UK visa sponsorship rules are notoriously complex and strict. If you are considering your options to sponsor workers in the UK, you will need to ensure that your organisation is eligible.
To sponsor migrant workers in the UK, organisations need to hold an appropriate sponsor licence. This requires the organisation to be approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) under the relevant category of worker. UKVI is the division of the Home Office not only responsible for issuing work visas, but for approving organisations for sponsor licences under the various different work routes.
Can recruitment agencies sponsor workers for other companies?
Put simply, recruitment agencies are not permitted to sponsor workers on behalf of other companies or their clients.
Under the UK’s Immigration Rules, the sponsor must be the business or organisation providing the actual work to the individual being sponsored, having actively recruited that worker from overseas to fill an essential skills gap in its workforce. The sponsor must also be the business or organisation directly responsible for managing the sponsored worker.
The main point of reference is the section of the Home Office’s guidance for sponsoring workers, called ‘Employment agencies and third-party employment’, which expressly prohibits the provision of sponsored migrant workers by recruitment agencies to client companies. This states that employment agencies or any third party (intermediary) who supplies workers to a client, cannot sponsor a worker and then supply them as labour to another organisation, regardless of any genuine contractual arrangement between the parties involved. It also states that if an employment agency or intermediary is erroneously granted a sponsor licence on this basis, and UKVI later discovers sponsored workers are being been supplied as labour to another organisation, the licence will be revoked.
In the context of recruitment agencies, their role is simply to source workers for client companies, but not to provide the work itself. This also applies to any umbrella company used by a recruitment agency to pay any workers sourced by the agency to undertake work for an end client. In either scenario, it is the recruitment agency (or umbrella company) that technically employs the worker and pays the worker’s wages, rather than the agency’s end client, even though it is the end client that provides and oversees the work that is to be undertaken by the sponsored worker. It is therefore the end client who will be responsible on a day-to-day basis for managing and supervising the sponsored worker.
Part of the requirements to qualify as a licensed sponsor is being able to satisfy UKVI that the applicant organisation is capable of carrying out its sponsorship duties with reference to its recruitment practices and HR systems. These sponsorship duties include monitoring migrant workers and reporting to UKVI any changes to a sponsored worker’s circumstances. This could include, for example, if a migrant worker is absent from work without the sponsor’s permission or where there are significant changes to the details of the worker’s employment. The sponsorship duties also include extensive record-keeping obligations.
Essentially, before granting a sponsor licence on any of the work routes, UKVI must be satisfied that a business will be able to monitor its migrant workforce, comply with its reporting and record-keeping obligations, and will not pose a threat to immigration control. If the recruitment agency is the business looking to hold the sponsor licence, where the end client will be the one providing the work and managing the sponsored worker, it follows that the recruitment agency will not be deemed capable of discharging the necessary duties.
Do the UK immigration rules prohibit recruitment agencies from acting as sponsors?
The rules do not prohibit recruitment agencies from acting as sponsors, but only to sponsor workers who will be employed directly by the agency in connection with the running of that business.
This means that for a recruitment agency to be able to sponsor workers from overseas, they would need to be licensed to sponsor the relevant category of worker. The question therefore remains as to whether or not a recruitment agency is potentially capable of sponsoring different categories of workers. The short answer here is “yes”, but only if the worker will be doing a job role directly for the agency itself and that role meets any route-specific requirements.
However, when it comes to the supply of sponsored workers for other companies, in addition to the general requirement that a sponsor must be capable of discharging its sponsorship duties before being granted a sponsor licence, to be eligible for a licence on any given route, the applicant organisation must be able to meet the route-specific requirements. For example, to be eligible for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, under the route-specific rules, the applicant must be able to offer employment that:
- is genuine
- meets the skill level and salary requirements for this route
- does not amount to the hiring of the worker to a third party to undertake an ongoing or routine role, and
- complies with the UK’s National Minimum Wage and Working Time Regulations.
If a prospective sponsor is not capable of offering suitable employment under the relevant work route, they will not be eligible for the sponsor licence sought, where it is the end client that will have the necessary roles on offer, not the recruitment agency itself.
Do the rules prohibit clients from acting as sponsors?
In theory, the end client would be able to act as the licensed sponsor, where only the end client for whom the work will be carried out is capable of satisfying the sponsorship requirements to become an UKVI-approved sponsor. Still, this begs the question whether or not a recruitment agency can still source migrant workers for the end client to sponsor.
Unfortunately, this arrangement can also be unworkable. This is because the sponsor must not only be responsible for overseeing and managing the migrant worker, but for agreeing and paying their salary. In circumstances where the recruitment agency (or any umbrella company) will instead be responsible for paying the worker’s wages, the sponsoring end client is unlikely to satisfy UKVI of its eligibility for a licence. Again, the online guidance for sponsoring workers provides that any sponsor that wants to employ a worker supplied by an employment agency, can only assign sponsorship certificates to those workers if the sponsor has “genuine responsibility for deciding all the duties, functions and outcomes or outputs of the job” and is “responsible for agreeing and paying the worker’s salary”.
This essentially means that for an end client to qualify for a licence to sponsor migrant workers, while a recruitment agency can still be tasked with sourcing overseas workers to meet the client’s recruitment needs, the client would have to take responsibility for dealing with all payroll aspects of the working arrangement. The recruitment agency could be paid a finder’s fee, but they could not technically employ or pay the worker.
There are some limited circumstances where UKVI may still approve an organisation for a licence where there is no direct employer-employee relationship between the sponsor and migrant worker, such as in parts of the creative sector. However, the worker must still have a sponsor that is able and willing to accept all of the responsibilities and duties associated with being their sponsor. There may also be circumstances where there is a clear statutory relationship between the employing body and a publicly-funded body, where the publicly-funded body can intervene in the running or funding of the employing or paying body. In these cases, the publicly funded body can be the sponsor. Otherwise, the sponsor must normally be the employer and therefore responsible for paying the sponsored worker.
Can recruitment agencies supply migrant workers to other companies?
When it comes to the supply of migrant workers in sponsored job roles, provided the end client is the sponsor, and responsible for employing and paying the sponsored worker, this is perfectly acceptable under the rules. There is also nothing preventing a recruitment agency from supplying a foreign national to an end client in an unsponsored job role, provided the individual in question has the legal entitlement to work in the UK.
This could be where, for example, a foreign national has an unsponsored work visa in place, such as a Graduate or Global Talent visa. The Graduate visa is aimed at recent graduates who have successfully completed a course of studies in the UK, while the Global Talent visa is for proven or potential leaders in academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology. Both of these types of visa provide the flexibility for qualifying foreign nationals to secure any type of work in the UK, as well as a pool of talent from which recruitment agencies can source suitable skilled workers for their clients.
A migrant worker may also be able to undertake any type of work with a Scale-up visa. The Scale-up route is for talented foreign nationals with the offer of a highly skilled job role from a qualifying Scale-up business at the required salary level on this route. However, as a partly sponsored and unsponsored route, workers will be free to find alternative employment in other UK-based businesses after just 6 months of sponsorship.
Which companies can sponsor work visas?
The primary route for sponsoring foreign nationals under the UK’s Immigration Rules is the Skilled Worker route. Other routes include the Health and Care Worker visa, which, for example, care home providers require in order to sponsor overseas care workers, while a multinational company looking to sponsor intra-company transferees must be licensed to sponsor workers on the Senior or Specialist Worker route.
For foreign nationals looking for sponsored job roles in the UK, or seeking to identify existing sponsors who are already approved by UKVI for a sponsorship licence under the different work routes, a check can be made of the online register of sponsors at GOV.UK. This is the official list of organisations licensed to sponsor migrant workers in the UK.
The online list of approved sponsors includes the name and location of licensed organisations. It also includes information about the category of workers they are licensed to sponsor, on both the Worker and Temporary Worker routes. The Worker routes include the Skilled Worker and Senior or Specialist Worker routes, while the Temporary Worker routes are for short-term roles across a range of industry sectors, including the creative sector, the charity sector and for seasonal workers in the UK’s horticultural industry.
The Temporary Worker route also covers various sub-categories of sponsored routes for overseas businesses, where certain foreign nationals may also be able to be sponsored by their existing employer, or a connected UK company, to complete a UK work assignment.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration experts. For specific guidance on the immigration and recruitment options to sponsor and employ overseas workers in the UK, contact us.
Sponsorship by recruitment agency FAQs
How to find companies that sponsor visa in UK?
The Home Office's online Register of Licensed Sponsors lists those employers who are approved to sponsor overseas workers.
How do I get a visa sponsor job UK?
To get a sponsored job role in the UK, you will first need to identify a UK-based company who is prepared to sponsor you to work for them, although your sponsor must have a suitable licence in place from UKVI.
Which care agency in the UK has visa sponsorship?
There are various care providers that are licensed to sponsor migrants workers in the UK. These can be found on the official register of licensed sponsors. However, care recruitment agencies are not generally permitted to sponsor workers.
Can agencies sponsor visa?
A recruitment agency is not permitted to sponsor visas for migrant workers, where there must usually be a direct employer-employee relationship between the sponsor and sponsored worker, where the employer will be responsible for both managing and paying that worker.
Can a recruitment agency get a sponsor licence?
A recruitment agency will not normally meet the requirements for a sponsor licence, unless they are looking to sponsor migrants workers for job roles directly connected with the running of their business. However, they cannot supply sponsored workers to clients.
Can you apply for work visa without sponsorship?
Under the UK’s Immigration Rules, you may be able to apply for a work visa without sponsorship, including the Graduate or Global Talent visa. These are flexible, unsponsored work routes, either for recent graduates, or for proven or potential leaders.
Do I require sponsorship to work?
You do not necessarily require sponsorship to undertake work in the UK as a migrant worker where, even if subject to immigration control, you may still qualify for an unsponsored work visa, such as a Graduate or Global Talent visa.
Last updated: 16 September 2023