If you are looking to recruit a foreign national to come to work for you in Britain, they will need to hold a valid UK sponsorship visa. As their prospective employer, you will only be eligible to employ non-UK residents if you have applied for, and been granted, a sponsorship licence.
The new points-based system, which comes into effect from 1 January 2021, will apply to both EEA and non-EEA nationals. After this date:
- Any EEA national arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021 will need to apply for a visa in order to be able to work here.
- Employers will need to sponsor EEA nationals in the same way as they currently sponsor any non-EEA national working for them in the UK.
If the company considers employing EEA nationals in 2021 but does not currently have a sponsor licence, they should apply for one now.
From 1 January 2021, licensed sponsors will be able to sponsor both EEA and non-EEA workers under the new Skilled Worker route, which will replace Tier 2 (General) visa. The Tier 2 ICT route for intra-company transfers will also be available.
Sponsorship visa requirements
The points-based system will include 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.
From January 2021, 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 points for employers sponsoring migrant workers:
- All UK businesses intending to hire an overseas national from the moment free movement ends will be required to have a sponsor licence, except if the individual has settled or pre-settled status or is in the UK on a different, non-work restricting category, i.e. spouse visa.
- Skilled migrants from the EU 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.
- Lowering the skill level to RQF level 3 opens up the number and types of sponsored roles.
- The resident labour market test will no longer be a requirement under the new rules.
- The cap on the number of skilled workers who can be sponsored is being removed.
- The 12 month ‘cooling off’ period for ICT migrants is being removed.
- The new Health and Care Visa, which is part of the skilled worker route, does not include care workers.
- A new graduate route is being introduced, allowing undergraduate and master’s degree students to apply for a two-year graduate visa. PhD students can apply for a three-year visa. Both routes do not need to be sponsored and the migrants should be able to switch into work routes in the UK. While similar to the Tier 2 General visa, graduate visa holders are not tied to a specific company. They will, however, need to be sponsored after this point in order to remain in the UK.
Making an application for a UK sponsorship licence
To obtain a UK sponsorship visa licence you must submit your application online via the Sponsor Management System, the government’s web portal for sponsor licence holders. All supporting documentation required to validate your application will need to be submitted within five working days of the initial application, although current COVID measures are allowing for a longer period to submit.
You will need to provide at least four supporting documents to verify your organisation. The documentary requirements will vary depending on the nature of your organisation and the vacancies you are looking to fill.
If you fail to provide the necessary documentation in support of your application for a UK sponsorship visa licence, you risk your application being significantly delayed or even refused.
The Home Office will write to you to inform you as to whether your application for a sponsorship licence has been approved, or giving reasons where your application has been refused. If refused, you 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, you 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 your organisation. In some circumstances, you 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. You will usually be classed as a small business if your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less and you have 50 employees or fewer.
Employers also have the option to sign up for what’s known as the premium sponsor scheme. The fee for the premium service can range from £2,000 to £25,000, again depending on the size of your organisation and the length of time you sign up for.
Under this scheme you will receive an enhanced level of support with your own dedicated account manager.
If your application for a UK sponsorship visa licence is successful you will be added to the list of UK sponsors and granted a licence with an “A” licence rating. This will allow you to assign certificates of sponsorship to each foreign worker you employ.
However, in the event that you fail to comply with your sponsorship duties, for example, failing to carry out right to work checks on any non-EEA workers, this could result in your rating being downgraded, or even your licence being suspended or revoked.
If your licence rating is downgraded, you will be required to pay for a sponsor action plan at a cost of £1,476 to help you reinstate your “A” licence rating.
Assigning each Certificate of Sponsorship
You must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to each foreign worker you employ. 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 your UK sponsorship visa licence you will need to pay a fee of £199 for any certificate issued to a Tier 2 worker, and £21 for any certificate issued to a Tier 5 worker.
Please note, certificates are free for citizens of Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey.
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 you fail to fulfil your duties as a UK sponsor.
You must renew your licence in the event that you wish to continue to employ Tier 2 or Tier 5 migrant workers. Further, when applying to renew your UK sponsorship visa licence, the cost of doing so will be the same as if you were applying for a licence for the first time.
Applying to extend the scope of an existing licence
When applying to extend your UK sponsorship visa licence, for example, by adding a Tier 2 to an existing Tier 5, or vice versa, you may need to pay an additional fee.
If you are a small or charitable sponsor there will be no fee to extend the scope of your licence in this way. There is also no fee for medium or large sponsors when adding a Tier 5 to an existing Tier 2. There is, however, a fee of £940 when adding a Tier 2 to an existing Tier 5 licence.
Additional costs of UK visa sponsorship
Under the Immigration Skills Charge Regulations 2017, sponsors are liable to pay the Immigration Skills Charge each time you sponsor a migrant worker under the points-based system. You will need to pay this charge when you assign the CoS.
If you are a small or charitable organisation, you 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, you 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, you must pay the charge each time you assign 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 your reporting duties, you must let the Home Office know as soon as possible, and in any case within 10 working days, if the size or type of your business changes, as this will affect the amount you must pay for each certificate of sponsorship and skills charge.
If you fail to inform the Home Office within this time limit, they may take action against you, including downgrading, suspending or revoking your UK sponsorship visa licence.
Do you need advice on a UK sponsorship visa or 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 etc – 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?
Employers looking to hire non-UK resident workers from 2021 will need to apply for a sponsor licence by checking their eligibility under the rules, making the application and paying the relevant fees.
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 ma not require sponsorship, such as the Global Talent visa. Take advice on your circumstances.
Last updated: 2 October 2020