Overseas employers need a sponsor licence to transfer key employees to the UK. Contact us for advice on applying for a sponsor licence for intracompany transfers.
The ability to transfer overseas workers to the UK to undertake a temporary work assignment is critical for multinational organisations looking to mobilise skills and build their employees’ experience across a global workforce. In order to do this, the UK-based organisation will first need to be approved for what used to be called an ICT sponsor licence, now known as a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence.
The following guide for employers looks at the rules relating to sponsor licences for intra-company transferees under the new Senior or Specialist Worker route, from what this sponsor licence allows, to what will happen if your licence application is refused.
Formerly known as the ICT sponsor licence, or an Intra-Company Transfer licence, the Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence is the permission needed from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to be able to take on transferring senior overseas managers or specialist employees in the UK who have been sent on a temporary work assignment.
The Senior or Specialist Worker visa is one of five new immigration routes under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella introduced by the UK Government last year, although it is essentially a rebrand of the former ICT route. Still, for those organisations who do not currently hold a licence under either the legacy ICT route or the new replacement route, they will need to be approved by UKVI to sponsor intra-company transferees before being able to assign valid Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to migrant workers.
If the UK sponsoring organisation already held a valid ICT sponsor licence before 11 April 2022, the Senior or Specialist Worker route will be automatically added to their licence.
When applying for any type of licence to sponsor a migrant worker, the sponsoring organisation must meet a number of general requirements, including that the sponsor is:
UKVI will look at the applicant’s history and background, including evidence of any previous non-compliance with the UK’s Immigration Rules. It will also investigate the background of those involved in the running of the business and the key personnel as set out in the sponsor licence application, including any criminal convictions and immigration issues. The key personnel are the people who will manage the sponsorship process and, if approved, may have access to the sponsorship management system (SMS).
To be eligible for a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence, the sponsoring organisation must also meet a number of route-specific requirements, including being linked by common ownership or control with an overseas business for which the prospective intra-company transferee is working. This is because sponsorship under the Senior or Specialist Worker route operates on the principle that the UK business receiving the worker will be the sponsor licence holder, where the prospective sponsor would need to demonstrate that there is a receiving business and a sending business, with a relationship between the two.
However, it is also possible to prove the necessary relationship between the UK-based business and the overseas business if there is a joint venture agreement in place, where the plan is for the employee to work for their UK sponsor as part of that agreement.
The sponsoring organisation must also additionally be able to show that the job on offer:
When it comes to the relevant skill level, a transferring senior manager or specialist employee must be coming to the UK to work in a job role that falls within an occupation code listed as being eligible for one of the GBM routes in either Table 1 or Table 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations of the Immigration Rules. All job roles sponsored on the Senior or Specialist Worker route must also must meet or exceed both of the following:
Non-UK nationals, with the exception of Irish citizens, coming to the UK are now subject to immigration control, and must apply for permission to work in the UK.
EEA nationals and their family members who are already living in the UK by the end of EU free movement on 31 December 2020 should apply for settled status (or pre-settled status if they do not yet meet the five-year residence requirement) under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021. This will allow them to continue to live and work in the UK lawfully and without restriction.
In contrast, all new arrivals looking to live and work in the UK following the end of the Brexit transition period will need to apply for permission in advance. This means that overseas migrant workers who are looking to work in the UK, even for the same employer, will need to obtain a visa. Equally, as the prospective UK employer of existing overseas migrant workers, you will need to have in place a valid sponsor licence to facilitate this process.
To apply for a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence an application must be made online, together with payment of the relevant fee.
As part of the application process, a number of key personnel will need to be nominated, some or all of whom will have access after a licence is granted to the Home Office SMS. The online form will also ask for an estimate of the number of CoS that the applicant will be looking to assign during its’ first year of sponsorship. Finally, the sponsoring organisation will be required to submit a number of detailed documents in support of their application.
Nominating key personnel
An Authorising Officer (AO) will need to be appointed to manage the licence application. This must be the most senior person in the UK-based organisation responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers. The applicant must also nominate a Key Contact (KC) to act as the main point of contact with UKVI, together with a Level 1 user who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the sponsor licence using the SMS.
Once a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence has been approved by UKVI, additional Level 1 users can be appointed, together with Level 2 users, although a Level 2 user will have fewer permissions than a Level 1 user. Only Level 1 and 2 users will have access to the SMS, where the AO and KC must be set up as a Level 1 or 2 user to be given access.
The key personnel roles can be filled by either the same person or a combination of people, but they must usually be paid members of staff or office-holders. They must also meet a number of other requirements, such as being based in the UK for the period of their role.
A decision will need to be made at the application stage as to how many intra-company transferees are likely to be sponsored in the first year, as this will determine how many CoS will be needed by the sponsoring organisation if approved for a licence.
A sponsor licence-holder must assign a valid CoS to any migrant worker before that worker can apply to enter or remain in the UK on the Senior or Specialist Worker route. This means that consideration must be given as to how many workers are likely to be recruited during the year and the reasons for this, as the applicant must be able to justify its request to UKVI.
Submitting supporting documents
Having completed the online application, the submission sheet at the end of the licence application must be emailed, signed and dated by the AO, and all supporting documents sent within 5 working days of the application date. A number of detailed documents must be provided to meet the Senior and Specialist Worker sponsor licence requirements, where these can be found in Sponsor Guidance Appendix A. The additional documentation needed to prove the route-specific requirements can be found under the Home Office online guidance for organisations on how to sponsor a worker on the GBM immigration routes.
Importantly, applying for a sponsor licence can be a complex process requiring a catalogue of documentation to demonstrate that the different requirements have been met including, for example, that the UK-based business is connected to the overseas employer. Seeking expert assistance in navigating the application process, together with the various evidential requirements to be approved for a Senior or Specialist Worker licence is strongly advised.
Having submitted an application for a Senior or Specialist Worker licence, together with all the necessary documentation, a decision will usually be made in less than 8 weeks, although this may be longer if UKVI would first like to conduct a site visit to ensure that the prospective sponsor is trustworthy and capable of carrying out its sponsorship duties.
If a sponsor licence is approved, this will last for 4 years, unless revoked or surrendered. The licence must be renewed prior to expiry of the 4 years if the sponsoring organisation wishes to continue sponsoring any existing or new senior managers or specialist employees.
The costs when applying for a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence include the licence application fee, the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) for every CoS assigned, together with a £239 fee for issuing each sponsorship certificate to an intra-company transferee under the Senior or Specialist route.
The licence application fee will depend on the size and status of the organisation. For small or charitable sponsors, the application fee is £536 and, for medium or large sponsors, the fee is £1,476.
The amount that a sponsoring organisation will need to pay for the ISC is again based on its’ size and charitable status, as well as how long the senior manager or specialist employee will be in the UK, using the start and end dates on the CoS. For small or charitable sponsors, the ISC is set at £364 for the first 12 months, plus £182 for every additional 6-month period. For medium or large sponsors, the ISC is set at £1,000 for the first 12 months, plus £500 for every additional 6 months of stay in the UK.
A sponsoring organisation will usually be classed as a small sponsor if at least two of the following criteria apply: its’ annual turnover is £10.2 million or less; its’ total business assets are worth £5.1 million or less; and/or it has 50 employees or fewer. When applying for a licence, or applying to renew a licence, it is essential that the correct size or type for an organisation is selected, as this will determine not only the licence fee payable, but also the level of ISC the sponsoring organisation will pay throughout the life of its licence.
Once a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence has been approved by UKVI, the sponsor will be added to the online register of licensed sponsors. The Level 1 user will also be given access to the SMS to enable that individual to effectively manage the sponsorship process, including being able to issue a prospective new recruit with a sponsorship certificate.
To sponsor a senior manager or specialist employee on the Senior or Specialist Worker route, the sponsor must assign them a valid CoS using the SMS account. Provided the certificate is valid, this will enable the intra-company transferee to make a visa application. However, before assigning an CoS, the sponsor must first be satisfied that the worker can meet the relevant immigration requirements for this route. The sponsor will also need to pay the appropriate fee to assign the CoS and, unless an exception applies, the ISC in full.
When a Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence is submitted, the UKVI caseworker deciding the matter can either approve, reject or refuse that application. If rejected, this means that the application has been deemed invalid. This could be where, for example, the application is incomplete or the applicant has paid the wrong fee. In these circumstances, the application fee will usually be refunded and the applicant can re-apply.
However if the application is refused, this is because a decision had been reached that the necessary requirements for a sponsor licence have not been met, where this can have significant ramifications for both the prospective sponsor and intra-company transferee. This is because there may follow a 6 to 12 month cooling-off period to reapply, depending on the reason for the refusal. In extreme cases, the cooling-off period can last up to 5 years. It is therefore key to seek expert advice from an immigration specialist prior to applying.
Our legal experts are highly experienced in all areas of immigration, including sponsor licence applications under the UK’s Global Business Mobility routes, such as the Senior or Specialist Worker visa for intracompany transfers.
For expert advice on meeting your UK immigration needs, contact us.
To be eligible for a sponsor licence under one of the global business mobility (GBM) routes, the sponsoring organisation must meet a number of general and route-specific requirements depending on the type of GBM worker it is looking to sponsor.
There are various general requirements for a sponsor licence, including being capable of meeting certain sponsorship duties, in addition to several route-specific requirements, such as offering employment meeting minimum skill and salary requirements under the Senior or Specialist Worker route.
The cost of applying for a sponsor licence will depend on the type of licence sought: a Worker or Temporary Worker. The application fee for a licence will also depend on the size and charitable status of the sponsoring organisation.