Sponsor licence renewal

There is no longer a requirement for sponsors to renew their sponsor licence every four years. UK sponsor licences due to expire on or after 6 April 2024 are now being automatically extended by 10 years.


Sponsor licence renewal: new rules for licences expiring after 6 April 2024

Following a change in Home Office policy in 2024, sponsorship licences with an expiry date on or after 6 April 2024 are being automatically extended by 10 years. 

The SMS menu option to renew a sponsor licence following the rules change on 6 April 2024 has now been removed. 

Sponsor licences will instead be automatically extended, unless and until an application to withdraw the licence is made by the sponsor.

This article predates the change in rules and applies to licences expiring before 6 April 2024. 

If you have any queries or require assistance in relation to your sponsor licence, contact us. 


Renewing your sponsor licence

The ability to sponsor migrant workers has become critical for UK-based employers in order to fill vacancies and address skills gaps within their workforce.

Sponsor licences have a validity period of 4 years. As a sponsor licence holder, you will be required to submit a sponsor licence renewal application o the Home Office prior to your current licence’s expiry, to avoid issues with your permission to sponsor overseas workers.

If your renewal application is successful, your sponsor licence will be extended for a further 4 years.

In practice, sponsor licence renewal applications tend to attract more attention from the Home Office than initial licence applications. This is because the organisation is expected to have complied with its sponsor duties while it has held the licence.

As such, immigration officials take this opportunity to fully investigate an organisation’s immigration compliance processes, procedures and documentation and to verify the lawful status of the organisation’s migrant workers.


How to check your sponsor licence expiry date

Your sponsor licence application date is viewable on the SMS.

This date should be diarised and shared among the licence key personnel to avoid being missed.


The importance of renewing your sponsor licence

Sponsor licences automatically expire at the end of the 4-year validity period unless successfully renewed. 

An expired licence or refused licence renewal can result in serious consequences for businesses.

Without a valid licence, your organisation will no longer be permitted to sponsor foreign workers. You can neither hire more sponsored workers, nor can you continue  to employ your existing sponsored workers, until you have a valid licence in place. 

In effect, this means that while unlicensed, you will no longer be lawfully employing your sponsored workers and as illegal workers, their visas risk being curtailed.

When do you make sponsor licence renewal application?

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will write to sponsoring organisations 120 calendar days prior to the licence expiry date to remind them of the need to renew, and again at 30 calendar-day intervals up to the last month, and finally 2 weeks before the expiry date. However, it remains the responsibility of the sponsoring organisation to submit an application to renew their licence in good time.

UKVI advises that renewal applications can be submitted at least three months prior to the current licence expiry date. You can check the earliest date you can submit your renewal application on the organisation’s Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

Sponsor licences are valid for 4 years, unless surrendered or revoked. However, in most cases, you can apply to renew your licence shortly prior to its expiry. If your renewal application is successful, your sponsor licence will be extended for a further 4 years.

You can view your licence expiry and its earliest renewal date by accessing this information on the ‘Licence summary’ screen of your sponsorship management system (SMS) account. A sponsor can ordinarily apply to renew their licence from 3 months before it is due to expire.

You do not need to have been granted the licence renewal by the expiry date; you just need to have made your submission on the SMS for the Home Office to process.

How long does the sponsor licence renewal process take?

Having submitted an application to renew your sponsor licence, together with any additional documentation requested by UKVI, it can take several weeks to receive notification of a decision on your application through the SMS. Sponsors should be prepared for the Home Office to be extremely thorough in vetting the organisation and its sponsorship compliance to determine the renewal application.

The timeframe involved can also be longer if UKVI have decided to carry out a pre-renewal compliance visit.

To avoid delays in processing, you should ensure HR and personnel systems, records, and processes are fully compliant and that the renewal submission and supporting documents are complete and correct.

If there are no issues with your sponsor licence renewal application, you should usually expect a decision in 8 weeks.

Importantly, however, provided you have submitted a valid sponsor licence renewal application prior to expiry of your existing licence, your licence will be temporarily extended while your renewal application is under consideration.

You can track the progress of your application for a sponsor licence renewal in the ‘Applications and renewals tracking’ menu option in your SMS account.

How many times can you renew your licence?

There are no restrictions on how many times your organisation can renew its sponsor licence. Provided an organisation continues to be eligible and meet the sponsor requirements, it can continue renew its licence and permission to sponsored foreign workers.

How much is the sponsor licence renewal fee?

The fee to renew your sponsor licence will depend on whether your organisation is classed as a small or charitable sponsor or a medium or large sponsor.

Type of sponsor licenceSmall or charitable sponsors licence renewal feeMedium or large sponsors licence renewal fee
Temporary Worker£536£536
Worker and Temporary Worker£536£ 1,476

Under the Home Office guidance, an organisation is classed as a small company if the following apply:

  • Annual turnover of no more than £10.2 million
  • A balance sheet total of no more than £5.1 million
  • No more than 50 employees on average

How to prepare for your sponsor licence renewal

As it is not possible to prevent the licence from expiring past its expiry date, we advise sponsors to start preparing for the renewal process well in advance. This will allow you to identify and deal with any issues in good time before you need to make the renewal submission and and ensure continued coverage and validity of the licence.

From experience, we advise diarising to look at the renewal six months before the expiry date. This will give you time to carry out a full audit and identify areas of risk and potential non-compliance to be rectified before making your submission and opening the organisation up to Home Office scrutiny.

Being prepared and submitting your application as soon as the window opens also means that if there are any issues, delays or even a refusal, there is likely to be time to address the problems before the licence expires.

The renewal application is used by the Home Office to verify that sponsors are continually compliant throughout the duration of their licence.

When preparing the renewal application, try not to make any assumptions about the requirements or your eligibility.

Approach the renewal as a new application. Check that the licence requirements and rules you are working to are the most recent, as the Home Office regularly makes changes to the official sponsorship guidance.

You should also double check the information you are submitting to ensure it is up to date and representative of your organisation, for example, do you still qualify as a small employer?

Sponsor licence renewal process

Sponsors must apply to renew their licence by submitting an application using their SMS account and paying the appropriate fee online. An authorised Level 1 user can apply to renew your licence by submitting an online application using your SMS account, completing a declaration and paying the correct fee. When applying to renew a sponsor licence, you must be able to show that your organisation continues to meet the relevant requirements of the route in question and that it continues to meet its sponsorship duties. However, when making the initial renewal request, the Level 1 User will only usually be required to select the appropriate fee, sign a declaration that the information they have given is true and go on to make the relevant payment. Having received the application for a sponsor licence renewal, UKVI may then request additional information and/or documentation from the sponsoring organisation. UKVI may also decide to conduct a pre-renewal compliance visit before making a decision. The key sponsor licence renewal steps are as follows:
Step 1: Level 1 user logs on to SMS 
To make the renewal application, a nominated Level 1 User will need to log onto the SMS. On the Licence summary, applications and services screen, go to Licence renewal.
Step 2: Select the size of organisation 
You then need to select the appropriate renewal fee i.e. small or charitable sponsors or medium or large sponsors.
Step 3: Complete the sponsor declaration 
On the Licence renewal declaration screen, input the date, your name, and your position in the organisation, and tick the declaration box.
Step 4: Pay the correct renewal fee
On the Licence renewal payment screen, complete the payment process You have to pay the appropriate application fee. The rate differs by the size of organisation and you should check your classification as at the date of renewal application as this may have changed in the four years since making the previous licence application.
Step 5: Submit the renewal 
Complete the submission sheet, which you should also print off for your organisation’s records.

Sponsor licence renewal supporting documents

In some cases, the Home Office caseworker may send a request to the sponsor for further business-related documents about the organisation. This could be any documentation as listed in Appendix A of the sponsor guidance or any other documentation related to the organisation. 

These documents should be readily available as part of the organisation’s ongoing sponsor compliance procedures.

Sponsors licensed in particular routes, and operating within certain sectors, must provide new copies of certain documents on renewal. For example, those sponsoring workers on the International Sportsperson route must provide a sports governing body endorsement.

Equally, sponsors of temporary workers under the International Agreement route who are a diplomatic or consular mission, or an international organisation, will need a signed letter from the head of the mission, consulate or the organisation’s office based in the UK to confirm that they agree to the licence renewal application and that they wish to continue to sponsor workers on this route. This letter must also confirm that they accept the sponsorship requirements to give the Home Office express consent to enter their premises ‘and’ accept the limited waiver of diplomatic immunity and privileges to permit the Home Office to carry out any relevant compliance activity as set out in the published guidance.

Any additional documents will need to be sent to UKVI within 5 working days, otherwise risk having your licence downgraded, suspended or revoked, and your sponsor licence renewal refused.

What is the streamlined sponsor licence renewal application process?

Some employers may qualify for the ‘streamlined’ sponsor licence renewal procedure, for faster processing.

Under this process, if the organisation has previously been successful with at least two sponsor licence renewal applications, the Home Office caseworker is permitted to conduct fewer checks before making a decision to grant the renewal application.

The following checks will not needed to be carried out:

  • Company and insolvency checks
  • Reviewing your certificate of sponsorship usage
  • Looking at the licence structure
  • Assessing sponsor management system visit history and any outstanding change requests
  • Reviewing risk profiles and checking accreditation and registration details and any other trading checks
  • If necessary, undergoing a compliance visit from a Home Office official

What happens after the renewal has been submitted?

Once the renewal application is received, the Home Office will start the process of verifying that the organisation continues to meet the licence requirements, ie that is still operates legally in the UK, is still suitable to be a licensed sponsor and is able to meet its duties to the required standards. UKVI will cross-reference the information provided with data held by the Home Office and other bodies such as Companies House.

In addition, as part of the renewal application process, all certificates of sponsorship assigned by the organisation under the licence will be reviewed, as well as the organisation’s continued need for a sponsor licence.

What is a Home Office renewal inspection?

The Home Office has powers to visit and inspect a sponsor’s premises before making a decision on a renewal application.

As such, when applying to renew your sponsor licence, UKVI may decide to visit your business premises. This is likely if you have not received a compliance visit within the last 4 years.

If the Home Office has asked to visit your premises as part of the process in deciding your sponsor licence renewal application, it is essential that your organisation is continuing to meet its sponsorship duties as outlined in the online sponsor guidance. This includes any changes that may have been made to the guidance since your licence was granted, where sponsors should ensure that they keep up to date with the current rules at all times.

Importantly, UKVI will often carry out a compliance visit when considering a renewal application, where a visit can be either announced or unannounced. Before applying to renew a sponsor licence, organisations should therefore ensure that they have complied with all record-keeping and reporting duties and that they can evidence this, if requested.

In particular, if an organisation has not previously been subject to an onsite inspection, particularly during the initial licence application, it is advisable to prepare for an inspection at the renewal stage.

The objective of a compliance inspection is to assess whether the organisation’s systems and processes for sponsorship are adequate and meet the requirements and obligations of a licensed sponsor. The immigration official will be looking to:

  • Assess your HR and personnel policies, procedures and documentation.
  • Determine if you are following the correct compliance processes such as Right to Work checks
  • Check you are carrying out your reporting duties.

During the inspection, Home Office officials can request to see personnel and HR documents and systems.

They can also interview your sponsored workers to cross-reference information on their CoS relating for example to salary, working hours, working locations and duties.

If the Home Office officials identify any compliance concerns or breaches during the inspection, they may refuse the licence renewal application.

What if your licence renewal is approved?

If your licence is approved, the organisation will be able to sponsor new and existing foreign workers, provided you continue to meet the ongoing compliance requirements. 

What if your licence renewal is refused?

It can be daunting if you have made a sponsor renewal application and the Home Office has decided to refuse the application. 

Taking professional advice will help you to understand the options in your circumstances and decide the best way forward. 

Your next steps could include:

  • Making a request for a review of the decision. This option would only be appropriate if you can show grounds for review. For example, you believe the case office has made a mistake resulting in the refusal, such as not taking a specific document into account when making the decision.  
  • Making a new application. This option would be suitable if you ar enot able to request a review, and if there are grounds or errors that can be corrected in a new application.

There is no right to appeal the refusal of an application to renew a sponsor licence. This means that if your sponsor licence renewal application is refused, your permission to sponsor migrant workers will automatically expiry when your existing licence ends. This means that you will no longer be allowed to act as a licensed sponsor from that date, where you will not be able to assign any more sponsorship certificates and your company details will be removed from the online public register of licensed sponsors. Equally, if you have sponsored migrants currently working for you, their leave will be curtailed. This essentially means that their visas will be shortened to 60 days, after which point they will have to switch to another immigration route, leave the UK or be subject to removal proceedings.

However, it is essential to seek expert legal advice from an immigration specialist. This is because if there has been a caseworker error when refusing your sponsor licence renewal application, or where evidence sent in support of your application has not been taken into account, a request can be made for the decision to be reconsidered under the ‘error correction request’ process. The request must be sent within 14 days from the date of the refusal decision letter. Importantly, this process will not provide a full reconsideration of a decision to refuse a licence application, where UKVI will not take into account any additional evidence not available at the time of application. Still, if UKVI accepts that a caseworker error has occurred, or information sent at the time of application has not been considered, you will be invited to send a new online sponsor licence application.

Equally, if the decision to refuse your sponsor licence application was unlawful, unreasonable or procedurally improper, you may have grounds for judicial review of that decision. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a new sponsor licence, although there may be a cooling off period before you can do this.

If your sponsor licence renewal application is rejected, for example, because you have failed to select and/or pay the correct fee, you will not be able to make another application to renew your application if your licence is rejected after its original end date. This means that you will need to apply for a new licence and pay the appropriate application fee.

Common grounds for refused sponsor licence renewals

A sponsor licence renewal application will be considered in two stages: validation and review. To check that the renewal application is valid, UKVI will check the licence status and that the correct application fee has been paid. This means that if your licence does not have a valid status and/or you fail to pay the correct fee, where a renewal application will not be valid unless you have paid the appropriate fee, your application will be rejected.

Your licence may not have valid status if it is has been revoked, surrendered or made dormant as a result of a merger or takeover. Equally, if you have failed to send any evidence requested by UKVI within the time period specified, your application will again be rejected. However, in these circumstances, your application fee will be refunded. If your sponsor licence renewal application is rejected and your licence renewal date has past, you will be advised by UKVI that if you are currently employing workers in the UK, you must apply for a new licence within just 20 working days, as you cannot apply for another renewal.

When it comes to fees, the sponsor licence renewal application fee paid must be consistent with the costs set out under the most current guidance on Home Office immigration and nationality fees, having regard to the sponsor’s route(s), size and charitable status. You will be eligible to pay the ‘small’ licence fee if your organisation has charitable status, is subject to the small companies’ regime or is re-applying for only a Temporary Worker licence. Sponsors that are not eligible for the small licence fee will have to pay the large sponsor fee. If you have underpaid, your application will be rejected, but if you have overpaid, the difference will be refunded and a decision will still be made on your renewal application.

In the context of the second ‘review’ stage of the sponsor licence renewal application process, your application could be refused for a number of different reasons, including if:

  • your key personnel are deemed to pose a risk to immigration control
  • any key personnel who are subject to immigration control no longer have valid permission to be in the UK
  • your sponsor licence structure cannot be verified
  • there is outstanding compliance activity on your account, such as a sponsor action plan if your existing licence has been downgraded
  • if your organisation does not hold the appropriate accreditation or registration required to be a licensed sponsor operating in the UK.

Your sponsor licence renewal application could also be refused if, following a pre-renewal compliance visit, your organisation is found to have failed to comply with its sponsorship duties and responsibilities. As such, it is only if you pass all the review checks, you have not breached the conditions of your licence and no compliance action is recommended by UKVI, that your sponsor licence renewal application will be approved with the same rating.

How to avoid a refused sponsor licence renewal

As licence renewals are rarely straightforward, sponsors should ensure they take proactive steps to avoid common grounds for refused renewals. 

These include: 

  • Failure to retain and keep the required documentation on sponsored workers
  • Failure to pay the correct renewal application fee 
  • Failure to have advised UKVI of significant changes to company structure and personnel
  • Failure to provide requested information or documentation to UKVI on time 
  • Failure to respond to UKVI’s enquiries in a timely manner
  • Failure to have passed the genuineness test
  • Failure to comply with UKVI security standards
  • Failure to pass a UKVI compliance audit and site visit
  • Failure to meet reporting duties

Given what is at stake in maintaining your ability to employ skilled non-UK resident workers, approaching your renewal will take time and effort to get the application right. For help and advice with your sponsor licence renewal, please contact us.


What if you fail to renew your sponsor licence?

If you have any sponsored migrants currently working for you and you want them to continue working for your business, you must renew your sponsor licence before it expires, even if you do not plan to sponsor any new migrants. If you do not apply to renew your sponsor licence before the scheduled expiry date, your existing licence will automatically lapse on that date, together with your permission to sponsor migrant workers. This means that you will no longer be able to act as a licensed sponsor from the expiry date.

If you fail to respond to your invitation to renew your sponsor licence and you are subsequently recorded as still sponsoring workers after the end date of your expired licence, a management information (MI) report will be produced by the MI team to notify the casework team to curtail your permission. This also means that the leave of any existing sponsored workers will be curtailed. You will not be able to assign any more sponsorship certificates and your company details will be removed from the online register.

What if your sponsor licence has already expired?

Without a valid sponsor licence, your organisation will be removed from the Register of Licensed Sponsors, you will not be able to assign Certificate of Sponsorship to new sponsored workers and your existing sponsored workers face having their leave curtailed.

If a sponsor licence has been left to expire but you still need permission to sponsor foreign workers, you will need to act quickly to determine your next steps.

In some cases, you may be able to make a renewal application, while in other circumstances you may have to apply for a new licence. Taking advice on the specific case will help you determine your options and best course of action to minimise cost and disruption for your organisation.

Need assistance? - We can help

DavidsonMorris’ team of specialist UK immigration lawyers provide clients with a complete employer sponsorship licence renewal application service.

We bring substantial experience both as lawyers and former Home Office personnel, supporting your organisation in taking a proactive approach to the renewal process. We understand the importance of the licence to business operations and the commercial imperative to avoid issues with the Home Office.

We can work in support of your in-house HR team or manage the entire process on your behalf to ensure that licence management to date has been compliant and that the application for renewal is accurate, timely and effective.

As part of the sponsor licence renewal process, the UKVI reserves a right to undertake compliance visit to sponsor companies and request corporate documentation as deemed necessary. We will support with renewal preparation to ensure the organisation is match-fit for a site visit.

We can assist with:

  • Auditing your HR systems, procedures and records including certificates of sponsorship and your SMS, to identify areas of risk and non-compliance
  • Making recommendations to meet sponsor licence duties
  • Implementing necessary changes to your sponsor licence before an extension application is submitted
    Guidance on notification, monitoring and record-keeping duties
  • Deliver training for in-house teams including SMS key personnel
  • Preparation for site visits
  • Follow up support following site visits
  • Ongoing immigration and sponsor licence compliance advice

Our team of UK immigration specialists is well versed in all the document and evidentiary requirements that can be vital to a prompt and successful renewal application. 

We also have specialist expertise in complex renewal applications, for example where the employer has received a civil penalty for illegal working, where the expiry date is imminent or where the sponsor licence has expired but the sponsor wishes to retain their licence.

In such cases we can advise on the options open to you, including any remedial measures that should be taken, how best to approach dealings with the Home Office and the information and evidence that will be required, and whether a new licence application may be necessary in the circumstances.

Sponsor licence renewal FAQs

How do I renew my sponsorship license UK?

You can apply to renew your sponsor licence by submitting an application using your sponsorship management system (SMS) account and paying the appropriate application fee. You can ordinarily apply to renew your licence from 3 months before it expires.

How long does a sponsor licence renewal take?

Having submitted your sponsor licence renewal application, together with any documentation in support, it can take several weeks to get a decision. In some cases, however, if you have applied to renew twice before, your application may be streamlined.

What happens when sponsor licence expires?

If you decline or fail to renew your sponsor licence, typically after 4 years, your licence will automatically lapse on the scheduled expiry date and you will no longer be permitted to act as a licensed sponsor from that date.

Does sponsor license expire?

Most sponsor licences will be valid for 4 years, unless surrendered or revoked. However, in most cases, you can also apply to renew your licence shortly prior to its expiry, provided your sponsoring organisation continues to meet the relevant requirements.

How long is a sponsor licence valid for?

A UK sponsor licence is valid for 4 years. To retain your status beyond this period, you have to apply to renew the licence before it expires.

What happens when a certificate of sponsorship expires?

If a defined CoS has not been assigned to a worker within 3 months, it will expire and the sponsor will have to make a request for a new CoS.

How long does sponsor licence renewal take?

A sponsor licence renewal usually takes 8 weeks to process. This is assuming there are no issues with the application and that the Home office does not conduct an onsite compliance inspection.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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