To hire non-UK resident workers, your organisation must hold a valid sponsorship licence.
We are specialists in sponsor licence applications & compliance.
Sponsoring overseas nationals can provide UK businesses with significant benefits, not least being able to fill much needed skills gaps with talented migrant workers. However, applying for a sponsor licence can be a complex process and comes with various responsibilities.
What is a sponsorship licence?
UK employers have to be granted a sponsorship licence by the Home Office before they can employ non-UK resident workers under work routes such as the Skilled Worker visa, Scale Up visa and Global Business Mobility routes.
Employers who do not hold a valid sponsorship licence are unable to sponsor migrant workers.
All sponsors have to be fully aware of their immigration duties and have processes and systems in place to both meet these requirements and to maintain records as evidence of their compliance.
If applying for your first licence, your application will need to show you can meet these duties from day one. If the Home Office has concerns about your ability to comply, your application could be refused and you may lose your application fee.
Licence holders can be subject to Home Office investigation at any time. Where there are allegations of compliance breaches, the Home Office has powers to downgrade, suspend or revoke sponsor licences, impacting your ability to hire skilled migrant workers and impacting your sponsored workers’ permission to stay and work in the UK.
Different types of sponsorship licence
In the context of work visas available in the UK, there are two main types of sponsor licence: the ‘Worker’ sponsor licence and the ‘Temporary Worker’ sponsor licence.
The ‘Worker’ sponsor licence will allow you to recruit overseas nationals in various different types of skilled employment in the UK, both short and long-term, or even on a permanent basis, depending on the immigration route in question.
In contrast, the ‘Temporary Worker’ sponsor licence will allow you to recruit migrant workers on a temporary basis only.
What are the different types of ‘Worker’ sponsor licence?
The ‘Worker’ sponsor licence can be sub-categorised into the following four routes:
- The Skilled Worker route
- The Senior or Specialist Worker route
- The Minister of Religion route
- The International Sportsperson route
What are the different types of ‘Temporary Worker’ sponsor licence?
The ‘Temporary Worker’ licence is for specific types of temporary employment, including:
- The Scale-up Worker route
- The Creative Worker route
- The Charity Worker route
- The Religious Worker route
- The Government Authorised Exchange route
- The International Agreement route
- The Seasonal Worker route
For sponsor licensing purposes, the remaining four routes under the GBM umbrella are also classed as ‘Temporary Worker’ routes, including:
- The Graduate Trainee (GBM) route
- The Service Supplier (GBM) route
- The UK Expansion Worker (GBM) route
- The Secondment Worker (GBM) route
Which UK work visas need a sponsorship licence?
In most cases, when recruiting a migrant worker, you will need a sponsor licence to be able to lawfully employ someone to work for you from outside the UK. This includes recruiting overseas nationals on any of the following routes: the Skilled Worker route, the Minister of Religion route and the International Sportsperson route. It also includes recruiting workers on any one of the five Global Business Mobility or the six other Temporary Worker routes.
However, in the context of the Scale-up route, a migrant worker will only need to be sponsored for the first 6-month period of their initial 2-year grant of leave. After 6 months, the sponsor’s responsibilities will come to an end and the worker will be free to either continue to work for their sponsor in the same or different employment, or for another employer, provided they continue to meet all the relevant requirements. Additionally, they will be able to make an unsponsored application to extend their visa any number of times.
There are also certain other work visas which do not require sponsorship, including the Graduate visa route and the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa route. The Graduate visa route provides overseas graduates with permission to look for work for at least 2 years in the UK after successfully completing a course of studies here. The HPI visa also gives an individual permission to stay for at least 2 years in the UK, provided they have been awarded a qualification by an eligible university from around the world in the last 5 years.
Which type of sponsorship licence do I need?
The type of sponsor licence that you will need when recruiting a migrant worker will depend on the kind of work that you are able to offer that worker, and whether or not your organisation is able to meet the specific requirements of the immigration route in question.
For example, to sponsor an overseas national on the Skilled Worker route, you will need a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. As such, you must be able to offer genuine employment that meets the relevant skill-level and salary requirements of that route. Having been granted a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by a licensed sponsor, the skilled worker will then be eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker visa. The Skilled Worker route is the main immigration route for overseas nationals wanting to work in the UK, allowing UK-based employers to recruit migrant workers to fill a wide range of skilled vacancies.
Is my organisation eligible for a sponsorship licence?
To be eligible for a sponsor licence, your organisation must be genuine and operating lawfully in the UK, although sponsors applying for a licence on the UK Expansion Worker (GBM) route must not already have an existing active trading presence in the UK.
Those responsible for the day-to-day running of the business, and any key personnel named in the sponsor licence application to deal with the sponsor’s responsibilities, must not have any unspent criminal convictions for either immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering. The organisation must also must be capable of carrying out its sponsorship duties, having regard to its current human resources and recruitment practices. This is because you will need appropriate systems in place to be able to monitor your sponsored workers, as well as people to manage sponsorship within your business.
Depending on the visa route for which a sponsor licence is sought, there will be additional route-specific requirements that must be met.
What are the sponsorship licence requirements?
There are certain general sponsor licence requirements, including being a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, and one which is capable of meeting it sponsorship duties. However, depending on the type of workers that your organisation is looking to recruit, there will also be various route-specific requirements that must be met.
For example, to sponsor a skilled migrant worker on the Scale-up route, your organisation must meet the definition of a ‘qualifying scale up sponsor’ under either the standard pathway or the endorsing body pathway. Under the standard pathway, your employment or turnover growth will be automatically assessed based on information previously submitted to HMRC. On the endorsing pathway, where your business has not been established for long enough to demonstrate the necessary growth, an approved endorsing body will instead need to confirm your eligibility to apply for a Scale-up sponsor licence.
Applying for a sponsorship licence
To apply for a sponsorship licence, employers must prove they are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK. You have to show you are aware of and capable of carrying out your visa sponsorship duties, with the appropriate HR and recruitment systems and practices in place.
Your key personnel as named on your sponsor application must be honest, dependable and reliable. The Home Office will conduct background checks on all nominated individuals to verify their eligibility for the roles.
If you are applying for a skilled worker sponsorship licence you will also have to show you are offering genuine employment that meets the required skill level and appropriate rates of pay.
To make the application, you complete an online licence application and provide supporting documentation to meet the necessary evidentiary requirements. This must be supplied within five days of the initial application.
Failure to submit all required documents may result in an application being delayed or rejected and further costs being incurred.
Following the receipt of these documents, the organisation may then be subject to a compliance visit from UKVI, who will assess whether or not to grant the sponsorship licence.
Companies will also be required to comply with the illegal working requirements which states that employees are required to provide documentation that proves their right to work before being employed by a UK company and copies of this information must also be retained by the employer.
Sponsorship licence applications typically take 8 weeks to process, or around 12 weeks if a pre-licence compliance visit is made, although processing times can vary depending on Home Office caseload and other factors such as COVID backlogs.
Expedited sponsorship licence processing may be available for an additional £500. Under the Sponsor Licence Application Priority Service, licence applications are decided in ten working days.
How much does a sponsor licence cost?
The cost of a UK sponsor licence can vary, depending on the type of licence sought.
On the ‘Temporary Worker’ route, the cost of applying for a sponsor licence is £536. There will also be an additional fee of £21 to assign each Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a sponsored worker. In contrast, the cost of applying for a ‘Worker’ sponsor licence will depend on the size and charitable status of your organisation. You will usually be classed as a small sponsor if at least two of the following apply:
- the annual turnover of your business is £10.2 million or less
- your total business assets are worth £5.1 million or less
- you have 50 employees or fewer.
The sponsor licence fee for medium or large sponsors is £1,476, while for small or charitable sponsors the fee is £536. The fee to assign an CoS to a sponsored worker is £199.
The sponsor may also be liable to pay the Immigration Skills Charge when sponsoring a Skilled Worker, or a Senior or Specialist Worker visa. This is set at £1,000 for medium or large sponsors for the first 12 months, plus £500 for every 6 additional months, and £364 for small or charitable sponsors for the first 12 months and £182 for each extra 6 months.
To add a ‘Worker’ licence to an existing ‘Temporary Worker’ licence, this will cost £940 if you are a medium or large sponsor, but with no additional fee for small or charitable sponsors. There will also be no fee to add a ‘Temporary Worker’ licence to an existing ‘Worker’ licence, regardless of the size or charitable status of your organisation.
How long does a sponsor licence last?
Most sponsor licences will be valid for a period of 4 years, provided the licence is not surrendered or revoked before then. You will usually be granted an A-rating licence, although your licence may be downgraded to a B-rating at a later stage if you do not continue to meet your sponsorship responsibilities. If this happens, you will not be able to issue new sponsorship certificates until you have made improvements and upgraded. To be able to upgrade your licence, you will need to follow an action plan at a cost of £1,476.
However, even if your licence is downgraded, you will still be able to issue certificates to workers that you already employ who want to extend their permission to stay.
How do I renew a sponsor licence?
It will usually be possible to renew your sponsor licence prior to its expiry, so long as your organisation continues to meet the relevant requirements of the route in question. You will need to make a fresh online application and pay the relevant fee.
However, there are certain exceptions to the renewal rule. For example, when sponsoring a worker under the UK Expansion Worker route, an application cannot be made to renew your sponsor licence. The purpose of this route is to enable an overseas business to expand to the UK, where you will be expected to establish a full trading presence in the UK within 2 years from the date that your licence is granted. This means that at the end of this 2-year period, you will no longer be able to sponsor applications from new or existing workers on this route. However, having established a UK trading presence, you will be able to apply to add other routes to your licence, for example, to sponsor workers for Skilled Worker visas.
Equally, you also cannot renew a Scale-up sponsor licence beyond 4 years. If you would like to continue to sponsor overseas workers after the grant of your licence, you will again need to apply to be licensed on another route, for example, on the Skilled Worker route.
Sponsorship licence compliance & management
If you are successful in your application, focus will need to shift to managing the sponsor licence. It is an ongoing demand to ensure all of the compliance duties are met and you are not at risk of breaching the rules and of Home Office penalties.
Key duties will include record keeping, both in relation to the organisation and to all sponsored workers.
Across all visa types, a licence holder must keep a photocopy or electronic copy of the relevant pages of the sponsored migrant’s passport, including those pages which contain personal identity details, leave stamps, immigration status and the period of leave to remain; a record of the employee’s absences; and the employee’s biometric residence permit, contract of employment, National Insurance number, current and historic contact details and any other document required for the visa type.
In addition to record keeping, sponsors are also under a positive duty to act and notify the Home Office of certain changes in circumstances.
In most cases this means updating the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) within specified timeframes. The SMS is the Home Office’s primary source of information relating to your licence, and as such it is expected that the SMS is kept up to date to provide a real-time snap shot of the organisation’s licence and all of its sponsored workers.
For example, employers must update the SMS within 10 working days if a sponsored employee does not turn up to work on their first day, a sponsored employee’s contract is terminated early, a sponsored employee is absent from work for 10 of more days, without permission or there are significant changes in a sponsored contract of employment.
Changes to an organisation’s circumstances must be reported within 20 days, including where a business becomes insolvent, changes the nature of their operations or following a reorganisation or merger. Any changes to a business address or key personnel must also be reported.
Penalties for non-compliance with sponsor licence duties
Complying with your sponsor licence duties is essential, where any failure to do so can lead to your licence being downgraded, suspended or withdrawn. Your sponsor responsibilities include keeping appropriate records for your sponsored workers and informing the UK Home Office if any of these workers are not complying with the key conditions of their visa.
Importantly, your responsibilities as a sponsor of a Scale-up worker will automatically end after 6 months. After that, a Scale-up worker can continue working for you without getting a new sponsorship certificate, providing you with the flexibility to continue to employ them within an unsponsored role on an indefinite basis.
How 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.
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.
Our sponsorship licence services include:
- Assisting with initial considerations as to the most appropriate type of sponsorship application and suitable key personnel
- Drafting your online sponsor licence application
- Helping you to collate the appropriate supporting documentation
- Auditing your HR and recruitment systems and procedures in preparation for a UKVI visit
- Briefing or training staff on their compliance duties and responsibilities
- Advising on the UKVI ‘genuineness’ test and assessing whether a prospective employee satisfies the points criteria before the sponsor issues a certificate of sponsorship
- Guidance on sponsorship-related fees, both for the application and ongoing
- Advice on assigning Certificates of Sponsorship to skilled visa workers
- Advising on the alternatives available to you if you decide not to make a sponsor licence application
- Licence renewal applications
- Dealing with sponsor licence suspensions and revocations
Sponsorship licence FAQs
What is a sponsor licence?
A sponsor licence is the permission needed from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) for a UK employer to be able to recruit overseas nationals to work in the UK on any one of the sponsored immigration routes, such as the Skilled Worker route.
How much does a UK sponsor licence cost?
The cost of a UK sponsor licence can vary, depending on the type of licence sought — either a ‘Worker’ or ‘Temporary Worker’ licence — plus the size and charitable status of your organisation when it comes to ‘Worker’ sponsor licences.
Who can get a sponsor licence UK?
You can get a UK sponsor licence if you are a genuine organisation trading lawfully in the UK that is capable of meeting its sponsorship responsibilities ‘and’ can offer genuine employment meeting any relevant skill and salary requirements.
How hard is it to get a sponsorship licence?
Getting a sponsorship licence can be challenging, where you will often need to provide extensive documentation in support of your application to meet the various general and route-specific requirements to be approved by the UK Home Office as a sponsor.
What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?
A Certificate of Sponsorship is a reference number assigned to a non-EEA national from their UK sponsor, enabling them to make an application for their visa to work in Britain.
How do I apply for a sponsor licence?
To apply for sponsor a licence you will need to submit an application form with supporting documents to the Home Office. The application will be assessed against the licence eligibility criteria and whether the organisation has shown it can meet the ongoing sponsor licence compliance duties.