Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship (A Guide!) | DavidsonMorris


The following tier 2 certificate of sponsorship guide looks at how to apply for and assign a CoS when hiring a non-EEA worker, including the two different types of available certificate, and the associated costs.

What is a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship?

In order for an individual to make a valid application for entry clearance or leave under Tier 2 or Tier 5 of the points based system, you must first assign a CoS to them as their licensed sponsor.

The CoS is an electronic record rather than a physical document, whereby each certificate has its own unique number that a worker can use to apply for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa. That said, assigning a CoS does not guarantee the migrant worker will succeed in being granted entry clearance or leave to remain. They must still meet all of the criteria for the Tier 2 or Tier 5 leave they are applying for.

What are the different types of Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship?

There are two types of CoS UK that can be assigned, an unrestricted or a restricted COS. When you apply for your sponsorship licence you will be asked to estimate how many unrestricted Tier 2 and Tier 5 certificates you will assign in your first year in each tier, category or subcategory.

These are called unrestricted certificates because you can potentially be granted as many as your business needs. However, you may need to provide evidence, together with a detailed explanation, as to why the business will need to assign that amount.

An unrestricted CoSis typically for migrant workers who are already in the UK and are looking to change sponsor or switch into the Tier 2 route, for example from Tier 4 student status, or for those entering the UK from overseas who will be paid an annual salary of at least £159,600.

A restricted CoS is generally for workers who are currently abroad and will be paid less than £159,600 a year, or for dependants of Tier 4 migrants who are switching to a Tier 2 visa.

How do I assign a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship?

When you are ready to sponsor a Tier 2 or Tier 5 migrant worker, you must assign a COS UK using the sponsorship management system (SMS). You will get access to the SMS once you are granted your Tier 2 or Tier 5 sponsorship licence.

The SMS is an online tool that allows you, as a sponsor licence holder, to administer your day-to-day sponsorship activities, including creating and assigning Certificates of Sponsorship. Assigning a CoS UK involves working through a short online form to provide the Home Office with information about the migrant you want to sponsor and the work they will do.

Once you have assigned a CoS UK to a migrant worker, it must be used within 3 months of being assigned that certificate. During this period, a migrant cannot be assigned another COS by any other sponsor. Further, if the migrant does not use the certificate to make a visa application within this 3-month period, it will expire and will show as ‘expired’ in your SMS account.

How many CoS will I be allowed to assign?

Typically, the Home Office will set a limit on the number of unrestricted COS you can assign and your request may not be granted in full. The limit may be either your requested number of CoS or a lower limit if, for example, you are a start-up organisation or your sponsorship licence rating has been downgraded.

In setting the limit the Home Office will consider the kind of business you conduct, the extent of that business, the length of time you have been trading and any history of non-compliance with the Immigration Rules.

Once the Home Office agree the number of CoS you can assign, these will be allocated to your SMS account. You will then have 12 months from the date your licence started in which to assign them. This is referred to as your ‘CoS year’. If, part way through your CoS year you think you will not have enough, you can apply for more using your SMS account.

Any CoS that remain unused at the end of your CoS year will be removed from your SMS account. You cannot carry over any unused certificates. At the end of each  year, you can apply for a further allocation for the following year. This is an annual process that occurs during the validity period of your sponsorship licence.

How do I apply for restricted CoS UK?

Each year, there are a limited number of restricted CoS available. For the Tier 2 (General) subcategory the annual limit is 20,700 and they are divided into 12 monthly allocations. If you need to assign a restricted CoS to a migrant worker, you must apply for it using the restricted CoS application process.

The application process works to a monthly cycle. Applications need to be made using the SMS and are considered on the first working day after the 10th day of the month. This is called the ‘allocation date’. If you apply after the 5th day of the month then your application will be held until the next month’s allocation date.

Your restricted CoS will appear in your SMS account on the allocation date if your application has been approved. You can then assign a certificate to a migrant worker. You can apply again if your application is not approved. Each application is assessed using a points system, including points for salary and for carrying out what’s known as a resident labour market test.

Once a restricted CoS has been awarded, it must be assigned to an individual worker within 3 months or it will expire, and the whole process will need to be completed again.

What are the costs of a COS UK?

When you assign a CoS to a migrant worker, you will need to pay a fee, although certificates are free for citizens of Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey. The level of fee will depend on the type of certificate. For a Tier 2 certificate the fee will be £199, while for a Tier 5 certificate the fee is £21.

At the point you assign a CoS to a worker, you may also need to pay what’s known as the Immigration Skills Charge(ISC). The ISC is payable by a licensed sponsor where the migrant worker is applying work in the UK for 6 months or more under either a Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) visa.

The level of fee is based on the size of your company or organisation in question, as well as for how long the individual will be working for you. For small and charitable sponsors the charge is set at £364 for the first 12 months, and £182 for each additional 6 months. For a medium or large sponsor it is set at £1,000 for the first 12 months, and an additional £500 for every further 6 months.

If the worker will be in the UK for longer than 6 months but less than a year, the full charge for 12 months still falls due. Further, if the worker has applied for their visa from within the UK, you must pay the charge even if they’re applying for less than 6 months.

However, you will be exempt from paying the ISC in the following circumstances:

  • Where the non-EEA worker has a Tier 4 (Student) visa and is switching to a Tier 2 (General) visa
  • Where the non-EEA worker has a Tier 2 (ICT) Graduate Trainee visa
  • Where the non-EEA worker will do a job with a PhD-level standard occupational classification code.

Please note, if you assign a CoS but fail to pay the ISC, the certificate will be rendered invalid for as long as that payment obligation remains outstanding. This means that any visa application made on the basis of that certificate will be delayed until the charge is paid in full.

Do you have a question about the Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship? DavidsonMorris can help!

As experienced advisers to businesses on all aspects of corporate immigration, global mobility and Home Office applications, we can assist with any questions you may have about the Tier 2 application process and assigning Certificates of Sponsorship.

We also deliver training to inhouse HR and management teams on how to comply with your legal duties when hiring migrant workers. Contact usfor more information.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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