As a business in the UK, you want to be able to hire the best people for the job – wherever they are in the world. A sponsor licence, previously known as a Tier 2 sponsor licence, is the ideal way to access talent from across the globe. If you have employees that need to enter the UK via the Skilled Worker route for their visa, you will need to hold the relevant sponsor licence to do so.
As experts in all areas of UK immigration law, Optimus Law is uniquely placed to offer you support and guidance for your sponsor licence application. With offices in Birmingham, Liverpool and London we are perfectly placed to support a wide range of businesses in applying for and acquiring sponsor licences, from charitable organisations to small businesses to large-scale companies.
If you are considering applying for a sponsor licence, our specialist team is here to help. Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can support you through your application. For more information about sponsor licences, how they work, and what you need to provide, read on below:
What We Can Do For You
We will make sure you submit all the needed documents. We will ensure you select the right Sponsor licence type. We will prepare and organise the application. We will also assist your business to implement the Sponsor Management System. Additionally, we will help you carry out the resident labour market test. This test is necessary if the job your business is offering is not on the shortage occupation list. Our legal team will confirm that you carried out every step of the recruitment process. Lastly, we will provide you with the appropriate legal advice depending on your circumstances.
Contact us for expert help on the Sponsorship Licence application process.
A sponsor licence is a specific licence that UK businesses need to hold to hire skilled workers from overseas. This sponsor licence is a requirement for companies in the same way a skilled worker visa is a requirement for employees – both parts must be fulfilled for that individual to live and work in the UK. Your sponsor licence allows you to apply for a certificate of sponsorship for specific employees, ensuring their time working in the UK is legal and in line with immigration requirements.
Once you have been approved for a sponsor licence, you will be able to hire people from anywhere else in the world. Post-Brexit, the same rules apply to workers from any country outside the UK, including from anywhere within the EU. Your sponsor licence will last for four years initially and can then be renewed for an extension as many times as you require.
You may have heard the term ‘Tier 2 sponsor licence’ used when considering whether a sponsor licence is the right option for your business. While the terms are often used interchangeably, the guidance for the sponsor licence changed in line with new immigration rules in December of 2020 – which in turn remove the Tier 2 component of the sponsor licence.
This change is primarily due to the replacement of the Tier 2 visa route with the new skilled worker visa route. With the skilled worker route requiring a set number of points for approval, the sponsor licence wording and process have been altered according to these new conditions. It’s vital that you follow current guidelines for skilled worker visas and sponsor licence applications post-December 2020.
If you would like to hire employees from overseas on skilled workers visas, you’ll be required to hold a sponsor licence as a company to do so. Under the new UK vias and immigrations rules, it’s a requirement that workers from anywhere in the world work at a company with a sponsor licence in place. This makes it your legal requirement as a business to ensure you’re following these rules and hiring responsibly in line with immigration laws.
Whether you are hiring an individual permanently to the UK or you’re hiring temporary skilled workers temporarily under specific subcategories, you’ll be required to have a sponsor licence in place ahead of time. You’ll need to wait for approval of your sponsor licence before you begin the hiring process with overseas skilled workers. You will also need to ensure your licence remains in date for as long as you have individuals working on a skilled worker visa within your company.
The primary advantage of a sponsor licence is widening your hiring net and seeking talented, skilled employees from abroad. With the result of Brexit leading to reduced hiring opportunities, seeking a sponsor licence can enable you to access specialist, skilled workers in the EU and worldwide.
When you apply for a sponsor licence, you’ll generally apply for a specific category and then one or more subcategories. In many cases, you will be able to change the worker subcategories you apply for at a later date. These include:
Worker sponsor licences
Standard worker sponsor licences cover all types of long-term, skilled workers who can work in the UK for three years or longer. Typically, this is through the skilled worker route, though other specialist visas may apply. Worker sponsor licences include:
This is the standard route for the skilled worker visa, enabling skilled employees to work in your UK business from anywhere in the world. This particular method is the most common form of worker sponsor licence. The skilled worker category was previously known as the Tier 2 General route and can lead to settlement for the employees undertaking this visa route.
Previously known as Tier 2 ICT, the intra-company transfer route applies to employees working in the UK within the same international company. This is typically a branch or office of a large global brand or organisation. To be eligible for this route, the employee must either have a salary that exceeds £73,900 or employment for more than a year within the same organisation. ICT is a specific subcategory as it cannot lead to settlement.
For overseas employees going through a graduate training programme, the graduate trainee route may apply. This is a variation on the standard ICT approach, allowing trainees to work at a UK branch or office regardless of lower salary. Only three months of employment with an overseas company is required for this specific route.
Qualified coaches and professional sportspeople cannot be sponsored under the standard sponsor licence and skilled worker visa route. They must be sponsored under the dedicated sportsperson visa route as a subcategory (formerly Tier 2).
Minister of religion
Much like sportspeople, ministers and missionaries in pastoral roles can live and work in the UK under the minister of religion route. This route also applies to senior positions. Religion-based positions in teaching, administration or media production at a faith organisation do not apply and should be sponsored under the standard skilled worker sponsor licence.
Temporary workers sponsored licences
Alongside the long-term sponsor licences, you can acquire, you may also seek temporary worker sponsor licences. These shorter-term licences are designed for skilled workers in temporary roles. You can apply for any of the following subcategories of temporary worker sponsor licences:
Creative and sporting
Entertainers or artists may live and work in the UK for up to two years, while sportspeople can stay for up to one.
Charity workers can work in the UK for up to one year.
Religious workers can live and work in the UK for up to two years.
An international agreement may be the preferred option for a sponsor licence for work that applies under international law. If you’re unsure whether you meet the requirements of an international agreement, speaking to an expert legal team is the best place to start.
Government authorised exchange
Individuals coming to live and learn in the UK under a government authorised internship or programme will follow the government authorised exchange visa route. As a business, you’ll need to provide the correct sponsor licence for this route.
You can apply for your sponsor licence online through the Gov.UK website. However, before you start filling out any forms, you’ll first need to ensure you have all the necessary documents required to complete your application successfully. You will also need to make sure your business meets the specific eligibility requirements and that you have the funds available to complete your application.
Once you have gathered all the necessary information, you can complete your application online and submit all required documentation. Depending on your application, you may then receive an on-site compliance visit from the Home Office. In other cases, you’ll need to wait from the date of your application to see whether your business has been approved with no additional intervention.
If you’re unsure whether you’re ready to apply for a sponsor licence, seeking help from UK immigration specialists can provide the guidance needed. With extensive experience in sponsor licence applications and all areas of UK immigration, we can offer mock audits and guidelines of what you need to do to meet the necessary criteria. We can also support you in ensuring all the correct paperwork is in place for your application. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.
We’ve covered all you need to know about applying for your sponsor licence below:
Before you begin your application for your sponsor licence, it is highly recommended that you check your business meets all requirements and criteria for a successful application. If you meet the necessary measures and can provide documentation to prove your eligibility, you are far more likely to be approved for a sponsor licence the first time. Here are the requirements you’ll need to meet:
The eligibility criteria for your sponsor licence application are relatively easy to prove with the correct documentation to hand. The primary eligibility requirement the Home Office needs is that your organisation trades lawfully in the UK and has a UK presence. This presence could be a single office or multiple branches.
Depending on your case, you may need to apply for multiple licences for each branch. We’ve covered everything you’ll need to provide to prove your eligibility in our section of documents below. This evidence is then used as one of the primary ways to determine whether your application passes eligibility requirements or falls short.
Suitability is a less precise measurement and is a general assessment based on whether the Home Office deems your business to be dependable, reliable, and honest. You’ll need to show you can meet the specific responsibilities required of sponsors and be capable of maintaining those high standards throughout your time as a sponsor. In essence, suitability is about trusting you to do your duties as a sponsor – which we’ve covered in greater detail further on.
To prove your suitability, the Home Office will look at all of the below to make their final determination:
- Whether your business has the necessary recruitment and HR systems in place to meet sponsorship duties and requirements
- The results of unannounced checks made on your business to examine whether sponsor duties follow Home Office requirements
- Whether genuine vacancy requirements are met, as detailed below
- Recent criminal convictions of any key employees and personnel within the business
- Past evidence of non-compliance as a sponsor
Why do you need to prove your suitability? Based on the Home Office’s current approach to sponsorship, you must take responsibility for ensuring the immigration system isn’t abused or manipulated.
As you benefit from access to skilled workers from every corner of the globe, UK Visas and Immigration want to ensure you can be trusted to handle that responsibility. Failure to do so can lead to consequences for your business and the overseas workers employed by you.
Genuine vacancy is a crucial requirement for your application and one that shouldn’t be overlooked when you apply for your sponsor licence. The Home Office will determine whether you’re offering genuine vacancy under the skilled worker route as part of your application. This means that the skill and salary required meets the specific thresholds defined by that particular worker route.
As part of the genuine vacancy eligibility process, the Home Office wants to ensure that the role or roles that require sponsorship are genuinely needed. They will examine the current structure of your business, business types and the amount of time that role requires presence within the specified workplace. However, the presence-related part of the assessment may change in the future due to increased levels of remote working in businesses worldwide.
If you are an extremely small business with just one or two employees, the Home Office may examine your genuine vacancy requirements in more detail – including an on-site visit. It’s worth noting that close relatives cannot be sponsored as skilled workers. This includes parents, children, spouses, and siblings.
At a minimum, you’ll need to submit four documents as part of your sponsor licence application. The exact nature of the documents will depend on numerous factors, including the size and type of your business. Some of the documents that may be suitable for your submission include:
- Proof of your business premises ownership or lease
- Evidence of registration for VAT
- Liability insurance of at least £5 million through an authorised employer insurer
- Proof of your registration with HMRC, such as PAYE and your Accounts Office Reference Number
- The latest audited accounts for your business (or unaudited if you are not legally obliged to do so)
- Your three latest business bank statement
- Proof of registration to a regulatory body for monitoring and inspection if required
- A covering letter offering detailed information about your business
- An up-to-date hierarchy of the senior employees and owners within your business – for companies with under 50 staff, every employee should be named and titled.
If you are choosing to apply for an intra-company sponsor licence, you will also need to submit evidence of the ownership of your UK company by an overseas organisation.
Preparing these documents ahead of time can be an excellent way to speed up your application process. On application, you’ll be advised of the specific documents you’ll need to submit. In some cases, the Home Office may come back to you to ask for further evidence or documentation.
If you need support in collating documentation or you’d like more insight into specific documents the Home Office may request from your business, Optimus Law can help. Our highly trained team can support you in ensuring all your documents are in place and ready for your application. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.
When you apply for a sponsor licence, you’ll need to pay a set fee for every renewal. The amount you pay will depend on whether your business is classified as a small or a medium to large organisation.
If your business falls into the medium or large category, the standard for many organisations, you’ll need to pay a £1,476 sponsor licence fee.
If you are a small business, your fee will be a reduced £536. To meet the small business threshold, two or more of the following should apply:
- An annual turnover at or below £10.2 million
- Company assets valued at or below £5.1 million
- 50 or fewer employees
Charitable organisations that are registered in the UK are also classed as small businesses.
An immigration skills charge also applies for employees on both skilled worker and intra-company transfer visas.
For small businesses, based on the threshold above, this cost is £364 for the first twelve months and £182 for each additional six months.
For medium to large businesses, this is £1000 for the first year and £500 for every six months after.
In addition to your standard sponsor licence fee, you’ll also need to pay for each Certificate of Sponsorship you assign. This is £199 for a worker certificate or £21 for a temporary worker certificate.
If you complete your application successfully, you are then trusted by the Home Office to hire employees from abroad. This means you can assign Certificates of Sponsorship to the applicant or applicants you’d like the hire, which in turn allows them to complete the visa process.
Once your sponsor licence is in place, you’ll be able to hire from abroad for the next four years, with renewal at a later date. However, you may also be subject to visits and inspections from the Home Office to ensure you remain in compliance and meet their rating requirements. You will be automatically awarded an A-rating on approval, the highest rating possible as a sponsor. We’ve covered the sponsorship licence rating system in detail below.
A Certificate of Sponsorship is a document that confirms that you, as an employer, would like to employ someone from overseas to work in the UK. The certificate is a requirement in the visa process and allows your business to sponsor a specific migrant worker. This creates a unique reference number that is included on the skilled worker application or any other relevant visa application.
There are two types of Certificates of Sponsorship available to businesses that hold a sponsor licence:
A defined Certificate of Sponsorship is a specific certificate you apply for to sponsor an individual skilled worker. You need to identify the person you’d like to sponsor to access your certificate. Typically, the Home Office will aim to reach a decision within one working day, though additional information may be required depending on the individual case.
Previously, defined Certificates of Sponsorship were known as restricted certificates. With new regulations and requirements, some of the limitations of this system have been removed. For example, you no longer have to submit all requests for certificates by the 5th of the month. There is also no upper limit on the number of certificates you can request, which was a common limitation of restricted certificates in the past.
Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship are an annual allocation that you can request each year before the 5th of April roll-over. If you have plans to extend the leave of existing workers from overseas, or you are considering hiring someone who needs to switch their visa category, an undefined certificate is the ideal solution. Much like a defined certificate, you’ll need to justify and explain your need for each undefined certificate before it is approved.
If you miss the deadline for undefined certificate renewal or you need to increase your allocation beyond what you’ve already requested, you may need to wait up to 18 weeks for processing. Priority services are available if you need a faster processing time, at the cost of £200.
Your sponsor licence is immediately valid from the point of approval for four years. When you are close to the end of your fourth year, you’ll be provided with the opportunity to renew your sponsor licence again to extend your validity. However, if you fail to meet Home Office standards or your sponsorship duties, your licence may be suspended, revoked, or not renewed.
As a UK business with the ability to legally hire skilled workers from abroad, you’re expected to meet specific standards and carry out certain duties. These duties are centred around record-keeping and reporting, ensuring all information is accurate and keeping UK Visas and Immigration in the loop of any changes or relevant information.
Your sponsorship duties can be split into two categories:
Keeping clear and accurate records is a requirement of your sponsorship duties. You should have copies of all of the following:
- The identification page of your employee/applicant’s passport
- Any passport pages that show visa information and entry stamps into the UK
- Immigration status documents for the UK if not included in the passport
- A complete copy of the biometric residence card of the individual
- The contact details of your employee or applicant
- A copy of the employee/applicant’s National Insurance Number
Additional documentation may be required depending on the circumstances of your business and the individuals you are hiring.
In addition to holding clear records, you also hold a duty to report any of the following directly to UK Visas and Immigration:
- If a sponsored hire doesn’t show up on their first day at the workplace
- If a sponsored hire is absent for ten or more consecutive working days without granted permission
- If a sponsored hire has resigned or been dismissed from their role, ending their employment
- If registration with a governing body or other regulatory body has ended if required for their UK role
- If you no longer sponsor your past hire for any reason, such as changes to their immigration route
- If there are significant differences in the sponsored hire’s work, such as a substantial pay rise, change of job, or promotion
- If you have information suggesting a sponsored hire is breaching their leave conditions
- If you have information suggesting a sponsored hire may be engaging in criminal activity or terrorism – this can also be reported to the UK police
When you successfully apply for a sponsor licence, you will be awarded the highest possible sponsor licence rating: an A-rating. This indicates that the Home Office trusts you to comply with their requirements and meet your duties as a sponsor.
The rating system provides the Home Office with a way to gauge whether your policies and procedure remain at the same high standard over time. Reassessment can happen at any time, and compliance visits allow the Home Office to determine if your business is up to scratch with no notice. As such, it’s a must to maintain your required duties, processes, and practices to the highest standard year-round.
Here’s what each rating means:
An A-rating is the standard for the sponsor licence rating system. This means you are in line with Home Office requirements, and there’s no need for improvement or remedial action at this time. Consistently receiving an A-rating makes your business appear more trustworthy to the Home Office and ensures you can continue to hire from abroad.
A B-rating is a rating your business receives if you miss the mark on Home Office compliance. You are required to complete a specific action plan in a set amount of time to restore you’re a-rating. This action plan is a one-off cost of £1,476. If you fail to follow your action plan during this window, your licence will be revoked. You’ll also be unable to issue Certificates of Sponsorship until you return to an A-rating.
If compliance is entirely absent or other serious issues arise, the Home Office may choose to revoke your licence immediately without an action plan first.
While the speed of this process may vary depending on a range of factors, the average time from application to approval of your sponsor licence is around eight weeks. If you require a faster decision, the Home Office offers a limited fast-track service at an additional £500 cost. However, only a set number of these applications are granted per day, so this option may not be available to you as standard.
If the Home Office refuses your sponsor application on legitimate grounds, a six-month cooling-off period applies. You will not be able to re-submit your application, regardless of whether you improve your internal practices and processes. Working with a specialised UK immigration solicitor can help you reach the best possible outcome to avoid disappointment and enhance your chances of approval.
If you feel your sponsor licence was unfairly refused, you can work with our expert legal team to submit a pre-licence error correction. If this, in turn, is denied, you will not be able to submit another application within the cooling-off period.
There is a range of reasons why a sponsor licence may be refused. One of the most common causes is a slow response – for example, the Home Office requesting additional documentation that is not sent within a specific time frame. Another reason for refusal could be if your company has previously held a sponsor licence that was revoked.
Making the incorrect payment can also be another key reason you may be refused an application. It’s important to understand whether you fall under the small business category to ensure you make the correct payment the first time. Falsified documents are also a serious concern, and you should always ensure the documentation you submit is legitimate before you send your application off.
Finally, your sponsor licence may be refused if you fail any of the Home Office’s eligibility criteria. Anything from issues with the suitability of key personnel to a failed compliance visit or not meeting the requirements for the genuineness test can be a reason you fail.
To acquire a Sponsor licence, you cannot have a history of failing to do your duties as a sponsor. If you are a first-time applicant, you must have no unspent criminal convictions for criminal activities such as money laundering or fraud. Lastly, you need to ensure that you monitor all sponsored workers using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
As a Sponsor licence holder, your company needs to carry out its responsibilities.
You need to ensure that:
- Your foreign employees have the necessary accreditations, qualifications, and skills to function in the positions given to them. You must keep a record of all the documents.
- Only qualified employees are assigned certificates of sponsorship;
- You inform the Home Office of sponsored employees’ activities that do not comply with the terms of their visa.
- You need to monitor the employees using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
For education providers, you need a Tier 4 Sponsor licence. You need to sponsor only students on a long course of study. Students on short courses do not need sponsorship.
Are you on the path to getting a spouse visa and are unsure how to proceed? Bringing your partner to live with you in the United Kingdom is exciting and challenging and will be much easier with the full support of professionals. Optimus Law are expert immigration lawyers, skilled in all areas of immigration law.
We know that your case is unique, but with our vast range of experience, we will know exactly how best to support you to get the best possible outcome. Get in touch with us to take advantage of our skills and expertise, reducing your chances of rejection and taking the stress out of your spouse visa application.
Are you ready to take the next step? Let us know how we can help you today.
Choose Optimus Law
Choose Optimus Law for professional support on your sponsor licence application
Are you planning to apply for a sponsor licence? The team at Optimus Law are the experts when it comes to all areas of UK immigration for businesses. Get in touch with our specialist team today to discuss how we can get you on the right track for your application. We provide the support you need to complete your sponsor licence application to the highest standards, from mock audits to professional guidance. Call today or fill out our contact form, and we’ll get back to you.
Our Clients Say
If you are still not sure about choosing us, hear from our clients themselves.
Robina is a very reliable, helpful and experienced immigration solicitor in our area. I had a successful appeal with my Tier 1 applications with the help from Robina.
I’ve loved my experience with Optimus Law. Very friendly staff, easy to talk with, they follow up with you and keep you updated! And surely I will keep using their services.
I required a premium service application to bring my spouse to the UK in time for Christmas and the team at Optimus Law were great. Managed to do everything well before expectation. Professional service would recommend Robina to anyone!!