The UK immigration system comprises a range of routes and visas allowing non-British nationals to come to the UK to visit, work, study, for humanitarian reasons or to join loved ones.
Many of the work visa routes require the individual to be sponsored by an employer.
In this guide, we explain what UK sponsorship visas are currently open to overseas nationals, and what is entailed in sponsoring under workers under the primary work route, the Skilled Worker visa.
UK sponsorship visa routes
Under current rules, the following work visas require sponsorship by a qualifying employer:
- Skilled Worker visa
- Health & Care Worker visa
- Temporary Worker visas
- Global Business Mobility visas
- Scale Up worker (initial 6-month sponsorship)
Each of these routes has it own requirements and eligibility criteria that the worker and the employer must meet.
It may also be possible – and necessary – to apply to switch into one of these categories to maintain lawful status and remain in the UK to work. For example, someone in the UK with status under the Graduate Route must either apply for new status or leave the UK after two years (or three years if they have a PhD); in many cases, this will see the graduate switching from the Graduate Route to the Skilled Worker visa.
In this guide we focus on the Skilled Worker visa, which replaced the Tier 2 General visa at end of 2020.
UK sponsorship visa requirements
The points-based system features a route for skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved sponsor and who attain the requisite points for attributes including language, skill and salary.
The job employees are offered will need to be at a required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level) and employees need to be able to speak English.
They must be paid the relevant salary threshold by the sponsor. This will either be the general salary threshold of £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for the specific job, whichever is higher. If the salary is less than this – but no less than £20,480 – employees may still be able to apply by ‘trading’ points on specific characteristics against salary. For example, if a job offer is in a Shortage Occupation or if the individual has a PhD relevant to the job.
Key considerations for Skilled Worker sponsorship visa applications:
- All UK businesses intending to sponsor a Skilled Worker is required to have a sponsor licence, unless the individual has lawful status allowing them to be carry out the work in question in the UK, such as holding settled or pre-settled status or status under a non-work restricting category, i.e. spouse visa.
- Skilled migrants looking to work in the UK must achieve at least 70 points to be eligible for the visa. This includes demonstrating that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, and that they satisfy the English Language requirement.
- Skilled worker applicants will need to meet the minimum salary threshold. This will be either £25,600 per year for an experienced worker under Tier 2 General (which has been lowered from the current minimum of £30,000 per year), or the going rate according to the particular role – whichever is higher.
- There is no cap on the number of skilled workers who can be sponsored under this route.
Making an application for a UK sponsorship licence
To obtain a UK sponsorship visa licence, the employer must submit the application online via the Sponsor Management System, the government’s web portal for sponsor licence holders. All supporting documentation required to validate the application will need to be submitted within five working days of the initial application.
The organisation will need to provide at least four supporting documents to verify their organisation. The documentary requirements will vary depending on the nature of the organisation and the vacancies it is looking to fill under the sponsored visa route.
Failure to provide the necessary documentation in support of the application for a UK sponsorship visa licence risks the application being significantly delayed or even refused.
The Home Office will write to the employer to inform as to whether the application for a sponsorship licence has been approved, or giving reasons where the application has been refused. If refused, the employer will, in most case, have to wait at least further six months before re-applying.
UK sponsorship visa licence fees
When applying for a licence to hire workers with a UK sponsorship visa, the employer will need to factor in fees both at the initial application and recruitment stage, as well as ongoing licence management costs.
Initial applications for a sponsor licence
The level of fee for a UK sponsorship visa licence will depend on the size of the organisation. In some circumstances, the employer may be eligible to pay the small sponsor licence fee.
The fee for medium or large sponsors is currently £1,476, while the fee for small or charitable sponsors is £536. Employers will usually be classed as a small business if their annual turnover is £10.2 million or less and they have 50 employees or fewer.
Employers also have the option to sign up for the premium sponsor scheme. The fee for the premium service can range from £2,000 to £25,000, again depending on the size of the organisation and the length of time signed up for.
Under this scheme, the employer will receive an enhanced level of support with their own dedicated account manager.
If the application for a UK sponsorship visa licence is successful, the employer will be added to the list of UK sponsors and granted a licence with an “A” licence rating. This will allow them to assign certificates of sponsorship to each foreign worker they sponsor.
If the licence rating is downgraded, the employer will be required to pay for a sponsor action plan at a cost of £1,476 to help them reinstate their “A” licence rating.
Assigning each Certificate of Sponsorship
The employer must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to each foreign worker they sponsor. This is an electronic record, not a physical document, and contains a unique number that the worker can use to apply for a visa.
When assigning certificates of sponsorship under the UK sponsorship visa licence, the employer will need to pay a fee of £199 for any certificate issued to a Skilled Worker visa holder.
Applying to renew an existing sponsor licence
A UK sponsorship visa licence is valid for four years, after which it will expire. The only exceptions are if it is revoked or surrendered before it expires, for example, where the employer fails to fulfil its compliance duties as a UK sponsor.
The employer must renew its licence to continue to employ sponsored workers. Further, when applying to renew the UK sponsorship visa licence, the cost of doing so will be the same as if applying for a licence for the first time.
Additional costs of UK visa sponsorship
Under the Immigration Skills Charge Regulations 2017, sponsors are liable to pay the Immigration Skills Charge each time they sponsor a migrant worker under the points-based system. This is payable when assigning the CoS.
Small or charitable organisations will pay the ‘small’ charge, that is £364 for any stated period of employment up to 12 months, plus £182 for each subsequent 6-month period stated on the certificate.
In all other cases, employers must pay the ‘large’ charge, that is £1,000 for any stated period of employment up to 12 months, plus £500 for each subsequent 6-month period stated on the certificate.
Unless an exception applies, the employer must pay the charge each time it assigns a certificate of sponsorship to a sponsored worker that is either:
- Applying from outside the UK for entry clearance to work in the UK for 6 months or more, or
- Applying from within the UK for leave to remain of any duration, including for less than 6 months.
In accordance with the reporting duties, the employer must let the Home Office know as soon as possible, and in any case within 10 working days, if the size or type of the business changes, as this will affect the amount payable for each certificate of sponsorship and skills charge.
Failure to inform the Home Office within this time limit can result in enforcement action, including downgrading, suspending or revoking the UK sponsorship visa licence.
Given the upfront investment required to make a sponsor licence application – time spent building the submission and finding the employment, fees and costs of making the application – taking professional advice can help ensure you are following the process as required, that your submission aligns to the eligibility criteria and that any delays are avoided in processing your application.
For advice on sponsorship licences and hiring a UK sponsorship visa worker, contact us.
UK visa sponsorship FAQs
How can I get sponsorship for UK visa?
Workers can only apply for a sponsored work visa if they have a qualifying job offer from a UK employer with a valid sponsor licence.
How much does it cost a company to sponsor a visa UK?
The sponsor licence application fee is £1,476 for large companies and £536 for small companies and charities. Additional fees also apply, including the cost of assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship to each visa worker, at £199.
Can you work in the UK without visa sponsorship?
The main immigration route for non-UK resident workers is the skilled worker visa, which requires sponsorship from a licensed employer. Other work routes are available which do not require sponsorship, such as the Global Talent visa. Take advice on your circumstances.
Last updated: 2 October 2022