Applying for a sponsor licence can be a complex and challenging process, where any errors within this process can result in an application being rejected.
If your sponsor licence application is refused or rejected by UKVI, this can have a hugely detrimental impact on your business operations and workforce planning. It is also likely to see your application fee lost.
While there is no right to appeal if your sponsor licence application has been refused, other options may be open to you depending on the circumstances and grounds for the Home Office’s decision.
In this guide, we take a detailed look at what it means to have a sponsor licence application refused or rejected and why the Home Office denies sponsor licence applications. We also set out the options open to you if your organisation’s sponsor licence application was not successful.
Sponsor licence application refused or rejected?
If the Home Office decides not to grant you a sponsor licence, they will either refuse or reject your application.
Rejections generally result from applications that are deemed invalid.
This is usually due to relatively minor issues with the application that can be rectified by the applicant. For example, there may be documents missing or the incorrect application fee was paid. The fee for a sponsor licence application will depend on the size of your organisation. If you have charitable status, or you are subject to the small companies regime, you may qualify for the small sponsor licence fee currently set at £536. Otherwise, the fee for medium or large sponsors will be £1476 for a licence.
The fee for a rejected application would usually be refunded, allowing the applicant to make a revised application.
Why are sponsor licence applications refused?
Sponsor licences are refused where there are more substantial or fundamental issues with the application. Refusals are more problematic for the applicant as the licence application fee will generally not be refunded and the organisation may be subject to a ‘cooling off’ period of 6 to 12 months before a new application can be made.
Your options after receiving a refused sponsor licence application will be determined by the Home Office’s reasons for refusal. Frequently cited reasons for licence refusals include:
Failure to submit the correct documentation
Unless you are a public body recognised by the UK government, such as a local authority or a company listed on the London Stock Exchange Main Market, you will need to provide a minimum of four supporting documents from Appendix A.
To confirm you are eligible for a sponsor licence, you must provide the documents listed in Appendix A of the sponsor guidance and any additional documents that UKVI may request. UKVI asks for these documents to ensure that your business is genuine and has a lawful trading presence in the UK. The only exception is for those applying under the UK Expansion Worker (GBM) route where, as an overseas business looking to expand, you must not have an existing active trading presence in the UK but must have a UK ‘footprint’.
Some of the evidence required under Appendix A will be in the form of a document, or combination of documents, while some will simply require an online check that UKVI can do without you having to send documentation to them. Equally, for certain types of applicants listed in Table 1 of Appendix A, for example, organisations applying on the Scale-up route, you may not need to send any documentation at all. However, most applications must be supported by a minimum of 4 documents drawn from Tables 2 to 4 of Appendix A including, for example, proof that you are genuine and operating lawfully in the UK, or that you have a UK ‘footprint’ and credible plans to expand to the UK.
You may also need to provide additional information, for example, if you are applying to sponsor Skilled Workers, you must provide other information about your organisation, together with why you are applying and the type of job roles you wish to fill in the UK.
Once you have submitted your online application, you must email all pages of the submission sheet, signed and dated by your Authorising Officer, together with the documents listed in Appendix A and on that sheet. If you are unable to provide the submission sheet and supporting evidence digitally, you should contact UKVI. In all cases, UKVI reserves the right to request original documents or certified copies. If you choose to or are asked by UKVI to send certified copies by post, they must meet the various strict requirements for certification. If a certifier’s details cannot be verified, or the copy does not meet the relevant requirements and cannot be verified by UKVI online instead, the document will be rejected. In turn, this may also mean that the application itself is rejected.
If any mandatory documents as required for your sponsor licence application are missing or incorrect, or you fail to submit the minimum required number of documents, your application will automatically be deemed invalid by UKVI and rejected on this basis.
Late filing of supporting documents
Your application will need to be accompanied by a number of supporting documents, including detailed documentation to demonstrate that you are a genuine company or organisation operating lawfully in the UK. These must be submitted within five working days of your initial application. Failure to meet this deadline can result in an unsuccessful application.
Where the Home Office has requested further documents and these are not provided within the stipulated timeframe, the application will be refused.
Incorrect supporting documents
The rules relating to the grant of sponsor licence applications can be complex, not least in making sure that you comply with the documentary requirements under Appendix A. Failure to provide the correct documentation is one of the most common pitfalls when applying for a sponsor licence.
Any hardcopy documents in support of your application must be original or certified copies, unless submitting by email under COVID-19 temporary provisions.
In some cases, however, it may also be possible for UKVI to verify your documentation online. If this is the case, you will need to send a covering letter with the website address where the information can be found.
Please note, in the event that you are unable to provide the necessary documentation in support of your application, or to do so in time, you risk your sponsor licence application being significantly delayed or even denied.
Failing the genuineness test
If your application was refused because you have been deemed not to have met the genuineness test, the situation is slightly more complex.
If the Home Office believe you were acting in good faith but were simply unable to meet the genuineness test requirements, you will need to build and evidence a robust business case with supplementary information to satisfy the Home Office as to why you need the particular foreign worker for the specific role. No cooling-off period applies in this instance, and a new application can be made straight away.
If, however, the Home Office allege the organisation has acted in bad faith, for example submitting a document they don’t believe is genuine, or you deliberately tried to defraud by presenting a role as being at the required skill level when in reality the role is at a more junior level, they can bar the organisation from submitting a new application for between 6 months and 5 years (‘cooling-off period’).
If you believe the Home Office is factually incorrect with their allegations, you may consider submitting an application to challenge the decision with reasons and evidence as to why they were factually incorrect.
Falsified supporting documents
Where fraudulent or falsified documents have been submitted, the Home Office can refuse your application and, as a punitive measure, your organisation may be subject to a cooling-off period before you can reapply.
Unsuitable key personnel
The nominated key personnel responsible for carrying out your sponsorship duties must meet suitability criteria and will be subject to background checks as part of the licence application process. If any of your key personnel or those with ownership or directorship found by UKVI to have a history of immigration violations, or unspent criminal convictions for a relevant offence such as fraud or money laundering, this can give grounds for a licence refusal.
Failed compliance visit
Having conducted a site visit prior to the grant of any licence, if UKVI are not satisfied that your HR systems and recruitment practices are adequate such that you are able to comply with your duties, or that key personnel are not sufficiently trustworthy or capable of carrying out your sponsorship duties, the application can be refused.
If you can identify a factual error in the processing of your application, you can request for the error to be corrected, for example, if they have overlooked a piece of submitted documentation. In such cases, you will need to notify the Home Office of the error within 14 calendar days from the date of the refusal.
Previous immigration breaches
If the applicant has previously held a sponsor licence which was subsequently revoked, the Home Office may refuse the new application. Take advice on how to approach a new licence application following enforcement action, as this is likely to demand extensive preparation and consideration of compliance and licence management practices within the organisation. In addition, applicants that have previously been fined under the prevention of illegal working regime can expect to be subject to a longer cooling off period.
Sponsor licence application rejected?
When applying for a sponsor licence, there are various requirements that must be met under the rules, including validity, suitability and eligibility requirements. The validity requirements refer to the procedural aspects of your application, including submitting the correct documentation in support and paying the correct application fee. In contrast, the suitability and eligibility requirements refer to more substantive aspects of the application.
In the context of suitability and eligibility, UKVI will consider whether you have adequate human resource and recruitment systems in place to meet your sponsor duties, as well as whether you or anyone who will be responsible for managing the sponsorship process have any criminal convictions or immigration offences. UKVI will also consider whether you can meet the route-specific requirements for the category of workers you are looking to sponsor, for example, if applying to sponsor Skilled Workers, whether you can offer genuine employment meeting the relevant skill and salary requirements.
If you fail to satisfy the UKVI caseworker deciding your application that you are both suitable and eligible to be approved to sponsor certain migrant workers, your application will be refused. For example, UKVI will automatically refuse your application if anyone involved in the day-to-day running of your business or key personnel nominated to manage the sponsorship process have an unspent conviction for a serious criminal or immigration offence. Equally, your application will be refused if you are unable to show that you have genuine job roles on offer meeting the minimum skill-level and salary requirements for the route in question. In contrast, if you fail to meet all of the procedural requirements for making a sponsor licence application, your application will be rejected as invalid.
Having a sponsor licence application rejected is entirely different to a substantive decision being made that you are either unsuitable and/or do not meet the relevant eligibility requirements to sponsor workers on the specific route for which you have sought a licence. A rejection is simply that your application is void for procedural irregularities. Still, it is important to understand the reasons for this, in this way ensuring that you can rectify any error when re-applying or by avoiding these types of mistakes in the first place.
Why are sponsor licence applications rejected?
There are various different reasons that can result in having a sponsor licence application rejected as invalid, including a failure to pay the correct application fee, or a failure to send the submission sheet to UKVI within the time prescribed or submit the correct supporting documentation. It could also include a failure to ensure that the Level 1 User appointed in your sponsor licence application is an employee, partner or director in your organisation.
Failure to pay the correct application fee
The cost of applying for a sponsor licence can vary, depending on the type of licence sought, where there are two types of licence: a ‘Worker’ and ‘Temporary Worker’ licence, although you can apply for both. You can also apply to add one or the other to an existing licence.
The ‘Worker’ licence is for employers looking to sponsor migrant workers in long-term job roles in the UK, such as the Skilled Worker route, or the Senior or Specialist Worker route under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella. The ‘Temporary Worker’ licence is to sponsor workers in more short-term roles, including the remaining four GBM routes which, for the purposes of sponsor licensing fees, are classed as ‘Temporary Worker’ routes.
The cost of applying for a sponsor licence on one of the ‘Temporary Worker’ routes is £536, while the cost of applying for a licence on a ‘Worker’ route is either £536 for small or charitable sponsors and £1,476 for medium or large sponsors. The cost to apply for both types of licence at the same time will also depend on the size and charitable status of your business, so £536 or £1,476 respectively. There will be no fee for a small or charitable sponsor to add a ‘Worker’ licence to an existing ‘Temporary Worker’ licence, with a £940 for a medium or large sponsor to do the same. However, there will be no fee for a sponsor of any size to add a ‘Temporary Worker’ licence to an existing ‘Worker’ licence.
The responsibility to pay the appropriate fee rests with you as the applicant.
Failure to send the submission sheet
On completion of your online application and payment of the appropriate fee, you will be required to print out and complete a submission sheet. This must include details of your organisation, a list of the mandatory and primary documents you are providing, plus details of the fee paid. All pages of the submission sheet must be signed and dated by your Authorising Officer, including a declaration from you that you agree to meet all of the duties associated with being a licensed sponsor. You will then send this printout, together with your other documentation, to UKVI’s Sponsor Licensing Unit within 5 workings days.
If you fail to submit the submission sheet within the first 5 working days, you may be sent a reminder. However, if you fail to send the relevant paperwork to UKVI within 10 working days of your electronic application submission date, with or without any subsequent reminder(s), your application will be rejected as invalid. Equally, if the submission sheet has not been signed, or has been signed by someone on behalf of the Authorising Officer, this will again result in you having your sponsor licence application rejected.
Failure to appoint an appropriate Level 1 User
The online sponsor licence application form requires you to give certain responsibilities to members of your staff, some or all of whom will have access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS), provided you are approved for a sponsor licence. The SMS is the online UKVI portal used to administer your day-to-day duties and sponsorship activities, and to discharge your obligations as an employer sponsoring migrant workers.
Referred to as your key personnel, the individuals that you will need to appoint as part of your licence application include an Authorising Officer, a Key Contact and a Level 1 User, although you can appoint additional Level 1 and Level 2 Users having been approved for a licence. When it comes to the Authorising Officer and Key Contact, although these can be one in the same person, they must be a paid member of staff or engaged by you as an office-holder. In contrast a Level 1 or Level 2 User can be employed by a third party organisation to whom you have contracted some or all of your human resources functions. However, UKVI will reject your application if you do not have at least one Level 1 User who is an employee, partner or director in your organisation.
Invalid sponsor licence application
On receipt of your submission sheet and supporting documentation, this will be filed by UKVI ready to be matched up with your electronic application. It is at this early stage that your sponsor licence application will be initially assessed to determine if this is valid, before being made available to a designated UKVI caseworker for a substantive decision.
At the validation stage, a number of checks will be conducted, including checking the correct application fee has been paid, checking the submission sheet has been signed by the Authorising Officer and filed within the prescribed timeframe, and ensuring that all supporting documentation has been submitted. If the submission sheet contains an original signature and lists the provided documents, the caseworker will then go on to check that the submitted documents are appropriate to the type of sponsor and the sector in which they operate with reference to Appendix A of the sponsor guidance.
If mistakes have been made and are identified during the validation stage, your application will not be assessed on its merits but rejected outright for being invalid.
Is there a right to appeal a refused sponsor licence?
If your sponsor licence application is refused by UKVI, there is no right of appeal or Administrative Review.
Aside from accepting the decision and making a fresh application, this leaves two potential avenues to challenge.
The first is challenging the licence application refusal by way of an Error Correction request. An Error Correction request can only be made where the decision is a result of caseworker error or where relevant supporting documents were not considered. The applicant has only 14 days from the date of the decision to make an Error Correction request. Applicants will usually receive a response up to 28 days after submission.
The second option is if the sponsor licence application refusal was arguably unlawful, unreasonable or procedurally improper, then you may be able to apply for a judicial review of the decision.
Judicial review is a process by which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a public body’s decision, examining the way in which the conclusion was reached, rather than evaluating the merits of the decision itself.
As such, even where there is scope to judicially review a refusal decision, this may not necessarily be the best course of action to take as the prospects of a successful outcome can be low, not least because you would have to demonstrate to the court that the decision is one that no reasonable body could have come to.
This is a highly complex area, and you are advised to take specialist guidance on whether a judicial review could be appropriate and open to you. You will also need to act quickly as judicial review applications have to be submitted within 3 months of the refusal decision.
What can you do if your sponsor licence application is rejected as invalid?
Having a sponsor licence application rejected for being invalid can cause significant problems for a business, where any delay in being approved to sponsor migrant workers will impact the worker’s ability to apply for a visa to be able to start their new job role.
The good news is that a rejection decision is not the same as a refusal decision, where a rejection simply means that your application was not procedurally compliant. This is not an indication that you are ineligible for a sponsor licence and nor will you need to wait for any cooling-off period to pass, as you may need to do following a refusal decision. Importantly, if you fail to meet all the eligibility and suitability criteria, UKVI will refuse your application and you may not be eligible to re-apply for at least 6 months. In contrast, if your application is rejected, you will simply need to identify the issue that led to the rejection decision and re-apply, ensuring that the same mistake is not repeated.
In some cases, depending on the nature of any procedural error, UKVI may give you the opportunity to put this right, for example, where there are any missing documents specified in Appendix A, other than mandatory documents. However, any failure to provide the information or documentation requested within 5 working days — or to contact UKVI by email within the deadline date to notify them that you have forwarded the additional paperwork by post — your application may be ‘refused’, rather than merely ‘rejected’.
It is also worth bearing in mind that even if an application is rejected outright, and returned without further consideration, the application fee will usually be refunded. If your application is refused, the application fee will be non-refundable. Still, it is preferable to ensure that your application is procedurally compliant form the outset, even if your fee is refundable and you have the option to immediately re-apply, where seeking expert advice from an immigration specialist is always strongly advised prior to submission.
Can you reapply for a sponsor licence?
Although there is no right of appeal, and judicial review of decisions can be challenging, you may be permitted to reapply straight away if the refusal was on the grounds of failure to provide documents or information requested by a deadline for reasons beyond your control or because the online application was submitted by a representative.
You will, however, need to check if a cooling-off period applies before you can submit a new licence application to UKVI. The length of the cooling-off period can vary typically between six months to up to 12 months (although this can be up to 5 years) from the date of the refusal letter, depending on the reasons for the initial refusal.
In the event that your application was refused because you received a civil penalty for employing illegal workers, you will have to wait a period of twelve months after the date the penalty became payable before reapplying.
In some more serious cases, you can only apply for a new licence after five years have passed since the date the penalty was issued.
How to make a successful sponsor licence application
If you opt to reapply for a sponsor licence, ensure your new application addresses the specific grounds for the initial refusal.
To be eligible for either a sponsor licence you will first need to show that your business is both genuine and operating lawfully within the UK. In this respect, you will be required to provide verifiable documentary evidence from Appendix A of the guidance for sponsors. Additional documents may be helpful and valuable in evidencing your eligibility, such as organograms.
Further, when submitting your sponsor licence application, you will be required to nominate key personnel to undertake the duties and obligations as required under the licence. As such, these individuals, as well as those involved in the day-to-day running of your business, must be honest, dependable and reliable. Rules also apply as to who can take on the key personnel roles; level 1 users must, for example, be an employee, partner or director of the organisation.
Finally, you must be able to show that your business has both adequate human resource systems and recruitment practices in place to meet the necessary sponsorship duties on an ongoing and consistent basis. This will include keeping suitable records of your employees, carrying out right to work checks and reporting any changes in migrant worker circumstances.
Please note, if you are applying under the skilled worker visa category, you will also need to demonstrate to UKVI that you can offer genuine employment that meets the required skill level and appropriate rates of pay.
If you are reapplying for a licence after having already been refused, you should prepare to receive a compliance visit from the Home Office on submission of your new application. Officials will be looking for confirmation that you have the necessary processes, systems and policies in place to support ongoing licence compliance and for assurance that the initial grounds for refusal have been adequately addressed.
Can a sponsor licence be revoked?
Even if your sponsor licence application is approved, you may still be at risk of having your licence revoked, not least if you fail to comply with your sponsorship duties or you otherwise pose a threat to immigration control.
You will initially be granted an A-rated sponsor licence, following which you can start assigning CoS to migrants who you wish to work for you. You will also be given access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS). This is an online portal where you can manage your licence and report certain migrant activities, for example, if an individual fails to report to work.
However, if you are found to be in breach of your duties, UKVI may decide to downgrade your licence to a B-rating. This will require you to pay for a sponsorship action plan to reinstate your original A-rating. That said, in serious cases, UKVI may decide to suspend or revoke your licence altogether.
Please note, even if your sponsor licence is not revoked, it will only remain valid for a period of four years after which you will need to apply to renew it.
In the event that your sponsor licence application is refused or rejected by UKVI, this can have a hugely detrimental impact on your business if you are recruiting foreign nationals. The application process is demanding and costly for employers, particularly where they have already found a suitable candidate to hire under the skilled worker visa. A delayed or refused application can mean losing out on your candidate and loss of your investment in the recruitment process to date.
Given what is it at stake, it will be important to understand your options if you have received a refusal or rejection from the Home Office.
DavidsonMorris’ specialist business immigration lawyers work with UK employers on all aspects of the UK sponsor licence, from the initial application, dealing with refusals, ongoing management of the licence once issued and with the renewal application after four years. We can also support with Home Office compliance penalties such as suspensions and revocations. With our compliance audit service you can help ensure your organisation stays ‘match ready’ in the event of a Home Office compliance visit.
If you have a question or need help with a sponsor licence application, contact us.
Sponsor licence application refused FAQs
What is a sponsor licence?
A UK sponsor licence grants an organisation the necessary permission to employ foreign nationals under certain work visa categories.
Why do you need a sponsor licence?
UK organisations must have a valid sponsor licence to be able to hire overseas nationals under certain visa categories.
Why are sponsor licence applications refused?
Sponsor licence applications can be refused by the Home Office for many reasons, including failure to pass the genuineness test, incomplete applications, issues with the appointed key personnel and falsified supporting documents.
What is the cooling off period for sponsor licence refusal?
The cooling off period for sponsor licence refusal can vary, depending on the reason for the refusal decision, but in most cases will be 6 months.
How long does it take for a sponsorship licence to be approved?
The standard processing time when applying for a sponsor licence is usually 8 weeks, starting from when UKVI receives the application, including the correct paperwork and fee.
Last updated: 29 June 2023