As a licensed sponsor you are subject to a number of strict duties to ensure compliance with the UK Immigration Rules and to prevent illegal working.
These duties include monitoring and reporting certain activities about sponsored workers and assigning certificates of sponsorship (CoS) to sponsored visa workers.
The Sponsor Management System (SMS) is the Home Office’s online tool used by sponsors to meet their compliance responsibilities and administer their day-to-day licence management activities. Applications for the skilled worker sponsor licence are also made via the SMS.
The Home Office relies on the information in the SMS to ensure that you are meeting your compliance duties as a sponsor licence holder, and as such, requires that the information is at any one time an up to date reflection of your business and your sponsored employees.
For all UK sponsors and staff responsible for the day-to-day management of a Home Office approved licence using the online sponsor management system, you will benefit from the following practical guide. This looks in detail at “How to use the sponsor management system SMS”, from what the SMS is used for — to how to log on for the first time.
Further guidance on using the sponsor management system can be found in the various SMS step-by-step guides issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the division of the Home Office responsible for the UK’s visa system. These online manuals are designed to help sponsors of migrant workers with the technical aspects of the SMS and feature a helpful visual guide for each of the sponsor management system functions.
Failure to use the sponsor management system correctly
Although the authorising officer is responsible for the activities of all sponsor management system users, the organisation retains overall responsibility for ensuring compliance with its sponsorship duties.
In the event that you fail to comply with your sponsorship duties, you are at risk of action being taken against you by the Home Office. There are various measures that may be taken, including but not limited to downgrading your sponsor licence rating.
Where there has been a significant or systematic failing, and you pose a serious threat to immigration control, you are at risk of your licence being suspended or revoked. Where migrants are found to be working illegally, you may also be at risk of a civil penalty, or even criminal prosecution.
Who can use the sponsor management system?
Employers sponsoring workers under any of the following routes are required to hold a valid sponsorship licence:
- Skilled Worker
- Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker
- T2 Minister of Religion
- International Sportsperson
- Charity Worker
- Creative Worker
- Global Business Mobility (GBM) routes
- Government Authorised Exchange
- International Agreement
- Religious Worker
- Scale-up (this is a new route from 22 August 2022)
- Seasonal Worker
Licensed sponsors are required to allocate certain responsibilities to key personnel within their organisation, some or all of whom will have access to the sponsor management system.
There are four key personnel roles:
- Authorising officer – this is the person responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers and ensuring that all of your sponsorship duties are met.
- Key contact – this is the person who acts as the main contact with the Home Office.
- Level 1 user – this is the person who will carry out your day-to-day sponsorship activities using the sponsor management system.
- Level 2 user – this is the person who will carry out certain activities on the sponsor management system but who has fewer permissions than the level 1 user.
Those appointed as key personnel must meet specific suitability requirements.
The authorising officer, key contact and level 1 user are to be named on the sponsor licence application form.
There can only be one authorising officer and one key contact, but once the licence has been granted, additional level 1 users can be requested via the SMS, and level 2 users added.
Sponsors can appoint as many level 1 users as they require, based on the structure of the organisation and its needs. However, it is advisable to keep the number of level 1 users to a manageable number to ensure accountability and consistency in administering the licence. It is also advisable that all level 1 users are adequately trained on their duties and using the SMS.
Likewise, there is no limit to level 2 users, although level 2 users have a restricted range of permissions when using the sponsor management system.
Only level 1 and level 2 users will have access to the system. If the authorising officer or key contact require access, they must be set up as a level 1 or 2 user. As key personnel roles can be filled by the same person or combination of different people, this can be done by naming either one of them as the level 1 user on the licence application, or adding them as an additional level 1 or 2 user.
What is the sponsor management system used for?
The sponsor management system (SMS) is the online UKVI portal used to administer your day-to-day duties and sponsorship activities, and to meet many of your requirements and responsibilities as an employer sponsoring Worker and Temporary Worker visa-holders.
The sponsor management system is designed to allow level 1 and level 2 users, on the organisation’s behalf, to perform various sponsorship activities online. The primary functions available on this online system include the following:
- Managing key personnel and licence details – the level 1 user can access all applicable functions on the sponsor management system and perform a wide range of actions including requesting additional level 1 users, or adding or removing level 2 users.
- Creating, assigning and withdrawing CoS/CAS – these are not paper certificates, but virtual documents, like a database record. Each migrant will need to be assigned a CoS/CAS via your sponsor management system account. Both level 1 and level 2 users can assign these virtual documents.
- Applying for an increase in the number of CoS/CAS you can assign – if your licence application is approved, the Home Office will set a limit on the number of CoS/CAS you can assign annually. However, your level 1 user can request an increase using the sponsor management system.
- Tracking licence renewal applications – the status of your licence can affect your access to the sponsor management system. If your licence has expired or been revoked you will no longer be able to log in. Your level 1 user will be responsible for renewing your sponsor licence and tracking the progress of any such application.
- View the Home Office message board – only the level 1 user will be able to access key messages posted by the Home Office, targeted by tier and category. The sponsor management system will also notify the level 1 user of important events during the lifespan of your licence including, for example, when your sponsor licence is due to expire.
- Reporting activities relating to your sponsored workers and/or students – both level 1 and level 2 workers can report migrant activity to the Home Office, for example, where a worker fails to turn up for work or a student completes their studies early. However, a level 2 user can only do so on CoS/CAS that they have personally created and assigned.
- Pay for and track the progress of action plans – in the event that you fail to comply with your sponsorship duties, the Home Office may decide to downgrade your sponsor licence rating from an A to a B. The level 1 user will need to pay for and monitor the progress of any time-limited action plan to correct any breach(es).
How do you log on to the SMS for the first time?
When a sponsor licence application is initially approved, the first SMS login ID will be sent by post to the Authorising Officer nominated in your sponsor licence application, whilst the password will be sent directly to the email address of the nominated Level 1 user. It is then the responsibility of the Authorising Officer to provide the login ID to the Level 1 user.
Having logged on to the SMS for the first time, the Level 1 user can request other Level 1 users, and create optional Level 2 users. You can appoint as many SMS users as you think you will need, based on your business structure and needs. However, as the Authorising Officer is responsible for the actions of all SMS users, it is best to keep the number of users to the minimum necessary for the effective maintenance of your licence. Importantly, as only Level 1 and 2 users can access the SMS, the Authorising Officer and Key Contact named in the sponsor licence application may need to be given permission as SMS users.
Different user levels will determine the level of access that a user has to the SMS. A Level 1 user can access all applicable SMS functions, provided the licence has not been suspended or downgraded, whilst Level 2 users will have fewer permissions. For example, a Level 2 user can only assign and not withdraw CoS, and report migrant activity on CoS that they have personally created and assigned, such as reporting a worker’s non-attendance. Equally, only Level 1 users will be able to access any messages posted by UKVI by selecting the ‘SMS message board’ link from the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ menu. When logging on to the SMS, the Level 1 user must always read any messages before proceeding.
Each individual will have their own user ID and password, which are for their use only and must not be disclosed to anyone else, where misuse of user ID’s and passwords may lead to action being taken against you. If an SMS account has been generated by an existing Level 1 user, the new user ID can be obtained from the ‘Manage Level 1 and 2 users’ screen located in the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ menu. Once approved, the user’s password will be sent to them via email, which must be kept secure. Please note, if a Level 1 user creates a Level 2 user, the new user account is created automatically, whilst if adding a Level 1 user, their request will first be submitted to UKVI for assessment.
For further information on how to log on to the SMS for the first time, including how to change passwords, manage SMS users and view important messages posted by UKVI, additional detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 1: Introduction’. This guide also provides a useful troubleshooting section to address any system problems.
How do you manage and replace your key personnel?
If your key personnel change, UKVI must be notified of any changes. To do this, from the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ screen select ‘Request changes to licence details’ and then select ‘Replace your Authorising Officer or Replace your Key Contact. Please note that replacing key personnel can only be done by a Level 1 user.
If your new Authorising Officer will also be your Key Contact, only one request will need to be completed using either function and completing all mandatory fields. Finally, from the ‘Request change of circumstances’ declaration screen, the Level 1 user must complete the date, their name and position in the organisation, and tick the declaration box. When replacing an Authorising Officer, the Level 1 user must also email a completed submission sheet to UKVI, with all supporting evidence, to be signed by the new Authorising Officer.
You must only use the function to replace your Authorising Officer or Key Contact if either one of these roles is to be assumed by a different person. If you want to amend your current Authorising Officer or Key Contact details, you must instead use the ‘Amend your current Authorising Officer’s details’ or ‘Amend your current Key Contact’s details’ function. You can use the SMS to amend their personal details, work address or contact information.
Requests submitted from the SMS to replace the AO or KC, and add new Level 1 users, will be fulfilled immediately, subject to certain criteria being met.
These criteria are if the postcode of the address stated for the new AO, KC or Level 1 User matches either the postcode of the sponsor’s main organisation address or that of its head office address or, for KCs and Level 1 Users, the postcode of a legal representative organisation that it has told the Home Office is acting on its behalf. Also, the licence must be fully active and the sponsor must be an A rated sponsor.
If these criteria are not met, the request will be considered manually, in the usual way. Relevant checks will still be carried out further to automatic decisions.
For further information on how to manage your key personnel, additional detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 2: Managing your licence’.
How do you manage your sponsor licence details?
Any Level 1 user should regularly check the licence summary function in the SMS, located in the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ menu to ensure your details are accurate. If your licence details are incorrect, or you need to amend the name or address of your organisation, a request can be submitted by selecting ‘Request changes to licence details’ followed by ‘Amend your organisation details’. A drop-down menu will then appear, with acceptable reasons for any change of name or address. Acceptable reasons can include rebranding, office or branch closed, downsized business premises, expanded business premises, lease expired, Royal Mail postcode changes or moved to new premises.
Certain changes may be applied automatically, where the new details will be instantly visible on the SMS. However, in all cases, the Level 1 user must still print, complete and send a submission document to UKVI for the change request to be reviewed or considered, together with supporting evidence. This must again be signed by the Authorising Officer.
For information on how to request other changes to your licence details using the SMS, such as changes which result in your organisation coming under new ownership, detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 2: Managing your licence’.
How do you manage or renew your sponsor licence and services?
You will be notified by email of important events during the lifespan of your licence, such as its’ expiry date, where you must apply to renew your licence in time. If your licence expires, you will no longer be able to log on to the SMS or sponsor migrant workers.
From the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ screen, a Level 1 user must select ‘Licence renewal’, followed by the appropriate fee. They must then complete the date, their name, position in the organisation and tick the declaration box. Payment can then be made online from the ‘Licence renewal payment’ screen. There will be no need to send the submission sheet to UKVI, but this should be printed off and a copy saved for your records.
The SMS can also be used to apply for or renew any premium customer service, which offers an enhanced level of support for organisations employing foreign workers. For further information on how to renew your licence, and apply for or renew services, detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 3: Applications, renewals and services’.
How do you create and assign CoS?
To create and assign CoS within the Worker or Temporary Worker routes, this can be done by either Level 1 or Level 2 users. From the Workers screen, the user should select ‘Create and assign’, select the route and any category from the drop-down menu, and then the appropriate option to create individual or batches of sponsorship certificates.
For a single CoS, from the ‘Create a CoS screen’, the user should complete the migrant’s personal details, those of the job they will be doing and other relevant details, then select ‘Save’ and ‘Assign’. A declaration must also be ticked to indicate agreement with the terms and conditions, before being redirected to the payment screen to assign the CoS.
For a batch of CoS, from the ‘Create and assign CoS’ screen, the user should enter the name of the batch. There is then an option to add pre-populated employment details, to save time in creating several certificates, before adding the migrant’s worker’s personal details. Once complete, the batch can be assigned and paid for with a single transaction.
For further information on how to create and assign undefined CoS, detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 8: Creating and assigning a CoS’. Guidance on applying for and assigning defined CoS (if specifically licensed under the Skilled Worker route) can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 12: Restricted certificates of sponsorship’.
How do you renew your allocations and apply for additional CoS?
If you meet the criteria for automatic renewal of CoS allocation, based on the number of CoS you assigned in the preceding 12 months, UKVI will write to you. Otherwise, a request will need to be made by a Level 1 user for renewal of your annual CoS allocation. From the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ screen, the Level 1 user should select ‘Request renewal of annual CoS allocations’. If allocations are not due to be renewed automatically, to request a renewal they must then select ‘Add a request’ next to the relevant route. They must also enter the number of CoS requested and the reason why these are required.
To request an increase in your allocation of CoS during an allocation year, from the ‘Licence summary, applications and services’ screen, a Level 1 user should select ‘Request CoS allocation increase’. They should then select ‘Add a request’ next to the route in which you wish to increase the allocation, for example, under the Skilled Worker route. They will again need to enter the number of CoS needed and provide full reasons for this request.
For further information on how to apply for allocations of CoS, additional detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 2: Managing your licence’.
How do you report activities relating to your sponsored workers?
One of the main responsibilities as a UK sponsor is to report any relevant worker activity, if the circumstances of a migrant worker change, including any failure to attend work, repeated absences from work and withdrawal of sponsorship. Importantly, a Level 2 user can only report migrant activity on CoS that they have personally created and assigned, or for any CoS which have been transferred to them by a Level 1 user.
From the Workers screen, the user should select ‘Sponsorship duties’, followed by ‘Report migrant activity’. They can search for the relevant CoS by using the CoS number or the migrant’s personal information, although the search parameters must be specific to avoid being presented with a long list of certificate to choose from. Having identified the correct CoS, the user must select the appropriate reason from the ‘Report new activity’ drop-down menu, and provide full details from the ‘Report migrant activity – date and reason’ screen.
What if you are terminating a sported worker’s employment?
If a sponsor is revoking sponsorship of an employee, this must be confirmed and completed through the SMS within 10 business days of the termination.
UKVI is then responsible for taking action on the report and issuing a curtailment notice. The system is dependent on the sponsor complying with its sponsor duties to report the end of a worker’s role and then for the notice to be delivered to the individual.
If a sponsor continues to employ a migrant without issuing a new CoS and the migrant’s leave expires, the sponsor may be subject to a civil penalty and/or criminal sanctions. In addition to civil penalties and criminal penalties, an employer with a sponsor licence under the points-based system (PBS) may lose its licence if illegal working is proven. The employer’s reputation may also be harmed if they are found to have employed an illegal worker or if they fail to provide a potential illegal worker with adequate opportunity to demonstrate their right to work in the United Kingdom.
For further information on how to report worker activity using the SMS, detailed guidance can be found in the online ‘SMS guide 9: Reporting user activity’.
Full guidance on the sponsor management system can be found in the various manuals published by UK Visas and Immigration. The information can be challenging to navigate, given the volume of material and the frequent changes to rules. Taking professional advice can ensure you are working to the most up to date guidance and rules to ensure compliance with your licence duties.
DavidsonMorris are specialists in UK business immigration and talent mobility. We work closely with HR and company owners to support with sponsor licence compliance, including use on the sponsor management system.
Failure to comply with your duties under a PBS licence leaves you at risk of Home Office penalties, such as suspension or even revocation of your licence.
We also deliver training for Level 1 & 2 users on how to use the SMS for effective and compliant HR.
For guidance on use of the sponsor management system, or a wider immigration compliance issue, or if you are interested in SMS training, contact us.
What is sponsor management system?
The sponsor management system (SMS) is the online portal that allows certain authorised users, on behalf of UK sponsors, to manage the sponsor licence on a day-to-day basis, such as notifying the Home Office of any important changes.
What is the Home Office SMS?
The Sponsorship Management System is the online tool used by licensed sponsors to manage their licence and meet their duties to notify the Home Office of changes in circumstances.
Who can be a Level 1 SMS?
A Level 1 SMS-user must either be nominated on the sponsor licence application or, alternatively, be appointed by the initial Level 1 user once the sponsor licence has been granted and access given to the sponsor management system (SMS).
How do you renew a sponsor licence?
Sponsors apply to renew their licence through the SMS. The sponsor must ensure their licence is up to date and then pay the renewal fee. The Home Office will then review the application.
What is the SMS used for?
In broad terms, the SMS can be used to undertake various licence activities, including: managing or replacing your key personnel; changing your sponsor licence details; managing or renewing your sponsor licence and services; creating and assigning Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS); renewing your allocations and applying for additional CoS reporting activities relating to your sponsored workers.
How can I see my CoS SMS?
Once access has been granted by the Home Office to use the sponsor management system (SMS), it will be possible to see how many Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) are available to be assigned to sponsor migrant workers using the SMS.
Who is exempt from immigration skills charge?
The immigration skills charge is typically payable when you assign a sponsorship certificate to someone applying for either a Skilled Worker or Senior/Specialist Worker visa, unless you are sponsoring someone under an exempt occupation code, such as certain scientists.
Last updated: 28 March 2023