If you are looking to hire foreign skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, as a UK employer you will first need to apply to the Home Office for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence.

This requires you to navigate the Home Office rules for eligibility and protocol for building and making your application. Issues or errors with a sponsor licence will result in a refusal – which can have serious implications for businesses needing to bring in talent from overseas.

We share some initial Tier 2 sponsor guidance for employers looking to apply for a UK sponsorship visa.

Tier 2 sponsor guidance: PBS licence categories

Tier 2 of the UK’s points based system (PBS) is the main visa category used to employ skilled non-EEA migrants in the UK. A sponsorship licence is effectively the permission granted by the Home Office to an employer to ‘sponsor’ qualifying skilled workers under the Tier 2 and Tier 5 routes.

Looking specifically at the Tier 2 category, there are four main types of worker that are eligible for sponsorship:

  • Tier 2 (General) – this category enables employers to recruit non-EEA nationals to fill jobs that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker. This includes workers coming to the UK to fill shortage occupations, ie; where there are not enough skilled workers in the domestic labour market to meet demand.
  • Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) – this category enables employers to transfer existing employees who are non-EEA nationals to a UK branch.
  • Tier 2 (Sportsperson): this category enables elite athletes and coaches who are internationally established to be based in the UK.
  • Tier 2 (Minister of Religion): this category enables religious workers to undertake employment within a faith community in the UK.

You will need to state what type of licence it is you want to apply for ie if you will be hiring under Tier 2 and/or Tier 5. This requires a degree of forward-planning and alignment to your HR and recruitment strategies to ensure the licence will serve your effectively for its 4-year duration.

Tier 2 sponsor guidance: eligibility criteria

When making an application for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence, as a prospective licensed employer you must meet certain eligibility criteria. These include the following:

  • You are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK
  • Your organisation is offering a genuine vacancy that meets the Tier 2 skill level and minimum appropriate rates of pay
  • Your organisation has adequate HR systems in place to meet your ongoing Tier 2 sponsorship duties and obligations
  • You have identified key personnel named on your Tier 2 licence application are suitable to undertake the necessary sponsorship duties.

Note that if your nominated personnel on your Tier 2 sponsorship licence application form have a history of immigration violations or any unspent criminal convictions, this could result in your application being denied.

In all cases, you will be required to provide documentary evidence to support your eligibility. The Home Office will also carry out online verification checks, or possibly even a site visit, to verify the suitability of your HR systems and key personnel, before granting you a sponsorship licence.

Tier 2 sponsor guidance: application process

An application for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence will need to be made online, with any supporting documentation submitted within five working days of the form being submitted. Typically, you will need to provide at least four supporting documents so as to verify your organisation, although the documentary requirements can vary depending on the nature of your organisation and the vacancies you are looking to fill.

In the event that you fail to provide the necessary documentation in support of your application, you risk your application being significantly delayed or denied.

Tier 2 sponsor guidance: application fee

The cost of applying for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence depends on the size of your organisation, and whether you sign up for the premium customer service scheme.

The fee for medium or large sponsors is currently £1,476 (as of April 2018), whilst the fee for small or charitable sponsors is set at £536.

The fee for the premium service can range rom £2,000 to £25,000, again depending on the size of your organisation and the length of time you sign up for.

Under the premium customer service scheme you will receive an enhanced level of support with your own dedicated account manager, who provides tailored advice and support.

In addition you will be liable to pay what’s known as the Immigration Skills Charge each time you sponsor a non-EEA migrant worker. This is currently set at £1,000 per employee per year (as of 2018), reduced to £364 for small or charitable organisations. This is on top of the fee required for every certificate of sponsorship that you assign under your licence.

Tier 2 sponsor licence guidance: resident labour market test 

You may also need to evidence that you have tried, without success, to hire for the role domestically. This requires you to have conducted the resident labour market test. Through the RLMT, you are looking to build documentary proof that the role being recruited for cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled UK-settled worker.

Exemptions to the RLMT apply where:

• The job code is on UKVI’s shortage occupation list and the employee will be working at least 30 hours per week.
• The total annual salary package is above the current prevailing threshold (as at September 2018 – £159,600 per annum)
• An existing employee needs to extend their leave in the UK and continues to do the same job.
• The potential employee is applying for Tier 2 (General) leave in the UK and has, or was granted leave to enter or stay in the UK as a Tier 4 migrant or as a student and during their last grant of leave, or a continuous period of leave that includes their last grant of leave, they have received final results confirming they:
– have passed and will be (or have been) awarded a UK recognised bachelor’s or master’s degree,
– have finished a minimum of 12 months study in the UK towards a UK PhD.

Tier 2 sponsor guidance: certificates of sponsorship

If your application is successful you will be granted a Tier 2 sponsorship licence with an “A” licence rating. This will allow you to assign certificates of sponsorship to each foreign worker you employ. These are electronic documents, each containing a unique reference number.

This reference number is required for each individual to make their individual Tier 2 visa application to the Home Office for entry clearance.

Tier 2 sponsor guidance: sponsorship duties

As a licensed sponsor you agree to meet all of the duties and obligations associated with sponsoring a migrant.

In particular, you are under a duty to ensure compliance with the immigration rules and prevent abuse of the system. This includes the following:

  • keeping up-to-date records of all foreign workers
  • tracking and recording employee attendance
  • reporting certain employee activities, such as non-attendance or non-compliance
  • cooperating with the Home Office, such as during site visits
  • complying with the law, such as carrying out right to work checks on employees to ensure that they are entitled to be in the UK and undertake the work in question.

You will be given access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS) an online tool to be used to administer your day-to-day sponsor activities, such as assigning certificates of sponsorship. It will also allow you to report any changes in the circumstances – of an individual worker or organisational – to the Home Office. Failure to will be deemed a breach of your duties.

Any failure to comply with your duties could result in your licence rating being downgraded, or even your licence being suspended or revoked. If your licence rating is downgraded, you will be required to pay for an action plan at a cost of £1,476 to help you reinstate your “A” licence rating.

Are you looking for Tier 2 Sponsor Guidance? 

Sponsorship licence applications are at risk of refusal for errors and omissions that could be avoided with Tier 2 sponsor guidance. From ascertaining eligibility, through to advice on company structure, Tier 2 roles and salary levels and compiling your supporting documents, the Tier 2 sponsor licence specialists at DavidsonMorris can help.

We can also provide ongoing support to help ensure your organisation remains compliant with your duties under law and does not fall foul of Home Office scrutiny or penalties.

For advice with your Tier 2 visa sponsor licence, contact us.