Sponsor Licence Application Guide for Employers

If you are a UK employer hiring foreign skilled workers, you will likely need a Sponsor Licence. This applies regardless of whether the work is paid or unpaid.

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Table of contents

Key Takeaways

  • Getting a UK Sponsorship Licence is key for businesses to recruit skilled personnel from abroad. This licence enables you to issue Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for skilled or temporary jobs.
  • There are 2 main types of Sponsor Licences - 'Workers' Licence for long-term skilled roles; and 'Temporary Workers' licence for short-term or volunteer roles.
  • To get a Sponsor Licence, companies must meet certain rules. You need to operate legally in the UK, have strong HR systems, and keep detailed records. Not following these rules can lead to serious compliance issues.

What is a Sponsor Licence?

A Sponsor Licence enables UK employers to hire or retain foreign candidates and issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). This is essential for businesses who want to employ non-UK residents, and allows your company to sponsor individuals for skilled or temporary jobs in the UK. Without a valid Sponsor Licence, businesses cannot legally hire skilled workers from overseas who do not already have the Right to Work in the UK. As part of your company expansion strategy, it is important to prepare an application in advance.

One of the major benefits of having the UK Sponsorship Licence is that employers can open up a broader talent pool , which is particularly important in industries that require highly specialized skills. It allows you to seek crucial or specialist staff from both EU and non-EU countries, ensuring that you can find the right skills and expertise that may not be available locally.

With a sponsorship licence, businesses can:

  • Issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to skilled overseas workers, facilitating their entry and work in the UK.
  • Attract global talent, benefiting the business by enhancing its workforce.
  • Contribute positively to the UK economy by bringing in individuals who will drive growth and development.

Why hire QC Immigration to help?

Whilst the online application form is accessible, there are many important aspects to consider, such as preparing the right documentation, internal processes, job offer, and having the right systems set up to ensure good compliance. Our highly-experienced team at QC Immigration has helped many companies of all sizes and sectors to successfully obtain and maintain the Sponsorship Licence. With over a decade of solid track record, we can ensure that you get things right the first time, helping you save time and resources by managing the process for you.

Types of Sponsor Licences

There are 2 main types of sponsor licences available for employers: Workers licence and Temporary Workers licence. Each type caters to different employment needs and visa categories, ensuring businesses can sponsor the right type of worker for their specific requirements.

We may obtain a Sponsor Licence to include one or both types.

Worker Sponsor Licence

The Worker Sponsor Licence is designed for employers seeking to hire skilled international workers for short-term, long-term, or permanent positions. This licence provides flexibility in addressing the company’s staffing needs or business growth.

This Licence allows businesses to sponsor employees several specific visa categories, including:

  • Skilled Worker Visa: The job must meet specific suitability requirements (typically RQF level 3 or above) and candidates must meet the UK points-based system requirements, including minimum salary thresholds.
  • Senior or Specialist Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility): Popular with multinational companies that need to transfer employees to their UK branch. Also known as the Intra-company Transfer Visa.
  • Minister of Religion Visa: For individuals coming to the UK to work within a faith community, such as ministers, missionaries, or religious workers.
  • International Sportsperson Visa: Designed for elite sportspeople or qualified coaches who can make a significant contribution to the development of their sport in the UK.

Temporary Worker Sponsor Licence

The Temporary Worker Sponsor Licence enables UK employers to recruit international staff for short-term temporary roles, including volunteer positions. This helps organizations access a wider pool of talent to support their operations. This licence is ideal for roles needing skilled or specialist candidates without requiring long-term commitment.

Various visa categories fall under the Temporary Worker Sponsor Licence, such as:

  • UK Expansion Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility): For employees sent to the UK to set up a new branch or subsidiary of the overseas company. Previously known as the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa.
  • Creative Worker Visa: To work in the creative industries, as a performing artist, model, actor, dancer, film crew member or musician.
  • Government Authorised Exchange Visa: Supports short-term work experience such as training, research, language programme or or fellowship through a government-approved exchange scheme.
  • Graduate Trainee Visa (Global Business Mobility): As part of a graduate training programme involving work at the employer’s UK branch.
  • Service Supplier Visa (Global Business Mobility): To fulfill a service contract for a UK company, up to 6 or 12 months.
  • Secondment Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility): To transfer overseas workers for a different UK business, as part of a high-value contract.
  • Charity Worker Visa: For unpaid volunteer roles at charities, for up to 1 year.
  • Religious Workers Visa: To support the activities of religious institutions.
  • International Agreement Visa: To cover contract for work governed by international agreements or international law, for example employees of overseas governments.
  • Scale-up Worker Visa: For a fast-growing UK business to sponsor an eligible candidate for at least 6 months.
  • Seasonal Worker Visa: Allows temporary work in the poultry or horticulture sectors for up to 6 months.

All of these temporary categories are subject to their own set of Home Office rules and policies, which we can advise on during the application process to ensure your business chooses the right visa type for its specific workforce needs.

Eligibility Criteria for Sponsor Licence Application

Picture of a person marking eligibility checklist for UK Sponsor Licence

Genuine & Operating Lawfully

Sponsor Licence applicants must be genuine and lawfully operating trading companies in the UK with a physical presence. Your company must be bona fide entity, commonly a Public limited company (PLC), Private Limited company (LTD), Limited liability partnership (LLP), Sole Trader or other legal UK business structure. As a Sponsor Licence holder, the organization must adhere to the Sponsor duties and Prevention of Illegal Working.

Startups are eligible for a Sponsor Licence as long as you meet these requirements. QC Immigration has a long track record of working with early-stage tech and non-tech companies across all industries.

The Home Office recognizes that companies may operate a remote working model. This is allowed, however you may need to provide additional evidence to substantiate the need for to sponsor migrant worker in the UK.

Good Compliance History

Applicants must not have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering, nor have had a Sponsor Licence revoked in the last 12 months.

Monitoring and Management

You will need to show evidence of appropriate Human Resources and recruitment process in place to monitor sponsored workers and personnel to manage sponsorship in your business. The business must also demonstrate that it has suitable systems to manage the Sponsorship process, always act in accordance with UK employment laws and prevent illegal working.

Additionally, businesses must undergo a Genuine Vacancy Test to prove that the roles you are sponsoring make sense for the nature of business and existing jobs within the organization. This is to ensure that the Sponsorship is not misused and that there is a genuine business need for the skilled workers you intend to hire.

Suitability Requirements

Businesses must demonstrate honest and reliable operations with no unspent criminal convictions for serious offences like immigration fraud or tax evasion.

This suitability check ensures that the business and its Key Personnel are trustworthy and capable of fulfilling their Sponsor Duties without posing a risk to immigration control.

Genuine Business Need

To demonstrate a genuine business need, businesses must show that you intend to sponsor workers for eligible roles and provide evidence of a Genuine Vacancy that needs to be filled by a foreign worker.

The genuineness test ensures that the roles are appropriate for the type of business, its business case, and the scale of the organization. This often requires proof of the recruitment process and evidence that the role meets specific skill and salary requirements.

Turnover

There is no minimum turnover requirement for applying for a Sponsorship Licence. However, the level of turnover will impact the application fee, which is lower for businesses that qualify as a Small Sponsor, usually if you qualify under the small companies regime of the Companies Act 2006 and if at least 2 of the following apply:

  • your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less
  • your total assets are worth £5.1 million or less
  • you have 50 employees or fewer

Supporting Documentation

llustration of a person holding various documents for UKSponsor Licence documentation requirements

Type of Documentation

In most cases, you need to send at least 4 documents, depending on the Sponsor Licence route you are applying for, the type of organization you are and how long you have been operating in the UK.

Typical required documentation may include and not limited to:

  • Latest annual accounts
  • Proof of registration with HMRC as an employer for PAYE and National Insurance
  • HMRC VAT registration certificate
  • Corporate bank statements
  • Evidence of business premises in the UK (purchase or lease)

The specific documentation requirements are outlined in the Home Office's Appendix A guidance.

Covering Letter

There are additional requirements depending on the type of roles being sponsored. For example, if you are applying for a licence to sponsor Skilled Worker Visa or Minister of Religion Visa, you must provide:

  • An explanation of why you are applying for a Sponsor Licence
  • The sector you operate in
  • Your opening/operating hours
  • Contact details
  • Details about the jobs you wish to fill, including the following information for each job:
    • Job title and occupation code
    • Duties
    • Where the job fits in the organizational hierarchy
    • Minimum salary you would guarantee if the job were vacant today
    • Required skills, experience, and qualifications

This can all be covered in a covering letter which QC Immigration can draft on your behalf to ensure that your justifications are strong and compliant with the UK government's latest expectations.

Submitting Documents

To ensure your Sponsor Licence application is valid, you must send all required documents within 5 working days of submitting your online application. These must be sent along with the submission sheet, signed and dated by your Authorising Officer.

The Home Office may request to receive additional original or certified copies of the documents. In this event, you should send the documents by the stipulated deadline.

Key Personnel

Businesses are required to appoint Key Personnel to ensure the successful management and administration of a Sponsorship Licence. These individuals must be based in the UK and must not:

  • Be subject to any bankruptcy restrictions.
  • Be legally prohibited from being a Director.
  • Have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or civil penalties for employing illegal workers.

Key Personnel should be paid members of staff or office holders within the organisation. Their role within the business must allow them to be responsible for the Sponsorship process and fulfill their Sponsor duties.

Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities in the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) are as follows:

  • Authorising Officer: a senior company personnel responsible for the actions of staff using the SMS
  • Key Contact: serves as the main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Our Legal Representative at QC Immigration can also be nominated for this role so that we can help with your communications with the Home Office.
  • Level 1 & 2 Users: handles the day-to-day management of the licence using the SMS. Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) cannot be assigned to any close relatives or a partner. Our Legal Representative at QC Immigration can be your additional User to support your SMS tasks or reporting duties.

An optional Level 2 User can be appointed with restricted access compared to a Level 1 User. Issues with Key Personnel, such as past immigration violations or criminal convictions, can lead to application refusal.

Appointing Key Personnel

The Key Personnel must also meet the following criteria:

  • You must be based in the UK most of the time.
  • You must not be a contractor or a third party, but rather paid employee or office holder of the sponsoring organization.
  • Contractor or consultant contracted for a specific project cannot be appointed as key personnel.

Sponsor Licence Exemptions

There are circumstances where a Sponsor Licence is not required, but the requirements do change over time, and QC Immigration can advise you on how to ensure you comply with government regulations. Some examples where a Sponsor Licence may not be required include:

Settled Workers

A settled worker can work in the UK without sponsorship. This includes British citizens, individuals with Indefinite Leave to Remain, with Pre-settled or Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Additionally, people with pending valid EUSS applications, EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals employed before 30 June 2021, and British Overseas Territories citizens (excluding certain categories from Cyprus) also fall into this category.

Commonwealth Citizens

Commonwealth citizens with proof of the Right of Abode, including certain British Overseas Territories citizens, British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas citizens, British subjects, and citizens listed in the British Nationality Act 1981, are considered settled workers. This includes those with UK Ancestry Visas and anyone with Indefinite Leave to Remain (settlement) in the UK.

Workers Awaiting EU Settlement Scheme Decisions

If you're waiting for a decision on your EU Settlement Scheme application, you can still work without sponsorship if you have a Certificate of Application (CoA) proving your right to work. However, if your EUSS application and any subsequent appeals are refused and you cannot prove your right to work, the employment must stop.

EU, EEA, and Swiss Nationals Employed Before July 2021

If you employed EU, EEA, or Swiss nationals before 30 June 2021 and conducted the appropriate right to work checks at that time, you can continue to employ them without sponsorship. You do not need to conduct retrospective checks if the initial checks complied with the guidelines.

Irish Citizens

Generally, Irish nationals do not need UK work permission unless under a specific legal restriction such as a deportation order, an exclusion decision or an international travel ban. You can prove the right to work with an Irish passport or passport card.

How to Apply for a UK Sponsor Licence

Picture of a person navigating the UK Sponsor Licence application process with paperwork

Sponsorship Licence applications are made online via the goverment UKVI website. The application process requires careful and advance preparation to ensure the correct documentation steps are followed, and you are prepared for questions throughout the application process.

To become a Sponsor, a business needs to follow these steps:

1. Decide on Licence Categories

  • Determine which Visa categories/tiers you wish to include on your Sponsor Licence.

2. Assess Eligibility and Suitability

  • Ensure your business meets the eligibility and suitability criteria for each category/tier.

3. Setup the Required Systems

  • Make any necessary changes to your Human Resources or Hiring systems to comply with Sponsor requirements.

4. Appoint Key Personnel

Ensure you identify and appoint the required key personnel:

  • Authorising Officer
  • Key Contact
  • Level 1 User of the Sponsor Management System (SMS)
  • Level 2 User of the Sponsor Management System (SMS)
  • Legal Representative

5. Gather Supporting Documents

  • Collect all necessary documents to submit with your application. This includes proof of your business’s trading presence and compliance with Sponsor Licence requirements.

6. Request Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)

  • Decide how many Certificate of Sponsorship you will need for the foreseeable future, up to the first year of your licence.

7. Submit the Application

Complete the online application form via the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) and follow the submission process:

  • Pay the application fee and generate the submission sheet.
  • Sign the submission sheet, which must be done by the Authorising Officer.
  • Send the supporting documents to the Home Office within 5 days of submitting the application online or any other deadline provided.

Prepare for Home Office Visit

  • The Home Office may conduct compliance visits to check if businesses meet the Sponsorship Duties during the application process. These Pre-licence Audits can be either announced or unannounced and may include:During the visit, the Home Office official may interview Key Personnel and sponsored staff to ensure their job roles match the job description on their Certificates of Sponsorship. A failed compliance audit can result in refusal of the Sponsor Licence application.
    • On-site inspections
    • Interviews with key personnel
    • Review of documentation and records
    • Digital compliance inspections

Home Office Decision

  • The Home Office is to review your application and typically will issue a decision within 8 weeks. The employer will be added to the UK’s register of Licensed Sponsors if the application is successful.

Priority Service

There is a Pre-licence Priority Service available for a fee of £500 per request. Priority slots are limited and it may sometimes take several attempts to secure it, especially during busy periods. Application decisions are typically available within 10 working days, rather than 8 weeks as per the standard application. Nevertheless, this timeline may differ should the Home Office conduct an Audit or request further information during the decision-making process.

Sponsor Licence Fees

The type of licence and the classification of the sponsor as Small/Charitable or Medium/Large, influence the Sponsor Licence application fee.

Licence fees table according to type

To qualify as a Small Sponsor, you must be eligible under the small companies regime of the Companies Act 2006 and if at least 2 of the following apply to your business:

  • Annual turnover of £10.2 million or less
  • Total assets worth £5.1 million or less
  • 50 employees or fewer

Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)

Once you have a Sponsor Licence, you are then able to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to eligible foreign workers. The CoS is an electronic record that an employer (Sponsor) issues to a staff member (Applicant) to support their visa application. It shows that the employer is sponsoring the worker to come to the UK for a qualifying job.

Issuing a CoS does not guarantee the worker's Visa will be approve. Furthermore, before you can issue a CoS, you need to have received an allocation of CoS issued and available in your account. The number of CoS you can assign will be determined by the Home Office as part of your Sponsor Licence application.

There are two types of CoS - Sponsors must understand the difference between them and assign the correct one for each worker, as getting it wrong can lead to refusals resulting in losing the application fees and delayed timeline.

Defined Certificates of Sponsorship

  • Defined Certificates of Sponsorship (DCoS) are specifically for Skilled Worker visa applicants applying from outside the UK. The approval process for Defined CoS is typically swift, often within one working day. Occasionally, the Home Office takes several days or weeks to consider the DCoS application, if they need to conduct further verification.

Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship

  • Undefined CoS (UCoS) are necessary for visa applicants switching to a Skilled Worker visa within the UK and for other routes such as the Global Business Mobility Visas. Employers can assign Undefined CoS to workers through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) without needing to submit an individual application each time, until you use up the allocation.

Sponsor Licence Duties and Compliance

Monitoring and Reporting

After being granted a Sponsor Licence, employers must comply with all Sponsorship Duties, including monitoring sponsored employees and preventing illegal working. Adequate HR systems are essential for managing the sponsor licence.

Sponsors must report any significant changes, such as business ownership changes or if a sponsored worker stops coming to work, to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) within 10 working days in most cases. Failure to comply can result in severe consequences, including licence downgrading, suspension, or revocation.

It is the responsibility of Key Personnel to report updates or changes in the sponsored worker’s employment status to ensure compliance with Home Office requirements and avoid potential issues.

Record-keeping

Sponsors must maintain good records for 1 year after the Sponsorship of a Worker or student has ended. Records can be kept in either electronic or physical format.

Right to Work Checks

Businesses need to conduct a Right to Work check before the person starts working. Conducting follow-up checks shortly before the worker’s permission is due to expire is also required.

Resident Labour Market Test

While the formal Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) has been abolished, you must still justify how you have carried out a fair recruitment process demonstrating that you are not displacing a suitable settled worker.

Job Advertisements

Advertisements for each job advertisement you placed must be retained, which include

  • Job title
  • Job location
  • Main duties and responsibilities
  • Required skills, qualifications, and experience
  • Salary package or salary range
  • Application closing date

Salary Info

Keep copies of the Worker’s payslips and contracts, clearly showing:

  • Name
  • NI number
  • Tax code
  • Any allowances paid
  • Deductions made

Absences

Sponsors need to approve and record all employee absences, including sick days, vacation time, study leave, and travel abroad.

The guidance around record keeping does evolve and differ for different sponsorship routes. QC Immigration can help you ensure your records meet the latest requirements, which will include:

Renewing and Maintaining Your Sponsor Licence

Starting in April 2024, Sponsor Licences with an expiry date will receive an automatic extension to the validity up to 10 years, eliminating the need for renewal every four years.

Sponsor Licence Refusal and Rejection

Home Office Refusal

Picture of a two people reviewing a document marked with a cross for UK Sponsor Licence refusal

If the Sponsor Licence application is refused, there may be a cooling-off period before you can reapply, with the possibility of Challenging the decision in certain cases. The cooling off period differs depending on the reason for refusal - it may be 6 months, 1 year, 5 years or none if you used a Representative. The Home Office will outline the reasons for the refusal in a letter and we can advise on whether or not there is a case to appeal or re-apply after the cooling off period.

Common reasons for rejection include:

  • Previous immigration offences by the organization within the last 12 months
  • Failure to pass the genuineness test, where the need for a Sponsor Licence is doubted

Home Office Rejection

If an application is rejected due to unintentional preparation issues, rather than problems with the Sponsor Licence itself, there is no cooling-off period. Furthermore, a cooling-off period may not apply if a Representative submitted your application. This usually means you can reapply immediately. We frequently handle cases where DIY applications were rejected because the required documents were not properly prepared, as requirements can change over time.

Summary

Navigating the Sponsor Licence application process can seem daunting, but understanding each step and requirement can make it manageable. From the types of Licences available to the eligibility criteria, Key Personnel roles, application process, and Compliance duties, this guide has covered all the essential aspects.

By following this comprehensive guide, businesses can confidently apply for and maintain a Sponsor Licence, ensuring that you can hire the best talent from around the world. Embrace the opportunity to enhance your workforce diversity and contribute to the global talent pool.

QC Immigration specializes in guiding you through every step of the Visa Sponsorship process, ensuring you can hire the talent you need with confidence. We help you navigate the application process and have successfully helped clients achieve an A-rating full sponsor licence.

FAQ

For how long is an Employer Sponsor Licence valid?

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My sponsored employee is not following the conditions stipulated in their visa, what can I do?

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How can I obtain an Employer Sponsorship Licence?

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Can I withdraw a Certificate of Sponsorship?

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What happens to my licence if I get more than 2 B-ratings?

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How much does an Employer Sponsor Licence cost?

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