UK Sponsorship Visa Guide

uk sponsorship visa


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:

Each of these routes has its 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 £26,200 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 £26,200 per year for an experienced worker 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.

However, in the event that the employer fails to comply with their sponsorship duties, this could result in their rating being downgraded, or the licence being suspended or revoked.

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 £239 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.


Need assistance?

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 £239.

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: 9 November 2023


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 500and 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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