- How does sponsorship work?
- What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?
- Sponsor Licence eligibility
- Types of sponsorship licences
- The Sponsorship Management System
- SMS management staff
- Sponsorship ratings
- The Resident Labour Market Test
- Sponsor Licence application fees
- Sponsorship Licence renewal
- Can my licence be suspended?
- Licence revoked: what to do
- Licence application refusal
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to get a Sponsor Licence?
Businesses that are based and operated in the UK might need a sponsor licence to employ international workers under Tier 2 and Tier 5 point-based visas. This includes unpaid and seasonal work.
When hiring foreign nationals, companies need to pass the Resident Labour Market Test, meaning that businesses must first look for applicants among the domestic workforce.
However, jobs included on the Shortage Occupation list can be offered directly to non-UK employees.
It must be noted that sponsoring a foreign worker does not guarantee that he will be allowed to enter or stay in the UK. Employees will first need to submit a valid application for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 Visa, depending on their situation.
How does sponsorship work?
Companies interested in employing foreign workers must request a sponsor licence using the online form. The application process includes:
- Completing and submitting your application online;
- Paying the correct fee;
- Providing proof that you are a genuine business based and operating in the UK;
- Showing evidence that you meet all the eligibility criteria;
- Choosing which tiers you wish to be licensed under, based on the categories of workers you need to hire.
Once obtained, the licence is valid for 4 years. The UKVI will keep monitoring your ability to comply with your duties as an employer throughout the validity period of your licence.
What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?
A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is not a paper certificate, but a virtual document that is assigned to eligible international workers.
To qualify, applicants must have received a valid job offer from a licensed sponsor in the UK.
When applying for a work visa, the migrant must quote the CoS reference number. This holds all the information about the role, the UK-based employer, and the duration of the contract between the two parties.
Getting a CoS is mandatory for all foreign nationals who wish to enter the UK under any visa of the points-based system.
Sponsor Licence eligibility
To be eligible for a sponsor licence, businesses must be operating in the UK. Most importantly, they need an appropriate system to monitor their international employees.
As a part of their application, UK employers must prove that they do not have:
- Unspent criminal convictions for crimes such as fraud or money laundering;
- Broken UK immigration law at any point;
- Any history of failing to carry out their sponsorship duties.
To evaluate your case, the UKVI may need to visit your business facilities and speak with your employees. By doing this, the Home Office will be able to establish that you:
- Are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK;
- Are dependable and only employ reliable personnel;
- Are capable of carrying out your sponsorship duties;
- Can offer legitimate employment with appropriate rates of pay to your workers.
Types of licences
Based on your company’s needs, you can apply for a licence covering either Tier 2 or Tier 5 workers. You can also request a licence covering both tiers.
The Tier 2 Tier is for skilled workers who wish to remain in the UK for an extended time or permanently. It is targeted at highly skilled employees as well as ministers of religion and sportspersons.
Multinational companies which need to transfer their workers to one of their branches in the UK can also apply for this permit.
Foreign nationals can apply for a Tier 5 If they want to work in the UK temporarily. This tier includes creative, charity and religious workers. Besides, it can be used for applicants seeking a temporary working experience in the UK under the Youth Mobility Scheme, or any other Government Authorised Exchange.
Tier specific eligibility criteria (Tier 2)
Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer
To sponsor migrants under this visa, you must show a direct link of ownership or control between your overseas and your UK-based branches. The UKVI also needs to ensure that there is a genuine vacancy for any international worker before it accepts your licence application.
To be eligible, you must be a bona fide religious organisation or an ecclesiastical corporation that is structured as a faith-based community with a shared system of beliefs and spiritual goals.
Creative and Sporting Visas
To be able to sponsor international workers, you must be a sporting body, sports club or event organiser. Agents are not able to issue CoS for job applicants.
Most importantly, before you apply, you must have an endorsement from the Home Office, approved by the governing body of your specific sport.
Tier specific eligibility criteria (Tier 5)
To apply for a licence, you must be registered as a charity organisation, unless you are a religious corporation established for charitable purposes.
To be eligible, you must be an organisation operating in the creative sector. This includes agents, producers, event organisers and national bodies.
Government Authorised Exchanges and International Agreements
The existing Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) schemes are listed in the Immigration Rules. They must all be endorsed by a government department and administered by a single sponsor. To avoid the proliferation of unnecessary GAE schemes, the UKVI has set strict guidelines for companies. This includes showing proof of why the programme is necessary and what its benefits would be for your sector and the UK.
Companies who wish to employ workers of overseas governments or international organisations will need an International Agreement licence.
What happens after you submit your application?
If your application is successful, you will receive a licence rating. At this point, you will finally be able to issue certificates of sponsorship for suitable international workers.
Your licence will be valid or 4 years. After this time, you can apply to renew it and extend any existing Cos. However, you may lose your permit at any time if you fail to comply with your responsibilities as a sponsor.
What is the Sponsorship Management System?
The Sponsorship Management System (SMS) is a software that lets you carry out your daily business activities as a licensed sponsor. You can also use it to report any changes to the UKVI and to assign new CoS to job applicants.
You need to regularly access your SMS to review your licence details, manage your international workforce duties, and keep up to date with any changes that may be coming up.
Appointing your sponsorship management roles
Once you get your licence, you need to select some members of your staff to manage the sponsorship management system (SMS). Your employees must be covering the following roles:
- Authorising officer. This is a senior role, responsible for the action of the other members of the staff. This person will also be the leading representative using the SMS.
- Key contact, who will manage communications between your company and the UKVI.
- Level 1 user, who is responsible for the daily management of the licence through the SMS.
Eventually, you can appoint a level 2 user, with limited access to the SMS, to support the other sponsorship management roles.
These roles can either be filled by the same person or different members of your staff.
How to choose your SMS management staff
You and your chosen staff members will be checked to ensure that you are suitable for using the SMS. To be eligible, you and your team must be based in the UK and not:
- Have any unspent criminal conviction;
- Have been fined by or reported to the UKVI in the past 12 months;
- Broken UK immigration law;
- Be a close relative or partner of the business owner;
- Have covered a key role for a company that had its licence revoked in the last 12 months;
- Be subject to a bankruptcy restriction order.
You must employ at least one level 1 user who is chosen among your employees. However, you can also have another level 1 or an additional level 2 users from a third-party organisation contracted to provide your company with HR services.
What are the sponsor ratings?
When evaluating the suitability of your application, the UKVI will use a scoring system to decide whether to grant you a licence.
An A-rating is awarded to companies who are first granted a licence and have demonstrated their ability to meet their sponsorship duties. However, if the UKVI finds evidence that you are not reliable, you will be downgraded to B-rating.
Your rating usually applies to all the tiers and categories in which you are registered. It is based on:
- Your human resource system, to check and identify your job applicants’ eligibility to remain and work in the UK;
- Any convictions or civil penalties held by you or your key personnel;
- Your current migrant compliance, if you are already employing foreign workers;
- Your ability to offer genuine employments which meet the skill level and appropriate salary criteria.
What is the Resident Labour Market Test?
Licensed sponsors who wish to recruit a skilled worker from abroad must first complete the Resident Labour Market Test. This means that you must prove that there is no settled worker available in the UK to fill that position.
To this end, you must advertise the job in at least two different places for a total of 28 days, and keep records of any applicants from within the UK.
The Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List
The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of roles for which there are not enough resident workers to fill these vacancies. Jobs on this list do not need to be advertised before you can hire a Tier 2 highly skilled worker.
It must be noted that, although nurses are listed on the shortage list, sponsors will still need to complete a Resident Labour Market Test.
What are the Sponsor Licence application fees?
You will be charged for:
- Your initial licence application;
- Applying for renewing or extending your licence;
- Assigning each CoS.
The fee for a sponsor licence depends on the size of your company. Charity and small organisations may be subject to a different regime.
It must be noted that your fee will not be refunded if your application is rejected.
What is the Immigration Skill charge?
You may have to pay an additional charge for each foreign worker that you employ under either a Tier 2 General or Intra-Company Transfer visa. The fee applies to migrants who are applying to work in the UK for 6 months or more, and it is based on the size of your organisation.
If you fail to pay this additional charge, your CoS will be invalid, and your worker’s application will be delayed or rejected. On the other hand, if the job applicant leaves after the first year of employment, you can request a partial refund for any unused 6-month period of leave.
How do I apply for a Sponsor Licence renewal?
As a general rule, you can apply to renew your licence up to three months before it expires. You must submit your request through the SMS, and pay your fee (which will vary, based on the size of your company).
You will periodically receive communications from the UKVI to remind you to extend your licence.
You need to renew your licence only if you want to continue to employ foreign workers legally. If you no longer wish to sponsor migrants and have no international employees working for you, you can also surrender your licence through your SMS account.
Can the UKVI suspend my licence?
The UKVI might decide to suspend your Sponsor Licence in one of the following circumstances:
- You did not keep accurate records of your international employees;
- You failed the Resident Labour Market Test;
- You did not inform the Home Office of any major change in your business;
- You employed illegal workers, who don’t hold the right to remain in the UK;
- There are discrepancies with your licence.
What happens if my licence is revoked?
When revoking your licence, the UKVI will:
- Immediately curtail your migrant workers’ leave to stay, if they are believed to be involved in the reasons for the revocation of your licence;
- Curtail the permission to remain in the UK to any other employees who are not directly involved to up to 60 calendar days;
- Automatically reject any pending Tier 2 or Tier 5 applications that you have sponsored;
- Cancel the right to remain of any job applicant who has already been granted entry clearance in the UK but has not yet travelled to the country.
If your licence is revoked, you must wait until the end of the cooling-off period before you can submit a new application.
My licence application is refused. What can I do?
There is no right of appeal against the refusal of a sponsor licence application.
Once you receive a rejection letter, you must wait 6 months until you can submit a new request.
However, if you believe that the decision is due to a caseworker error or any mistake with your supporting evidence, you can submit an “Error correction request form”.
This must be sent within 14 days from the date of your refusal. To receive professional assistance in this process, you can seek help from one of our immigration lawyers in London.
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Every licensed sponsor must comply with specific duties, set by UK immigration law, which are:
- Preventing any abuse of the assessment procedures;
- Do not discriminate any of your migrant workers;
- Report any employee behaviour that may cause concern;
- Monitor compliance with Immigration Rules;
- Keep up-to-date records of your international workforce.
Companies do not have to complete a Resident Labour Market Test if:
- The job is listed on the Shortage Occupation List. However, this only applies to migrants working for 30 hours a week.
- The international workers are entering the UK as Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer applicants.
- The worker is applying for a Tier 2 Visa extension for the same job or a position under the same category.
- The migrant is already in the UK under a different leave to enter or stay at the time of his application.
- The applicant has already been granted permission to stay in the UK on a Tier 4 Visa.
- The applicant is seeking to switch his immigration status to a Tier 2 General from a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur or Post Study Work Visa.
- The salary for the job will be at least £159,600.
- The sponsor is a higher education institution hiring a worker who is going back to his position after a period of academic leave.
- The worker is a doctor or dentist doing speciality training in the UK.
After 5 years of lawful residence in the UK, any eligible Tier 2 migrant can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. If this is the case, you will need to support the application with evidence. You should write a letter confirming:
- Your willingness to employ the applicant for the same job, and that he will be needed for the foreseeable future;
- Any authorised period of absence of this person from the UK for work-related purposes;
- The migrant’s regular salary. You also need to confirm that this wage is not expected to be reduced once the migrant has been granted ILR.
One of your responsibilities as an employer is to check if each job applicant is allowed to work in the UK. Before issuing a CoS, you must:
- Check the applicant’s original documents;
- Make and keep copies of the migrant’s record;
- Check the employee’s right to work and live in the UK online, if you are provided with a reference number.
If the migrant is unable to show any document because of an outstanding visa application, you must ask the UKVI to check the employee’s immigration status. Before you can employ the migrant, you must wait for a Positive Verification Notice from the Home Office.
If your foreign employees’ right to work is time-limited, you will need to recheck their documents when they obtain a visa renewal.
If you employ someone who does not have the right to work in the UK, you will get a “referral notice”. This means that your case will be considered and, if found guilty, you might have to pay a civil penalty of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker.
You may face severe legal consequences if you employ foreign workers who:
- Do not have leave to enter or remain in the UK;
- Are not allowed to do specific types of jobs;
- Have provided incorrect or false documents.
If you have several branches in the UK, you can either:
- Apply for a single licence that includes your head offices and all your subsidiary locations;
- Require a separate licence for each branch.
When applying, the UKVI will ask for evidence that your head office is linked to any branch listed in your forms.
If your head office has its licence suspended, the revocation will apply to all your branches. Besides, you will not get a licence for your subsidiaries if your main location has had its licence revoked or downgraded to B-rating.