of your reporting and record-keeping duties, your licence may be downgraded, suspended or even revoked. UKVI can also refer cases for civil penalty action or possible prosecution if there’s evidence that you may have employed workers illegally.
DavidsonMorris are specialists in UK business immigration. We advise employers on the UK sponsorship system and hiring overseas workers for UK-based roles. We provide comprehensive guidance on how to sponsor someone, including insight into the visa eligibility criteria, sponsor licence application process and costs as well as ongoing compliance duties. For expert advice, contact us.
How to sponsor someone FAQs
How much does it cost to sponsor somebody?
The cost of sponsoring someone depends on the type of licence you’re applying for and the size or status of your organisation, in addition to a fee for each Certificate of Sponsorship and, under some routes, an Immigration Skills Charge.
How do you sponsor someone?
The process on how to sponsor someone can be complex, requiring a Home Office approved sponsor licence that will enable you to issue a valid Certificate of Sponsorship to a migrant worker who must then apply for a visa.
Can I sponsor someone to come to the UK?
You can sponsor a migrant worker if you have a valid licence and the job they’re going to be doing has a suitable rate of pay and skill level, or meets the other criteria needed for their visa.
How much money do you need to sponsor someone in UK?
Sponsoring someone to work for you in the UK can be costly. This can include a licence application fee of at least £1476, together with the cost of issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship for each migrant worker, typically £199.
Last updated: 31 July 2021