While there is no dedicated self sponsorship visa for the UK, there are visa options that can allow you to move to Britain to work for yourself.
Is there a self sponsorship visa UK?
While there is currently no dedicated self sponsorship visa for the UK, it may be possible to establish or invest in a UK-based business and, having been approved by the UK Home Office for a suitable licence, arrange for your business to sponsor you for a Skilled Worker visa. Equally, if you already own or partly own a business in the UK, provided your business is approved to sponsor workers on the Skilled Worker route and you meet the requirements for a Skilled Worker visa, this can potentially provide you with the ideal solution to self sponsorship.
A Skilled Worker sponsor licence is the permission granted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to a UK-based business to enable that business to assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to migrant workers under the Skilled Worker route. UKVI is the division of the UK’s Home Office responsible for both sponsor licensing and visas. A Skilled Worker must have an offer of a genuine job role from an approved sponsor that meets the relevant route-specific requirements before they can make a valid application to enter or stay in the UK on this route. The sponsor confirms this by assigning a CoS to the migrant worker.
As self sponsorship is not a mainstream immigration route in the UK, it is strongly advised that you seek the advice of an immigration specialist who can evaluate your case, as well as assist you and your business with your respective sponsor licence and visa applications.
What is the Skilled Worker visa?
A Skilled Worker visa will allow you to come to or stay in the UK to work in an eligible job role with an approved organisation for up to 5 years and, provided you continue to meet the relevant requirements, you can apply to renew your visa an unlimited number of times.
Additionally, having continuously lived in the UK for a period of 5 years, you can apply for for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). To be eligible for ILR, also known as settlement, you would need to continue to be needed for your job and meet the salary requirements after being granted settlement. You would also need to meet a knowledge of language and life in the UK requirement, known as the KOLL requirement. However, provided you can meet the relevant requirements, you would be able to live and work in the UK on an indefinite basis.
As a long-term work route, one that provides a path to settlement, it is possible for your spouse, partner and any children to apply as your dependants to accompany or follow to join you in the UK on this route. A dependant would typically be granted a visa in line with the length of stay granted to the principal applicant or primary visa-holder, where they can either apply at the same time or at a later date. They can also apply to extend their stay as dependants on the Skilled Worker route, as well as apply for permanent settlement.
Skilled Worker visa requirements
To be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa, you must have a confirmed job offer before making your application and be suitably qualified to fill that role. You must also:
- be working for a UK-based employer that has been approved by UKVI to sponsor migrant workers on the Skilled Worker route
- have a valid CoS from your licensed employer with information about the role that you have been offered in the UK
- be doing a job that is on the list of eligible occupations under the UK’s Immigration Rules
- be paid a minimum salary, where how much will depend on nature of the job role
- be able to speak, read, write and understand English to at least Level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale
- have savings of at least £1,270 to show that you can support yourself on arrival in the UK or, alternatively, have your UK sponsor certify maintenance of this amount on your CoS.
When it comes to the maintenance requirement, you will only need to show funds of £,1270 or have your sponsor certify maintenance if you are applying for entry clearance to come to the UK, or you are applying to switch into this route from a different immigration route and you have not been in the UK for a minimum period of at least 12 months.
When it comes to the minimum skill and salary requirements, a Skilled Worker must have a job offer in an eligible occupation as set out in Appendix Skilled Occupations of the Immigration Rules. The occupation in question must also meet the Skilled Worker salary requirements as set out in Appendix Skilled Worker and Appendix Skilled Occupations. This means that the salary for skilled workers must meet or exceed all of the following:
- the general salary threshold, which for most job roles is at least £26,200 per year
- the ‘going rate’ for the selected occupation, and
- where applicable, the minimum hourly rate of at least £10.75 per hour.
This means you would need to be paid at least £26,200 per year or £10.75 per hour, whichever is the higher. However, if the going rate for your role is higher than both of these, you would need to be paid at least the going rate. For example, if the proposed salary is £27,000 per year, but the annual going rate for the job you will be doing is £30,000, the salary requirements for this visa will not be met. Each occupation code has its own annual going rate.
Skilled Worker sponsor licence requirements
There are a number of general and route-specific requirements that must be met to be approved by UKVI for a sponsor licence on the Skilled Worker route. To be eligible for sponsorship, the Home Office must be satisfied that your UK-based business is:
- a genuine organisation that is operating lawfully in the UK
- any owners, co-owners, directors and those responsible for the day-to-day running of your business are honest, dependable and reliable, and are not engaging and have not engaged in behaviour or actions that are not considered conducive to the public good
- capable of carrying out its sponsor duties, having regard to the HR systems and recruitment practices in place in your business.
When deciding any sponsor licence application, UKVI will look at the history and background of the applicant business, including any evidence of previous non-compliance with the UK’s Immigration Rules. It will also take into account any criminal convictions and immigration violations committed by those involved in the day-to-day running of the business, including the key personnel named in the sponsor licence application.
The key personnel are the people nominated to manage the sponsorship process within your business, where each of your key personnel must usually be a paid member of staff or engaged as an office-holder and be based in the UK for the period that they will be required to fill the role they have been appointed to. Some or all of these individuals will have access to the Home Office sponsorship management system (SMS) in the event that a licence is approved, where the SMS can be used to issue CoS and comply with the sponsor duties.
In addition to the general requirements necessary to be eligible for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, the applicant business must also be able to offer a job role that:
- is genuine and not a sham, where UKVI must be satisfied that the role has not been created mainly so that you can apply for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK
- does not amount to the hiring of you as a worker to a third party who is not the sponsor, either to fill a position or to undertake routine contract work with that party
- meets the minimum skill level and salary requirements for the Skilled Worker route.
How does the genuine vacancy requirement affect self sponsorship?
Importantly, being able to offer a suitably skilled and salaried job on the Skilled Worker route is not all UKVI will focus on when assessing the suitability of your business to sponsor you as a Skilled Worker. UKVI will not approve a sponsor licence if they have reasonable grounds to believe the job you are being sponsored to do either does not exist, or is a sham, for example, the job exists but you will not be doing it. Similarly, even if the job exists and you have every intention of working in that role if you are granted a visa to do so, UKVI will again not approve a sponsor licence if this job has been created mainly to provide you with a basis upon which to apply for a Skilled Worker visa to come to or stay in the UK.
When it comes to self sponsorship, the genuine vacancy requirement can represent a significant hurdle to your business obtaining a licence and you subsequently being granted a Skilled Worker visa, where any concerns from the UKVI caseworker deciding the licence application may lead to a pre-licence compliance visit to your UK-based business and/or an in-person interview with you as the visa applicant. The proposed sponsoring employer must be able to show a genuine need for the job as described and you, as the proposed visa applicant, must have the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience to do that job.
Importantly, if the business that you own or partly own is already approved to sponsor Skilled Workers or other categories of migrant worker, compliance action may be taken against the business where UKVI forms the view that a job role has been specifically created to facilitate your visa application. This can include having its existing sponsor licence suspended, downgraded or revoked, the net effect of which could be the loss of sponsorship for any existing migrant workers and those workers even being forced to leave the UK.
Seeking the help of an immigration specialist at the earliest opportunity can help you to maximise the prospects of a successful outcome and, where applicable, minimise the risk of any action being taken against an existing sponsoring business and its migrant workforce.
How to apply for a Skilled Worker visa for self-sponsorship
To apply for a Skilled Worker visa — whether you are applying from overseas or to switch from a different immigration route to stay in the UK — you will need to complete an online form with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the Home Office department responsible for issuing visas. As part of the application process you will need to prove both your identity and nationality, and submit a number of documents in support. You may also need to enrol your biometric information at either an overseas Visa Application Centre (VAC) or at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point from within the UK.
The way in which you prove your identity and nationality, and whether or not you will be required to attend a scheduled appointment, will depend on where you are from and what type of passport you have. You may be eligible to use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan your passport. However, if you need to schedule an appointment to have a scan of your fingerprints and facial photograph taken, you will be told when you apply online.
Self sponsorship visa application form
The online application form will ask you a number of questions about the circumstances of your application. This form must be completed in English where, to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa, you are required to be able to communicate in English, including in writing.
You will be asked if you have a current EU, EEA or Swiss passport. If you do and your passport has a biometric chip, you may be eligible to use the ID Check app to prove your identity and nationality. Having created an UKVI account, you can scan your passport and upload a photo of yourself. If you cannot use the app, you will instead need to attend an overseas VAC or UKVCAS service point after completing the online application form.
Self sponsorship visa supporting documents
To apply for a Skilled Worker visa, you must have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from your licensed employer with information about the role that you have been offered in the UK, although the Cos is an electronic record containing a unique reference number, rather than a physical document. However, there are a number of supporting documents that will also be needed when making a self sponsorship visa application, including:
- a valid passport or other travel document to prove your identity and nationality
- proof of savings of at least £1,270 in your bank account, where applicable
- proof of your English language ability, where applicable
- a tuberculosis test certificate if you are from a listed country
- a criminal record certificate if you will be working in education, health or social care.
Additional documentation may also be required, depending on your circumstances. You may be able to upload your supporting documents using your online account with UKVI or, alternatively, you can take them with you to your scheduled biometrics appointment.
How much is the Skilled Worker visa for self sponsored applicants?
When you apply for a Skilled Worker visa, you will be required to pay an application fee, where this fee ranges from £479 to £1,423, depending on your circumstances.
You will also be required to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge set at £624 per year of stay to allow you to access the UK’s National Health Service for the duration of your visa. For example, if you apply for a 3-year visa, you will have to pay an additional £1,872.
How long does the Skilled Worker visa take to process?
Once you have proved your identity and nationality, provided your supporting documentation and paid the fees, you should receive a decision on your Skilled Worker visa within a period of 3 weeks if applying from outside the UK or 8 weeks if applying from inside the UK. However, your visa application may take longer in a number of circumstances including, for example, if your supporting documents need to be verified, you need to attend an in-person interview or if you have a criminal conviction. You will be notified shortly after receipt of your application if processing is likely to be delayed.
You may be able to pay for a faster decision, although not all VACs offer priority services. If you are applying for a Skilled Worker visa from outside the UK, you can pay an additional £573 for a decision within 5 working days or an additional £956 for a decision by the end of the next working day. If you applying to switch to the Skilled Worker visa from inside the UK, you will pay an additional £500 and £800 respectively. However, in either case, you cannot get a decision by the end of the next working day if you use the ID Check app to apply. Equally, if your visa application is not straightforward, paying for a priority service does not necessarily guarantee a faster decision, nor does it guarantee a positive outcome.
Skilled worker visa dependants
Your partner and any dependent children can also apply to join you or stay in the UK if they are eligible, where they can apply separately or at the same time as you. If their application is successful, their visa will usually end on the same date as yours.
Each applicant will need to pay a separate fee to apply for a Skilled Worker visa, including a fee for any priority processing. They will also need to pay the healthcare surcharge for each year of stay, although this is reduced to £470 a year for under 18’s. Additionally, they will each need to satisfy a financial requirement, showing funds of £285 for your spouse or partner, £315 for the first child and £200 for each additional child. This is in addition to the requirement under this route for you to show funds of £1,270, where applicable.
Extending the Skilled Worker
Having lived and worked in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa, you can apply to extend your stay shortly prior to its expiry, provided you continue to meet the relevant requirements. This means that you must continue to be employed in an eligible job role for your business, one which meets the minimum skill and salary requirements at the time you apply, where your business will need to assign you a fresh sponsorship certificate as evidence of this.
You can apply to extend your visa from within the UK using the online form. You will be required to pay a new application fee, together with the healthcare surcharge. Any dependants who are living with you in the UK on this route can also apply to extend their stay, either at the same time or shortly prior to expiry of their own visa(s), where different.
How to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence for self sponsorship
Before applying for a Skilled Worker visa, your UK-based business will first need to be approved by UKVI to sponsor this category of worker. In addition to issuing visas, UKVI is also responsible for making decisions around sponsor licensing. It is only once your business has been approved for a sponsor licence that access will be granted to UKVI’s Sponsorship Management System (SMS) which is used to assign CoS to migrant workers.
To apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, the details of your UK-based business will need to be registered with UKVI before submitting an online application form.
The online sponsor licence application form, which can be found at GOV.UK, requires the applicant business to nominate a number of key personnel, including an Authorising Officer (AO) and a Key Contact (KC). The AO must be the most senior person in your business responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers, while the KC will act as the main point of contact with UKVI. A Level 1 User must also be appointed to access the SMS, allowing them to assign CoS and manage the sponsorship process on a day-to-day basis.
The key personnel roles can be filled by the same person or a combination of different people in your business, although they must usually be either paid members of staff or office-holders. They must also meet a number of other requirements, including being based in the UK for the duration of their sponsorship role. Once a Skilled Worker sponsor licence is in place, additional Level 1 Users can be appointed, together with Level 2 users, although they will have fewer permissions. Only Level 1 and Level 2 Users will have access to the SMS, where the AO and KC must be set up as a Level 1 or 2 user if they also require access.
Skilled worker sponsor licence supporting documents
To apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, the applicant business must submit a number of documents in support, including the application submission sheet. This must be emailed, signed and dated by the AO and all supporting documents sent within 5 working days.
A number of detailed documents must be provided to meet the Skilled Worker sponsor licence requirements. These can be found online in Sponsor Guidance Appendix A, although it is strongly advised to seek expert assistance from a self sponsorship visa specialist, not least as the applicant business will need to be able to satisfy UKVI that it is able to offer a genuine job role for suitably skilled and salaried employment. If UKVI forms the view that the role has been created mainly so that you can apply for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK, the sponsor licence application will be refused.
How much does a Skilled Worker sponsor licence cost?
There are various costs associated with applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence and the sponsorship process. These include the licence application fee, a fee for assigning each sponsorship certificate, plus an Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) for every CoS assigned.
The cost of applying for a licence will depend on the size and status of your business. There is a £536 application fee for small or charitable businesses, with a £1,476 fee for medium or large businesses. The ISC is also based on the size and status of your business, as well as the start and end dates on your CoS. For small or charitable businesses, the ISC is charged at £364 for the first 12 months, plus £182 for every further 6 month period. For medium or large businesses, the ISC is charged at £1,000 for the first 12 months, plus £500 for every further 6 months. The fee for issuing the sponsorship certificate itself is £199.
How long does it take to get a Skilled Worker sponsor licence for self sponsorship?
Having submitted the Skilled Worker sponsor licence application, paid the fee and submitted all supporting documentation, a decision will usually be made in less than 8 weeks, although this can be longer if UKVI need to conduct a compliance visit to ensure that your business is trustworthy, reliable and capable of carrying out its sponsor duties.
If granted, a Skilled Worker sponsor licence will last for an initial period of 4 years, unless this is revoked or surrendered before then. This will then need to be renewed prior to expiry of the 4 years if you want to continue to be sponsored as a Skilled Worker.
Innovator Founder visa for the self employed
The UK Innovator Founder visa is aimed at overseas entrepreneurs looking to set up and run a business in the UK. As with the previous Innovator and Start-up routes, the Innovator founder route is not a sponsored work route. This means that an entrepreneur can essentially self sponsor, provided they meet the relevant requirements. This re-branded route has also introduced a number of favourable changes to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent to the UK, including the removal of the £50,000 minimum investment requirement previously required under the Rules.
However, there are still various strict eligibility requirements that must be met, as set out under Appendix Innovator Founder of the UK’s Immigration Rules, including an English language and financial requirement, as well as a complex endorsement requirement. This will require you to obtain a written endorsement from a Home Office-approved endorsing body.
Endorsement process entails making an application to the appropriate endorsement body for your industry, which will then assess if your business idea is innovative, viable and scalable. These are the three strict criteria for an Innovator Founder visa, where you must have a detailed business plan which meets either new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage (innovative). This business plan must be both realistic and achievable based on the resources available to you, where you must have the knowledge, skills, experience and market awareness to successfully run your new UK business (viable). You must also be able to show evidence of planning, with potential for job creation in the UK, as well as growth into both national and international markets (scalable).
As successfully securing an endorsement under the Innovator Founder route is likely to present a number of practical and evidential challenges, you may want to explore the alternative ‘self sponsorship visa UK’ option under the Skilled Worker route first.
Self sponsorship visa FAQs
How can I self sponsor my visa?
There is no dedicated self sponsorship visa in the UK, although it may be possible to either set up or buy into a UK-based business which can then apply to be approved to sponsor you on the Skilled Worker route or it may be possible to apply under the Innovator Founder route to start up a UK-based innovative business.
Can you self sponsor Skilled Worker visa?
While there is no dedicated self sponsorship visa UK, it may be possible to establish or invest in a UK-based business and, having been approved for a licence, arrange for your business to sponsor you for a Skilled Worker visa.
Can a sole trader sponsor someone UK?
As a sole trader, you can apply for a licence from the UK Home Office to sponsor someone to work for your business, but you must be able to offer a job role meeting any route-specific salary and skill requirements.
What is a sponsor licence?
A sponsor licence is the permission granted by the UK Home Office to sponsor certain categories of migrant workers to undertake employment in the UK in both short and long-term job roles including, for example, Temporary Workers or Skilled Workers.
Last updated: 24 July 2023