Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence

Apply for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence to hire foreign nationals under the Skilled Worker visa. We are specialists in sponsor licence applications & compliance.

immigration audit


For UK employers faced with skills shortages in the domestic labour market, hiring from overseas has become critical to meeting talent and workforce needs.

The Skilled Worker visa is the primary UK immigration route for skilled workers. It allows employers access to the global talent market, provided certain strict eligibility requirements and compliance duties are met.

By law, UK employers are required to have a valid sponsor licence in order to hire international workers under the UK’s skilled worker route.

To obtain a skilled worker licence, you have to submit an application to the Home Office (UKVI). Sponsor licence holders must also meet certain compliance duties when hiring and employing migrant workers. The Home Office will use the application process to verify your organisation’s eligibility to meet these duties.

Ensuring your application is complete and comprehensive will be critical to supporting your recruitment and talent mobility.

Errors or issues with your application could result in a delayed or refused application, as well as loss of your application fee.

Given the organisational need to invest in the sponsor licence and in hiring from overseas, it makes sense to approach your licence application with a good understanding of:

  • What UKVI is looking for from applicants
  • What the application process involves

In this guide, we look in turn at the eligibility criteria you need to fulfil, the evidence you will need to show that you qualify and the process to follow to submit your application.


What is a skilled worker sponsor licence?

As per Appendix Skilled Worker of the UK’s Immigration Rules, a sponsor licence is required by a UK employer to allow them to employ non-UK resident workers under the Skilled Worker route. This applies to all types of employer, irrespective of size or sector. This includes private, limited companies, PLCs, charities and public sector organisations.

If the licence is granted, the sponsor is then able to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to the worker, to verify that the role on offer is genuine and meets the visa requirements. The worker can then make their Skilled Worker visa application to the Home Office.


Skilled worker sponsor licence requirements

To avoid issues or delays with your application, take time to understand the application process and the supporting evidence you will need to send with your application.

When applying for the skilled worker sponsor licence, you will need to prove to the Home Office that your organisation meets eligibility criteria, which include:

Genuine organisation

Are you a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK? You will need to provide documentary evidence to prove your status, as listed under Appendix A.

Genuine employment

Is the role on offer a genuine position, requiring the jobholder to perform duties and responsibilities compliant with the required skill level for a salary at or above the relevant threshold?

Compliance with sponsor licence duties

Are your HR systems and processes compliant with sponsor duties relating to record-keeping, monitoring and reporting?

Honest & reliable

UKVI will conduct background checks on your key personnel and anyone involved in the day-to-day running of your licence.

To evidence your eligibility, you are required to submit at least four documents from Appendix A .The specific documents to be provided will depend on what type of organisation is applying, among other criteria which are explained within the appendix.

You should also provide general organisational documents such as a company structure chart.


Skilled worker eligibility checker: role & worker

Further eligibility also apply to the role to the individual visa applicant.

Eligibility of the role

  • It is a skilled role at or above Regulated Qualifications Framework level 3 or above
  • The role matches one of the standard occupation codes (SOC) and is an eligible skilled occupation.
  • The role pays at or above the relevant minimum salary threshold, as per the appropriate SOC code.


Eligibility of the worker

  • The individual meets the English language requirement. This means having either at least Common European Framework of Reference for Languages CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Language ability can be proved with the SELT test, or having a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English from studying at a UK school or having a degree-level academic qualification taught in English.
  • The individual been assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship to perform the role.
  • The individual has access to sufficient personal savings when they arrive in the UK.
  • The individual has no general grounds for refusal such as a negative immigration history.
  • The individual will be paid the required minimum salary level or above for the role ie, at or above the general salary threshold, which for most jobs is at least £38,700 per year, or at or above the ‘’going rate’ for the occupation in question if higher, unless a lower threshold is applicable.

Sponsor licence suitability requirements

The suitability requirements, the Home Office is looking to establish that your organisation is trustworthy, dependable, and capable of meeting the compliance obligations that it expects of sponsors.

In particular, you will be assessed for the following:

HR systems & procedures

The Home Office will assess this by either visiting the sponsor before or after the licence is granted; that the sponsor has the human resource and recruitment processes in place to fulfil, or continue to fulfil, their sponsor duties.

The Home Office will want to be certain that your organisation has the HR or recruitment mechanism in place to meet the sponsorship duties before approving your application for a skilled worker sponsor licence.

Using the sponsorship management system and reporting specific information about sponsored employees are two responsibilities of sponsorship. It must be reported within 10 days of the incident if it has to be. Changes in start dates or a skilled worker’s change of workplace are examples of events that call for reporting.

Additionally, maintaining records of things like employment contracts, salary, and proof that any advertised positions are actually open is part of your sponsorship responsibilities.

Information about keeping records for sponsorship is provided in Appendix D.

Any sponsored workers visas may be revoked or suspended by the Home Office if they determine that you are not fulfilling your duties and commitments.

Compliance visits

The ability of the Home Office to conduct prompt, unannounced inspections to verify that the sponsor’s obligations are being met, including inspections at any physical locations where the sponsored employees would perform their employment duties.

The Home Office may come to your location to inspect your systems as part of the Sponsor Licence application process.

This will typically happen if the organisation is new or if the application entails a significant level of risk.

The Home Office may visit your organisation at any time while you hold a Sponsor Licence in addition to during the application process.

The Home Office will examine your HR systems and meet with the designated Authorising Officer during the visit(s).

They could also request to speak with sponsored workers.

Genuine vacancy

That the sponsor can provide a real vacancy that fits the requirements of the category for which the sponsor is requesting for licencing.

You must be able to show that you can provide actual employment that satisfies the skill and income standards under the skilled-worker route as part of your application for a licence as a skilled worker sponsor.

Background checks

Any proof of prior non-compliance by the sponsor and if any key employees of the firm have any pending criminal convictions for relevant offences.


Skilled worker licence application supporting documents

You have only five days from the date of submitting your form to email your supporting documents to UKVI. Preparing your evidence first will help you to meet the deadline.

Appendix A lists the documents you have to provide to prove that your organisation is genuine and trading in the UK.

In most cases you will need to provide four documents based on the instructions in tables 1-4, unless you are a:

  • Public body recognised by the UK government, such as a local authority
  • Company listed on the London Stock
  • Exchange Main Market

Additional documents will also be required when applying for a skilled worker sponsor licence.

The documents should be emailed to the email address on your submission sheet. You will need electronic copies of the documents, either by scanning or taking a photograph of each. PDF is the preferred format, or the documents can be supplied as JPEG or PNGs. Black and white images are acceptable to reduce file sizes.

Documents not in English will need to be certified translations.


How to apply for a skilled worker sponsor licence

If you are satisfied you meet the criteria and you have compiled the supporting documentation, you would next look at the application form.

You apply for a licence using the online form on the Sponsor Management System, which can be accessed via the Home Office website.

The SMS is used by organisations both to apply for their licence and, if the licence is granted, to manage their sponsor licence on an ongoing basis.

To begin, you have to register an account on the SMS using the email address of the key contact.

You will be issued a user ID and password which you will need to log into the system.

Ensure you keep a record of your ID when it is first issued as you will not be provided with it again.

As you complete the form, you should save after each page to avoid losing work.

You will need access to a printer to print the final submission sheet.

Having completed the form and paid the fee, you then need to submit your supporting documents to the Home Office by post within 5 working days.

Appoint your key personnel

As part of the licence application, you have to assign the following roles to nominated individuals:

  • Authorising officer: This should be the most senior individual within the organisation responsible for the recruitment of all migrant workers and ensuring that all of the company’s sponsor duties are met.
  • Key contact: Your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration.
  • Level 1 user(s): Responsible for day-to-day management of the licence on the Sponsor Management System (SMS). You must always have at least one Level 1 user.
  • Level 2 user(s): SMS user with more restricted access than a Level 1 user. Multiple Level 2 users can be appointed once the licence is in place.

The roles can be assign to one person or different roles to different people. All key personnel must be based in the UK while they are appointed. You must ensure key personnel are appointed at all times. Any exiting employees must be replaced.

SMS & compliance 

As a sponsor licence holder, the SMS will become part of your everyday HR activity.

If you fail to keep your licence up to date, the Home Office has powers to downgrade, suspend or revoke your licence, potentially impacting your current sponsored migrant employees’ status and your ability to recruit and employ sponsored migrants in the future.Through the application process, the Home Office will be looking to verify your ability to comply with the sponsor licence duties:

  • Record keeping Your organisation is required to maintain records of your sponsored workers, for example relating to their current Right to Work in the UK documentation, NI numbers (where applicable) and up-to-date contact details.
  • Monitoring and reporting Track and monitor sponsored employees, reporting within 10 working days if the sponsored individual:
    • fails to start work when expected;
    • has 10 days of consecutive unauthorised absence;
    • has their contract terminated earlier than expected, i.e. resignation; or
    • moves into another immigration category.
    • You are also required to report to the Home Office any suspicions and evidence that an individual is breaking the conditions of their stay in the UK.
  • Absence monitoring Ensure all sponsored employee absences are authorised, including sickness, annual leave, study leave and overseas travel.
  • Duty to notify If your company has moved address, the Home Office needs to know. Unannounced site visits remain common, requiring current addresses for immigration enforcement officials to attend and carry out inspections.
  • You must have an Authorising Officer in place at all times. If the current incumbent leaves the company, or relocates overseas, or goes on sabbatical or maternity leave, you need to appoint someone else to fill the role and notify of this change on the SMS.
  • Details of UK branches are not published on the SMS but you need to maintain internal records and update every time a branch is opened or closed to ensure the licence is kept up to date. Best practice is also to update UKVI each time a linked entity overseas is established or closed.
  • You also have to notify of other significant changes to the company such as takeovers, acquisitions, mergers and TUPE transfers within 28 days of the change happening as such changes generally have complex implications for your licence.

Pre-licence Home Office site inspection

Licence applicants should ready themselves for an immigration compliance visit from UKVI. Once your submission has been received, UKVI will make an initial assessment of the information provided to determine if your application is low risk and can be decided accordingly on the basis of your submission alone. UKVI will check and rate your application against the eligibility criteria, as well as the sponsor duties for personnel record-keeping, migrant tracking and monitoring, recruitment practices and Right to Work systems for the prevention of illegal working.

If there are any concerns about your application, Home Office officials may visit your premises to undertake a compliance audit and inspect your capabilities to meet the sponsor licence compliance duties. Home Office inspections can be arranged in advance or, increasingly, they can be unannounced.

During the inspection, officials have powers to examine your personnel documentation and HR policies, systems and processes to ensure compliance and to verify the vacancy is genuine.

If the Home Office identifies compliance issues during the inspection, they could refuse your application.

Applicants are advised to prepare for a visit following submission of their application to ensure they are ready and in full compliance should the Home Office come calling.


How much is the skilled worker sponsor licence application?

There are a number of fees you will need to pay as part of your licence application and its ongoing management.

Home Office fees will be payable when:

  • Making your initial application for a sponsor licence
  • Applying to renew an existing sponsor licence after four years
  • Applying to extend the scope of an existing licence
  • Assigning each Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
  • Licence application fee

There are two levels of sponsor licence application fee:

  • Small company or charitable sponsors: £536
  • Medium or large companies: £1,476

If you have charitable status or your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less, or you have 50 employees or fewer, you should be eligible to pay the lower sponsor licence fee. You will otherwise be liable for the higher rate.

You will need to pay the relevant application fee when you complete the online application form. It will not be refunded if your licence application is refused.


Immigration skills charge

The Immigration Skills Charge is payable in full each time you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship.

The amount you pay will depend on the size and type of your organisation on the date you assign the worker’s CoS, and the length of employment stated on the CoS.

If you are a small or charitable sponsor, with an annual turnover of £10.2 million or less, or fewer than 50 employees, you will pay the small charge:

  • £364 for any stated period of employment up to 12 months, plus
  • £182 for each subsequent 6-month period stated on the CoS

In all other cases, you must pay the higher charge:

  • £1,000 for any stated period of employment up to 12 months, plus
  • £500 for each subsequent 6-month period stated on the CoS

If the size of your organisation changes with the effect of altering your band, you will be under a duty to notify the Home Office within 10 working days
as this will affect the amount you must pay for each CoS.


How long does sponsor licence application processing take?

Following your application, and after your compliance visit if you have been inspected, the Home Office will make its decision.

Skilled worker sponsor licence applications take around 8 weeks to process.

Fast-tracked processing is available for an additional £500, however, slots for pre-licence priority processing are currently limited to 30 a day.


If your skilled worker sponsor licence is granted

Once granted a skilled worker sponsor licence, the organisation will be added to the register of licensed sponsors and the level 1 users will be granted full access to the SMS.

You can also now start to assign Certificates of Sponsorship to migrants you want to sponsor in the UK. The CoS is a mandatory requirement for the individual’s visa application.

As a sponsor licence holder, you must now also ensure continued compliance with your new duties to avoid penalties and enforcement action.


If your skilled worker sponsor licence application is refused

If UKVI does not consider your organisation is able to comply with the sponsorship duties, it may deny the application and you will be unable to hire foreign skilled workers until you are able to secure a licence. There is also a six-month cooling-off period, which means you will need to wait to make the new application.

While there is no right of appal for refused sponsor licence applications, take advice to understand your options and ensure any new application shows you have addressed the grounds for refusal.


Pitfalls to avoid with your skilled worker sponsor licence application 

The application process for a skilled worker licence requires careful planning and understanding of the rules. For employers who are not familiar with the Home Office or international recruitment, the application can also quickly become challenging and with so much at stake, you want to avoid any errors or issues.

The following best practice advice can help improve your prospects of a positive application outcome:

  • Applications for sponsorship of skilled workers are rigorously examined, and UKVI frequently conducts site visits before making a decision on the licence application. This means that before submitting, potential sponsors must ensure they are already compliant and can evidence effective HR practices and procedures.
  • The application may be refused, or at the very least delayed, if the necessary documentation is not provided on time, ie wihtin 5 days of the application being submitted. It is crucial that all paperwork is ready before submitting the online application, and that the key contact and authorising officer are available to immediately deal with any enquiries from UKVI.
  • All supporting documents must be sent to the Home Office together within 5 working days of the date on which you applied online for your sponsor licence.
  • Failure to meet this requirement will see the Home Office refuse your application and the fee will not be refunded.
  • Ensure the quality of the files are adequate while keeping file size as small as possible.
  • If there are any documents specified in Appendix A missing from the application, or if the Home Office requires any additional documents, they may contact you to request further information or they may consider your application invalid and the application fee will be refunded.
  • Licence applicants must also show they comply with the prevention of illegal working regulations, with appropriate Right to Work systems in place.

We can help

DavidsonMorris’ business immigration specialists can support your organisation with all aspects of the UK sponsorship licence. Wherever you are in the lifecycle of the sponsor licence – whether you are looking to apply for your first sponsor licence, wanting to renew an existing licence, have been refused a licence application or are looking for ongoing support with managing your compliance duties, we can help.

DavidsonMorris offers employers a complete skilled worker licence application package which includes:

  • Assistance with initial considerations as to the most appropriate type of sponsorship application
  • Guidance on appointing key personnel
  • Drafting your online application
  • Helping you to collate the appropriate supporting documentation
  • Auditing your HR systems and procedures in preparation for a Home Office visit
  • Briefing or training staff on their duties and responsibilities
  • Advising on the ‘genuineness’ test and assessing whether a prospective employee satisfies the points criteria before issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship
  • Advising on the alternatives available to you if you decide not to apply for a sponsor licence

As a team of immigration lawyers and former Home Office personnel, we can work in support of your in-house HR team or take care of the entire licence application and management on your behalf, across all types of sponsorship licence. Contact us for specialist advice.


Skilled worker sponsorship licence FAQs

How do I sponsor a skilled worker UK?

To sponsor a skilled worker in the UK, the employer must have a valid skilled worker sponsor licence, and be able to offer a new recruit a genuine job that meets the skill and salary requirements under this route.

What are the eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence?

The eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence depend on the category of worker to be sponsored, for example, successful skilled worker visa sponsorship requires a business to be able to offer genuine employment that meets minimum skill and salary levels.

How much does it cost to sponsor a skilled worker?

There are several costs involved in sponsoring a skilled migrant worker. These include a sponsor licence application fee, an Immigration Skills Charge and a fee to assign each Certificate of Sponsorship.

Contact DavidsonMorris
Get in touch with DavidsonMorris for general enquiries, feedback and requests for information.
Sign up to our award winning newsletters!
We're trusted