Tier 2 Sponsor Licence Application


Under the Points Based System UK employers have to make a Tier 2 sponsor licence application before they can employ non-EEA workers. Employers who do not have a sponsor licence will be unable to hire new workers from outside the EU or extend work permits for current migrant employees.


What type of sponsor licence do you need?

You will need to specify the types of workers you are looking to recruit. There are four classes of Tier 2 visas: General, Intra-Company Transfer, Minister of Religion and Sportsperson.

In addition to Tier 2 workers, you may also need to look at the Tier 5 category for skilled temporary workers, depending on your recruitment needs. This tier has 5 different subgroups: Charity Worker, Religious Worker, Government Authorised Exchange, International Agreement and Creative and Sporting.

As such, you will need to be clear of your recruitment and skills requirements now and into the long term so that your licence provides sufficient cover for its duration since licences are valid for four years.


Tier 2 sponsor licence application criteria

To apply for a sponsor licence, an organisation must evidence within their application that:

  • They are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK
  • Their key personnel named on the application are honest, dependable and reliable
  • They are aware of and capable of carrying out their sponsor duties ie they have appropriate human resources and recruitment systems and practices in place
  • They are offering genuine employment that meets the Tier 2 (General) skill level and appropriate rates of pay

In most cases, unless the role being recruited for is on the Shortage Occupation List, the application will also require justification as to why the organisation cannot recruit from the resident labour market and instead needs a sponsor licence to recruit from overseas. This will entail correct use of the Resident Labour Market Test and proof that you have attempted without success to recruit UK-resident workers.


Assign key personnel roles 

As part of your sponsor licence application you must identify the individual(s) within your organisation who will be responsible for the sponsor management duties and for using the online sponsor management system (SMS). The roles to be assigned are:

  • Authorising Officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the sponsor management system.
  • Key Contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration.
  • Level 1 User – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the sponsor management system.

The roles can be filled by one individual or by several, giving you some flexibility to suit the set-up of your organisation. Note also that nominated employees will need to undergo suitability checks.


Making your Tier 2 sponsor licence application

The application itself must be made online, and followed up with supporting documentation to meet the evidentiary requirements. There will also be an application fee payable at this point.

There is some time pressure once you have completed the online application – the supporting documents must be supplied within five days of the initial application. Failure to submit all required documents will result in your application being delayed or rejected, and further costs being incurred.

So it’s important to have prepared all of the necessary evidence and documentation by the time you make your application online.

Companies must complete an online application and provide supporting documentation to meet the necessary evidentiary requirements. The supporting documentation must be sent to the Home Office in hard copy, paper form within five working days of your online application being submitted.

The application can only be made online. The online form in itself asks for relatively straightforward detail about the organisation. It is seeking to establish that you are a legitimate entity and to understand the full nature of your operations.

Common grounds for refusal, or delays, in applications relate to sponsor licence supporting documentation submitted by applicants failing to meet Home Office requirements.

Failure to submit all required documents will result in an application being delayed or rejected and further costs being incurred.

Following the receipt of these documents, the company may then be subject to a compliance visit from UK Visas and Immigration, who will assess whether or not to grant the licence.

Companies will also be required to comply with the illegal working requirements which states that all non-EU 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.


Sponsor licence application supporting documents

The full lists of the current sponsor licence supporting documents are available on the Home Office’s Appendix A List of documents. The lists of sponsor licence supporting documents are extensive, the requirements highly specific, and they vary depending on the type of organisation you are – eg charity, ‘start up’, public body etc.

For example, businesses that have been operating for less than 18 months will be subject to different checks than longer-established employers, and as such must provide evidence of a current business bank account with a bank registered by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK.

Whereas if your organisation is listed on the London Stock Exchange main market, in most cases you will not need to submit documents as the Home Office will check your listing online.

The lists of sponsor licence supporting documents are extensive, the requirements highly specific, and they vary depending on the type of organisation you are – eg charity, ‘start up’, public body etc.

The reality of compiling the specific supporting documentation in its expected format is no mean feat. Depending on the size, age and location of the organisation, you may struggle to locate certain items, either in part or whole.

The most common difficulty is the time it takes to obtain the supporting documents. You have only five working days after completing your online application to submit the required supporting documentation.

Mandatory documents however are not always the easiest for HR to collate, particularly when they are located within a different business department, such as finance. This is where the communication and confusion begins, especially when the information required is found on two separate documents. This is most common with proof of HMRC payroll registration and company tax documents.

For proof of HMRC payroll, UKVI want to see the reference numbers for both the PAYE and the accounts office. Both reference numbers are found on the front cover of the employer payslip booklet and on the HMRC letter titled the New Employer Registration and Reference Numbers.

Depending on the age and size of the company, these documents may be archived and time-consuming to obtain. Therefore, it is likely to be quicker to obtain them from two separate documents such as an HMRC notification to file and the employer/employee filed return.

Another hurdle with collating the supporting documents may be obtaining the documents in original form, and knowing when it is acceptable to submit a certified copy of a document. Take advice on when it is permissible to submit a certified copy, or when UKVI will expect an original.

If documents require certification it is important to note that they must be certified in a certain way otherwise the entire licence application can be refused because the caseworker was unable to verify the certifier.

Certifying documents goes beyond making photocopies. UKVI only accept certified documents by a practising lawyer, a notary public or the issuing authority such as the bank.


Be prepared for a Home Office inspection

After you’ve made your application online and submitted your supporting documents, you may find yourself subject to a compliance inspection to assess whether or not to grant you the licence. Home Office visits are daunting, and require a great deal of preparation to get the ‘house’ in order.

A key driver behind the visits, and the reason for them becoming more common than ever, is the ‘genuineness test’. The test is looking to ascertain whether the employment your licence relates to is genuine and meets Home Office guidance on ‘skill level and appropriate rates of pay’.

Unfortunately, there’s no black and white criteria as to what this means in practice, which creates uncertainty for employers. Seeking professional advice is the most effective way of ensuring the basis of your sponsor licence application and the application itself are sufficiently relevant and robust.


Home Office decision

If your application is approved, you will be awarded an A-rated licence and will be added to the Home Office register of sponsors. You can now take the next step in your recruitment strategy and start assigning certificates of sponsorship for your prospective overseas talent. If you’re not successful with a first-time application, you’ll be unable to appeal. You will have to make a new application, at full cost and after a specified period of time, which will depend on your circumstances. So it clearly pays to get it right first time.


Avoiding a refused licence application 

The Tier 2 sponsor licence application process is designed to ensure UK employers are complying with their duties in preventing illegal working. It is essential that organisational systems, policies and procedures are established, operational and effective in meeting the sponsor licence compliance duties. Undertaking an internal immigration audit before you make the application can help you identify areas for improvement and maximise your chances of being awarded a sponsor licence.

UKVI are also stringent with the eligibility of supporting documents and likely to delay or refuse the application if a document is:

  • incomplete;
  • out of date;
  • not the original document or not a correctly certified copy where permitted; or
  • not provided within the specified time after the application is made (i.e. five working days).

With current processing times for securing a sponsor licence around three months, there is no margin for error in the application process. If there are issues with your supporting documents, you may in response to your submission be asked by UKVI to supply further information or documentation.

Failure to respond to this request within the prescribed timeframe (generally seven working days) will result in application rejection and you will lose your application fee.
Alternatively, UVKI may, in light of questions around your supporting documents, arrange to come and visit your premises. Home Office scrutiny is best avoided by compiling and submitting a comprehensive application across the form and supporting documents. Put simply, getting your application right first time is the best way to secure your sponsor licence.


Need assistance with your Tier 2 sponsor licence application?

Given the scope for error and the organisational importance of getting the application right first time, seeking professional advice can help you ensure you are collating the correct documentation for your organisation’s application.avidsonMorris are highly experienced in helping employers with sponsor licence applications and renewals.
We can manage the process on your behalf and deal with any questions you have relating to sponsor licence supporting documents to help you avoid delay or refusal of your application.

If you have any queries about sponsor licence processes or duties, contact one of our team.


Tier 2 sponsor licence application FAQs


What is a Tier 2 sponsor licence?

Under the current UK immigration rules, to be able to employ non-EEA workers, employers have to apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence.

How long does it take to get an employer sponsorship licence in the UK?

Sponsor licence applications are typically processed by UKVI in 2-3 months. However, if there are issues with your application, such as incomplete or incorrect supporting documentation, your application may be subject to delays. Likewise if your application is particularly complex. It will also be important to factor in the time to compile your application and supporting documents.

How much is the sponsor licence application fee?

The application fee will depend on the size of your organisation. Small or charitable employers, the licence application cost is £536. For medium and larger sponsors, the fee is £1476. In addition to the application fee, such as the Immigration Skills Charge and the fee to issue the Certificate of Sponsorship.

When do I need a sponsor licence?

Your organisation will need to apply for a sponsor licence if looking to lawfully employ a non-EEA national to work in the UK in a qualifying skilled role.

What if my application is refused?

If your application is refused, the first step is to understand the grounds for the refusal. On this basis, an assessment can be made as to your options, which could include rectifying the issues and reapplying or pursuing an alternative immigration route.

How can DavidsonMorris help with your application?

With our team of UK immigration specialists well-versed in all the document and evidentiary requirements that can be vital to a prompt and stress-free application. DavidsonMorris offers a complete Tier 2 Sponsor Licence Application package which includes drafting your online application, helping you to collate the appropriate supporting documentation, auditing your HR systems and procedures to get them in order before the UKVI visit and briefing or training your employees on their duties and responsibilities.

Last updated: 7th January 2020


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.

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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