Sponsor Licence Guide is split into the following sections:
- Sponsor Licence Introduction
- Overview of sponsor licence application process
- Brexit Points System Sponsor Licence Update
- Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Sponsor Licence
- Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer or both
- Sponsor Licence Business Requirements
A UK employer that wishes to sponsor overseas workers in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa, Intra-Company visa and certain Temporary work visa schemes, must have a valid sponsor licence. The sponsor licence is granted for four years and enables the UK employer to obtain certificates of sponsorship to sponsor each overseas worker. To be able to apply for a sponsor licence the UK based organisation needs to have started trading in the UK, with one or more people already resident in the UK to fill the three sponsor management roles. The person filling the sponsor management role of level 1 user, one of the three roles, needs to be a UK permanent resident or UK citizen. If the business has started recently it may be an idea to include additional documentation in the Home Office application, to show that the business is viable. Longer established businesses are likely to find it easier to obtain a sponsor licence.
The sponsor licence application process is complicated with many applications being rejected every year due to errors – such as failing to provide the correct documentation and information required, or failing to provide a satisfactory response to queries from the Home Office – meaning lost working hours and repeat applications. Employing someone on a UK work visa is expensive, with various Government fees having to be paid. Therefore, mistakes can turn out to be very costly.
In many cases, if the application is refused you will not be able to apply for a sponsor licence again for the same company for six months, if not longer. If the application is rejected at an initial stage, because not all the necessary documents were provided you should be able to immediately apply for another licence. The usual process in applying for a sponsor licence application is as follows:
1. Make sure that the business can provide the documentation that you need and you are likely to be able to sponsor the relevant people:
If the business is already trading in the UK you should be able to provide the necessary documents. Typical documents that are provided are employers liability insurance, bank statements, evidence of PAYE registration, link to annual accounts, VAT certificate, etc. Out of the list of documents mentioned in the online application you need to provide four documents. You also need one or more people resident in the UK to fill the key personnel roles in the sponsor management system. The level 1 user in the sponsor licence application needs to be a UK permanent resident or UK citizen. Make sure that the people you are likely to want to sponsor will be paid a high enough salary and meet the English language requirements and gain enough points.
2. Submit your online sponsor licence application:
It is probably best to make sure that you have all the relevant information and documentation ready before you submit the online application for a sponsor licence. Once you complete the online form you submit and pay the sponsor licence fee of £536 for smaller companies and charities, or £1,476 for larger companies. The authorising officer (one of the key personnel roles) then needs to sign, date and tick the submission sheet. Please note that the signature needs to be a "wet ink signature". That is a signature in the hand of the authorising officer. You then have five working days in which to send all the relevant documents to the Home Office. You have until before midnight on the fifth working day following submission to submit the documents via email.
3. email all the relevant documents with a detailed letter to the Home Office:
You should send all the documents together with a detailed letter to the Home Office via email. Since the COVID-19 outbreak started it is no longer necessary to send documents in the post. Ideally, documents should be sent in pdf format to the Home Office. JPEG and PNG format is also accepted. It should be easy to tell from the file name what the contents of the file are. The file title should not be more than 25 characters long. The application process may take about two months. There is limited availability of the ten working day pre-licence priority service.
Some employers, a number of weeks after initially applying for a sponsor licence, are being asked a long list of questions by the Home Office, before a sponsor licence can be approved. Answering the questions is likely to be difficult and time consuming for most employers. If the questions are not answered with relevant supporting documentation provided within seven days, then the application is likely to be refused. The sponsor licence and Skilled Worker visa route is the most popular method of entry to the UK for migrant workers. The alternatives to a UK work visa with a UK employer sponsor with a sponsor licence are somewhat limited, and in reality, in most cases are not feasible.
Since the new post-Brexit points system was introduced on 1 December 2020 far more people, including those at lower skill levels starting from RQF Level 3 (about equivalent to A Levels) can come under the Skilled Worker visa system. The new Skilled Worker visa replaced the previous Tier 2 visa scheme. It is important to make sure that the proposed UK visa applicant gains enough points. In some cases the Skilled Worker visa applicant will need to take an English language test approved by UKVI to gain enough points. There is no English language requirement for the intra-company transfer visa category, so this may be worth considering in some circumstances.
Intra-Company Transfer visa applicants cannot usually apply for indefinite leave to remain at the end of five years in the UK. Intra-Company Transfer visa holders can since 1 December 2020 switch to the Skilled Worker visa category, and then in most cases be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain towards the end of five years under the Skilled Worker visa category.
Due to the COVID-19 situation, it was decided that documents could be emailed to the Home Office for a Sponsor Licence application, instead of original or certified copies of documents being sent. It looks as if this has now become a welcome long term change to the procedures for applying for a sponsor licence. Also in many cases Skilled Worker visa applicants that previously had to leave the country and apply from abroad, can now due to current travel restrictions, make applications from within the UK.
For visa applicants in the UK who have applied for a Skilled Worker visa before their visa expired, and are waiting for a decision you can start work immediately for the employer, if the Certificate of Sponsorship was assigned before 19 January 2021. In addition, Health and Care visa applicants who applied before their visa expired, can start work for their new employer irrespective of the date that the CoS was assigned. This is a temporary measure due to the current COVID-19 situation and possible delays in processing visa applications.
There are various types of Sponsor Licence. The Skilled Worker visa sponsor licence and Intra-Company Transfer sponsor licence are needed to bring in skilled workers into the UK on a long term basis. The Skilled Worker visa also allows medium skilled workers into the UK as well as higher skilled workers. The employer can apply for both types of sponsor licence at the same time, or apply for them at different times. The advantage of the Intra-Company Transfer sponsor licence compared to the Skilled Worker version, is that there are no English language requirements to transfer employees to the UK. However, unlike the Skilled Worker visa category, the Intra-Company Transfer visa does not usually lead to indefinite leave to remain in the UK. The Intra-Company visa category is much less popular than the Skilled Worker visa category. Since the Resident Labour Market Test requirement was removed for all types of applications, many applicants now think there is little point in applying for the Intra-Company visa scheme.
Since the new UK visa points system and the new Skilled Worker visa, which replaced the Tier 2 visa scheme, it is no longer necessary to do the Resident Labour Market Test. However, in many cases, to be able to deal with queries from the Home Office, it may be a good idea to advertise the vacancy anyway, or have details of the person that you wish to sponsor. It was never necessary under the Intra-Company Transfer visa scheme. On 6 October 2019 ahead of Brexit the number of occupations in the Shortage Occupation List was greatly expanded. it is now easier for Engineers, IT staff, chefs, and more people in healthcare occupations to gain entry to the UK.
Workpermit.com's team of visa experts can show you how to obtain a Sponsor Licence by meeting all the conditions of your Sponsor application first time.
There is no requirement that the business in the UK needs to be at a particular size to apply for a sponsor licence, or that it should have been trading for any particular period of time. The business should be operational, and there should be someone resident in the UK and available, to deal with any queries from UK Visa and Immigration at the Home Office. Newer businesses are in practice likely to be scrutinised more by the Home Office, and so additional questions may be asked by the Home Office before a sponsor licence is granted. Since the pandemic, there has been a big increase in home based businesses that have obtained a Sponsor Licence. Not having a separate office should be less of a concern these days.
In practice, the business would probably have say one or more people already working in the business. There are also three sponsor management roles that will need to be filled for the sponsor licence application. The three positions are authorising officer, key contact and level 1 user. All the people who you wish to appoint to sponsor management roles need to already be living in the UK, and have some sort of status in the UK that allows them to take on the sponsor management roles. Additional requirements for the level 1 user, is that the person needs to be either a British citizen or a permanent resident of the UK. Temporary residents of the UK may be able to take on the other sponsor management roles. You can have one person to fill all the key personnel roles or different people for each role.
The Level 1 user has access to the sponsor management system and cannot assign CoSs to themselves, close relatives or a partner. Therefore, if you wish to employ a relative or partner, when applying for a sponsor licence it may be best to appoint a level 1 user who is not a relative of the person that you wish to employ. The following are classified as being a relative or partner:
- a spouse or civil partner
- an unmarried or a same-sex partner
- a parent or step-parent
- a son or step-son
- a daughter or step-daughter
- a brother, step-brother or half-brother
- a sister, step-sister or half-sister
- a nephew, niece, or cousin
- an aunt or uncle
- a father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law
There should be a genuine need for the visa employee. The employee sponsored on an UK work visa cannot be a Level 1 User for the Sponsor Licence with the ability to assign Certificates of Sponsorship for visa employees.
Probably for very small businesses employing only one or two staff or for new business, there is a bigger risk that UK Visas and Immigration at the Home Office may wish to visit you before granting a Sponsor Licence, or send you a long list of additional questions to answer before considering your sponsor licence application further.
Once the sponsor licence application is approved the business will appear on a publicly available register of sponsors. In order to sponsor applicants, the employer will need to remain on the register of licenced sponsors with UK Visas and Immigration at the Home Office. As mentioned already the registration process can be quite difficult. The employer will need to submit an online application and provide a number of documents via email, in order to apply for a Sponsor Licence, and must accept a considerable number of responsibilities as a Sponsor once the sponsor licence is approved.
Due to the coronavirus situation, you can send copies of documents via email within five working days of submitting the online application. In many if not most cases employers make mistakes when submitting documents to UK Visa and Immigration. The documentation requirements as stated in published UKVI guidelines are confusing and difficult to understand. Please see below details of typical documents required for a Sponsor Licence application.
In most cases you will need to have at least four of the following (as before accounts can be provided via a link to the Companies House site) to be sent via email to the Home Office:
1) Lease or rental agreement for office premises can be provided (if relevant). All signatures should appear in this document.
2) Business bank statements. Perhaps over three months. As an alternative, you can provide a letter from a UK bank setting out the dealings it has had with you, including the nature and duration of those dealings.
3) VAT Certificate. Currently, it is acceptable to login using your business HMRC account details, download the VAT certificate, and then send it via email to the Home Office.
4) HMRC document (could be a web page) confirming that the business is registered for PAYE and National Insurance Contributions. The document should include both the PAYE Reference Number & Accounts Office Reference Number. It should be possible to obtain this by logging into the HMRC account for your business.
5) Latest Annual accounts. It is usually acceptable just to have a link to the accounts on the Companies House site.
6) Employers liability insurance certificate (cover of at least £5 million).
7) Latest acknowledgement of a Company Tax Return CT620, or as an alternative the completed CT600 tax return together with the CT603 notice.
You need a minimum of four documents from the list of documents in the online Sponsor Licence form. It may be possible to provide alternative documents in some cases.
In addition, you should provide the following documents:
1) Long covering letter from the employer or representative providing additional information for UK visas at the Home Office.
2) You must provide an up to date hierarchy chart detailing any owner, director and board members. If your business has 50 employees or fewer, then all employees need to be listed including the names and titles of all staff. If you have details of the position that you wish to be filled by the visa applicant this should also be in the hierarchy chart.
Other documents that may be relevant include curriculum vitae of person who you wish to hire, job description, job adverts (may be needed if you do not currently have details of who you wish to employ), pages from the business website and other sites, qualifications of the applicant and documentation relating to the occupation to be filled by the applicant.
The covering letter may look better as a signed letter on business headed paper. Just an email to the Home Office is also acceptable. The letter and documents should be sent, most likely via email, after the online sponsor licence application has been submitted. The main points to mention in the letter or email to the Home Office are as follows:
1) Why are you applying for a sponsor licence? - Provide some details of the business and the type of people that you wish to sponsor.
2) What sector do you operate in? Select from one of the options from the online form.
3) Business Website: Ideally, you should have a website.
4) Business landline telephone number: You do not need this. However, if you do not have a landline number you should briefly explain why not.
5) What is your opening/operating hours during the week? Put down the days and times when the business is open during the week.
6) Job Title and Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code? You can find this in the Skilled Worker occupation list.
7) Duties included within the Position? Put a job description here. May also be worth sending a longer job description in a separate file to the Home Office.
8) List of directors and employees and where each job sits in the hierarchy of the company? This may all be included in the hierarchy chart.
9) Salary you would guarantee for each job if it were vacant today? Look at the Skilled Worker points system and make sure that the salary is high enough.
10) Skills, experience and qualifications required for the job? Think very carefully about what is needed for the job. Many jobs do not require you to have any qualifications.
11) Details of recruitment methods used: Please provide details of adverts and other methods that have been used to fill the vacancy. This may turn out to be more significant if you currently do not know who you wish to sponsor.
12) Names of all the people who have access to the email address supplied with the online sponsor licence application. Only the person with the relevant sponsor management role should have access to his or her email account.
13) Potential Candidate Information. If relevant, provide the following details.
date of birth
Current immigration status
The sponsor will need to assign the applicant a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) before the sponsored skilled worker can apply for leave to enter the UK, or remain in the UK, under a visa. The Certificate of Sponsorship is confirmation by the employer that they wish to employ a visa migrant and that the employee will be paid at the salary as stated in the CoS. The employer will meet their obligations under the visa system. It is easier if the employer wishes to employ someone currently based in the UK who is able to switch to a visa from within the UK. In most cases visa applicants who can apply from within the UK for a visa need an undefined CoS. If the visa applicants need to apply for a visa from outside the UK, then the employer will need to apply for a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship. UK visa applicants also need to make sure that they gain enough points under the UK work visa points system. Please note that there are very specific English language requirements to come under the Skilled Worker visa scheme.
The Sponsor has a number of record keeping and reporting duties for the applicants that it sponsors.
1. Record Keeping Duties:
Typically you will need to retain copies of the following. There may be additional documentation depending on the circumstances.
Copy of the identification page of the applicant's passport.
Any pages of the applicant's passport showing visa and entry stamps to the UK.
UK immigration status document if not in the passport
Copy of Migrants Biometric Residence Card
Migrant's contact details
Copy of the Migrant's National Insurance Number
2. Reporting Duties:
UK Visas and Immigration must be informed of the following:
If a sponsored migrant does not turn up for his or her first day of work
If a sponsored migrant is absent from work for more than 10 consecutive working days, without the sponsor's reasonably granted permission
If a sponsored migrant's period of employment has ended as a result of the migrant resigning or being dismissed
If any registration that the sponsored migrant needs to work in the UK (such as with a governing body) is ended
If the sponsor stops sponsoring the migrant for any other reason (eg if the migrant moves into another immigration route that does not require a sponsor)
If there are any significant changes in the migrant's circumstances (eg change of job or salary excluding annual pay rise)
If the Sponsor has any information which suggests that the migrant is breaching the conditions of his or her leave
If the Sponsor has any information which suggests that the migrant may be engaging in terrorism or other criminal activity (The Sponsor must also pass any such information to the Police).
One of the changes under the new points system is that there are now no restrictions on shareholdings for Skilled Worker visa applicants, and so business owners can now more easily come under the Skilled Worker visa category. Previously, Skilled Workers were limited to a ten percent shareholding unless they were paid at least £159,600 per year or applied under the Intra-Company Transfer visa route. The business will firstly need to be established and trading in the UK before it can sponsor a business owner or someone else. You should appoint someone, perhaps on a part-time basis, who is already resident in the UK to take on roles for the sponsor licence.
workpermit.com's team of UK Sponsor Licence and visa experts can help with Sponsor Licence applications in the following ways:
A consultation to determine if a sponsor licence application is the best choice for your business
Completing and checking your sponsor licence application online form.
Managing and submitting all the appropriate supporting documents for your Sponsor application
Preparing a lengthy and detailed covering letter dealing with the additional information required
Guidance on your employment and HR practices to make sure they comply with UK Visas and Immigration's Sponsor conditions
Advice on passing UK Visas and Immigration tests and site visits– both before and after your Sponsor application
Workpermit.com's team of specialists has over thirty years of experience in international visa services, and have helped thousands of people to study and work in the UK. We work in conjunction with OISC registered advisers who can submit your UK sponsor licence application and visa application to UK Visas and Immigration at the Home Office.
For more information and advice on UK immigration law and UK visa applications please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Frequently Asked Questions:
Should you apply for a Sponsor Licence?
If you are an employer and wish to employ overseas skilled workers then it is likely you will need a sponsor licence. You need to have a sponsor licence to employ Skilled Worker visa and Intra-Company transfer migrants full-time. Since after 2020 and the end of the Brexit transition period, you will likely now need a sponsor licence to employ newly arriving EU migrants. Since 1 December 2020 many more medium skilled people can also be sponsored under the sponsor licence scheme. Irish nationals are in the Common Travel Area and so can continue to work freely in the UK.
How long will it take to obtain a Sponsor Licence?
This will vary enormously. However, in most cases the sponsor licence is granted within about two months. It seems in practice very small businesses with say one or two staff and new businesses face a bigger risk of being asked a long list of additional questions, or being visited by the Home Office before a sponsor licence is granted, and so processing times in these cases may be longer. There is a priority service for a Government fee of £500 that will provide a response within ten working days. There is a limited availability of only ten applications a day for the priority service, and so in practice it may be difficult to come under the priority service.
What are the basic requirements for a Sponsor Licence application?
Usually a business that is already trading in the UK should be able to provide the necessary documents. You need to have at least one person (perhaps on a part-time basis) already resident in the UK that can be trusted completely who will take on roles for the Sponsor Management System such as level 1 user, authorising officer, and key contact. When applying initially for a sponsor licence, the level 1 user needs to be a UK permanent resident or a British citizen. Typical documents that are provided include proof of PAYE registration, employers liability insurance document, bank letter or statements and rent agreement.
Should you apply for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence or Intra-Company Transfer Sponsor Licence?
If you wish to have the option of employing the visa applicant permanently on a long term basis it would probably be best to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. Intra-Company Transfer visa holders usually need to switch to a Skilled Worker visa to eventually be eligible for indefinite leave to remain. Skilled Worker visa holders can in many cases apply for indefinite leave to remain at the end of five years in the UK. You do have the option of applying for both types of sponsor licence at the same time.
Can a business owner come under the Sponsor Licence and Skilled Worker visa scheme?
The good news is that since the Skilled Worker visa scheme replaced the Tier 2 visa scheme on 1 December 2020 there is no longer any restriction on shareholdings. Previously, under the Tier 2 visa scheme, you were restricted to a ten percent shareholding unless the salary of the sponsored worker was at least £159,600 per annum. Perhaps in some circumstances, a business owner may choose to come under the Skilled Worker visa scheme instead of say the Innovator visa, Start-Up visa or Sole Representative visa. The other options may be too difficult to come under. However, in most cases employers will have to bear the expense of paying the immigration skills charge to employ Skilled Workers. You should at least have a trading business in the UK and someone already resident in the UK to take on Sponsor Management role responsibilities.
Do you need an office to obtain a Sponsor Licence?
This is not strictly necessary. If you do not have a separate office, it may be an idea to set aside some space at home for the business. You could also find a cheap virtual office. The Government anyway, since the COVID-19 pandemic, have been encouraging people to work from home. It is important that the business has at least started trading, even if it is at a very minimal level.
Do you need to employ someone in the business before applying for a Sponsor Licence?
In practice you will need someone in the UK who has responsibility for the Sponsor Management System for the sponsor licence. The person could be an UK or Irish citizen, or temporary or permanent resident and must be able to legally take on a sponsor management role. In most cases you need to have one person who is a UK permanent resident or UK citizen to be the level 1 user. The person should have some sort of position in the UK business such as say a director or employee. The person does not necessarily have to be on the payroll and does not have to work full-time for the UK business.
Can you sponsor relatives once you have a Sponsor Licence?
Business owners can employ relatives if they wish to. However, great care should be taken to make sure that you meet the specific requirements for sponsoring relative. If you are the level 1 user for the sponsor licence you cannot assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a partner or a close relative. The solution to this problem is to apply for a sponsor with a level 1 user who is not a relative of the person that you wish to sponsor, or after you are granted a sponsor licence apply for a second a level 1 user that is not a relative. The level 1 user and the level 2 user are the only sponsor management roles that have access to the Sponsor Management System. Those that are counted as being relatives and partners is quite wide-ranging, and include parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws. A business owner or somebody else in the UK business can employ relatives, as long as the person assigning the Certificate of Sponsorship in the Sponsor Management System is someone else. If a CoS is being assigned to a family member of someone in the organisation, then a sponsor note should be added via the Sponsor Management System confirming this.
How many people can you sponsor using the same Sponsor Licence?
You can theoretically employ an unlimited number of people during the four year validity period of the sponsor licence. Under the Skilled Worker visa scheme, you need to meet the Skilled Worker visa points requirement, obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship for each Skilled Worker visa applicant and pay the relevant Government fees. The main requirements for an Intra-Company Transfer visa are a bit different to the Skilled Worker visa, with a salary requirement of £41,500 per annum in most cases and a smaller number of skilled occupations that qualify. It will most likely remain the case that the Skilled Worker visa category will remain much more popular than the Intra-Company Transfer visa. You should also make sure that you comply with your obligations as a sponsor licence holder. If you do not do so, you could lose your sponsor licence.
What requirements does the Skilled Worker have to meet?
The Skilled Worker visa applicant to be sponsored by the employer needs to gain at least 70 points under the Skilled Worker points system. The requirements under the Intra-Company Transfer scheme are different and in many cases current overseas employees in a skilled role with a salary of £41,500 per annum or more will qualify. Typical examples of a Skilled Worker meeting the requirements are as follows:
- UK sponsor offers a job.
- Job on the Skilled Worker occupation list
- Has a degree taught in English, or passed an English language test verified by UKVI or is from an English speaking country.
- Salary for the job is at the going rate or £25,600, whichever is higher.
Salary is at the new entrant rate which is seventy percent of the going rate or £20,480, whichever is higher. In most cases this is for students applying in the UK and those under 26 years of age.
Someone on the Shortage Occupation List being paid £25,600 per annum, or at least eighty percent of the going rate, whichever is higher.
There are also many other situations where the UK work visa applicant will meet the points requirement.