How to become an approved sponsor for UK work visas
Every UK based employer who wishes to
employ a skilled foreign worker from outside the European Economic Area (EEA)
and Switzerland will need to complete a sponsor licence application. The United
Kingdom runs a tier-based immigration system for work-related visas, and as
such, every visa in that category must fall under at least one of the available
tiers, which range from tier 1 to tier 5.
This article gives you everything you need
to know about how to apply for and get your sponsor application as a UK-based
employer as well as sponsoring a prospective non-EEA worker.
Types of Sponsor Licences
Sponsor licences fall under 2 different
tiers, which are Tier 2 sponsorship and Tier 5 sponsorship, and each of these 2
tiers consists of various subcategories. The type of job you are hiring a
worker for will determine which sponsor licence you will apply for.
Tier 2 Sponsor Licences
The Tier 2 sponsor licence application is
required for long-term skilled workers. If granted, the foreign worker will be
able to stay and work in the UK for at least 3 years, and a maximum of 5 years.
There are 4
subcategories under the Tier 2 visa. They are:
Tier 2 General: This is for
non-EEA foreign workers coming to the UK to fill shortage occupations or other
Tier 2 Sportsperson: This is
for elite sportspersons and coaches whose employment will make a tremendous
impact on the development of their sport at the highest level in the UK.
Tier 2 Minister of Religion: This
is reserved for non-EEA religious officials coming to the UK for preaching and
pastoral engagements. The applicant could be a missionary or member of a
religious order who will be taking up a role within their faith community in
Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer:
This is for multinationals transferring their employer to their UK branch
either for training purpose or to fill a vacancy within the organisation that
cannot be filled by a UK or EEA worker. It can be based on short, frequent
visits to the UK or on a long-term basis. The foreign branch must have a
qualifying affiliation to the UK branch by way of ownership or control. There
are 2 subcategories under the Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer, namely:
Long Term Staff:For employees who have
been working with the organisation for at least 12 months preceding their
transfer application to the UK branch. Successful applicants can stay and work
in the UK for up to 5 years. The visa also allows some more flexibility for top
earners in their professions.
Graduate Trainee: For newly recruited
recent graduates being transferred to a UK branch for training purpose. The
applicant must be coming to the UK for a maximum period of 12 months.
Tier 5 Sponsor Licence
The Tier 5 visa is meant for skilled
workers coming to the UK for temporary employment. It has many subcategories,
Tier 5 – Charity Worker: For
those coming to the UK to do a voluntary/unpaid job and have a certificate of
sponsorship from a qualified UK charity organisation. The visa is issued for up
to 1 year.
Tier 5 – Creative and Sporting:
For internationally established or top-rated applicants coming to the UK for
sporting or creative activities, such as musicians or actors and have a certificate
of sponsorship from a qualified UK employer. Qualified applicants can stay in
the UK for up to 2 years.
Tier 5 – Government Authorized
Exchange: For those coming to the UK through an approved government authorised
exchange programme for work, academic research, training, and to partake in an
Overseas Government Language Programme.
Tier 5 – Religious Worker: For
those with religious-related job offers by a UK-based religious order, such as
preaching or working in a convent or monastery. They may stay and work in the
UK for up to 24 months or 28 days more than the time on their certificate of
Tier 5 – International
Agreement Visa: For those with a job offer that is covered by international
law. Examples are diplomatic household and embassy workers, workers under the
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and other related services. They
must have a certificate of sponsorship from a qualified organisation.
Tier 5 – Youth Mobility Scheme:
This is for workers aged 18-30 from certain countries
who wish to enter the UK to work for up to 2 years. This scheme is a
replacement for what used to be Working Holiday visa.
What You Will Need to Prove When Applying for Sponsor
Sponsor Licence Application is a fact-based
process – meaning the onus is on you as an employer to prove your eligibility
for it. Many Sponsor Licence Applications are refused yearly due to lack of
convincing supporting evidence from applicants. You can avoid this by providing
Proof That Your Business is Eligible for Sponsor Licence
The UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) has
certain requirements for every employer applying for a sponsor licence. To be
eligible, your organisation must meet the following criteria:
There must NOT be a history of
failing to carry out sponsorship duties.
There must be an appropriate
system in place to monitor sponsored workers.
There must NOT be an unspent
criminal conviction for immigration offences and other criminal cases, such as fraud.
Requirements for Getting a Sponsor Licence
UKVI has the prerogative to determine
whether or not an organisation meets the requirements for sponsorship licence.
While there is no stipulated size or years of existence a company must attain
to get the licence, it is expected that the business is operational and there
is a UK based person UKVI can reach for questions necessary information during
the application process.
In addition, the company must have a
genuine need for sponsoring a non-EEA employee. In other words, there must be
unavailability of a UK settled worker to fill the position. To ascertain that
an organisation meets the requirements, UKVI Home Office may conduct a sponsor
licence audit either during the application process or after the licence has
Things You Must Know and Prepare before You Submit the Application
To avoid delay or refusal of sponsorship
visa application for your employee, you will need to follow the guideline for
the application process. The following are what you need to observe before
submitting the application:
Choose the Appropriate Type of Sponsorship Licence
You will need to specify the exact category
of migrant worker your business is looking to sponsor, which could be any of
the subcategories within the Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa.
Appoint Your Sponsor Management Staff
Before the commencement of the application,
ensure that you have someone or a group of people who will perform the sponsor
management roles, which are:
Level 1 User
Prepare and Submit Your Application
You can then proceed to the UKVI online
application platform to begin your application process. The online application
is a straightforward process that will only take you about less than an hour to
complete. Once you are done, you will need to print out it out and send to
UKVI. You will also need to include appropriate supporting documents along with
your application to the following address.
Sponsor casework operations
Sponsor applications team
UK Visas and Immigration
PO Box 3468
Resident Labour Market Test
Before an employer can sponsor a migrant to
fill certain vacancies in their organisation, they must first conduct a resident
labour market test to determine whether a UK worker is available for the
position. The test is done by advertising the job for at least 28 days and in
at least 2 different adverts, which can be in a continuous period or in 2
This is to demonstrate to UKVI that after
making the offer open for the stipulated period, you could not find a suitable
UK worker, hence the necessity to sponsor a migrant worker for the position.
While not all jobs require advertisement, you must advertise any position in
the following categories:
Tier 2 General
Tier 2 Minister of Religion and
Tier 5 (Religious Workers) unless the position is a non-essential one or it
will involve living within a religious order
Tier 5 Creative and Sporting
Document Checklist for Sponsorship Application
The required supporting documents for each
application will depend on the vacancy you are to fill, and the nature of your
business. However, these documents will play a huge role in determining the
success of the application. For this reason, it is important to gather those
documents that will strongly support your case. In most cases, you will be
required to provide at least 4 documents.
For example, if you are sponsoring an
applicant for a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) or Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting Worker),
you will need to provide a copy of the endorsement letter from the governing
body for your sport, which has been approved by UKVI. The endorsement must
include the reference number of the governing body. If you are sponsoring an
applicant for Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) or Tier 5 (Religious Worker), you
must provide information about you which must include:
Which religion or faith you
Details of your parent
organisation and the connection you have with them (where applicable)
A hierarchy chart showing the
position you are in the hierarchy (where applicable)
Other Supporting Evidence
You may also need to provide more documents
Proof that you have employer’s
liability insurance cover worth at least £5m from an authorised insurer
Proof of your listing on the
London Stock Exchange main or Alternative Investment Market (AIM)
Proof of your listing on one of
the Financial Conduct Authority that has the approval of international stock
Proof that you are registered
with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as self-employed
Current audited report or
financial report with the name of the accountant clearly shown. The accountant
should have a membership with an accredited accounting body, such as the
Association of Consulting Actuaries (ACA)
Proof that you are registered
with the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as an employer to PAYE and National
Insurance. You will provide proof of PAYE Reference Number & Accounts
Office Reference Number.
Latest acknowledgement of a
Company Tax Return CT620, or completed CT600 tax return and the CT603 notice
Evidence that you have the
required planning permission to operate your type of business at your trading
address (if this is required by the Local Authority)
Evidence of submitting returns
to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) – Foreign Entertainers Unit
Proof of listing as an overseas
company on the London Stock Exchange International Companies listing
Keep in mind that the above documents are
required on a case-specific basis – meaning you will only need to provide the
ones that are applicable to your case. Factors that determine the appropriate
evidence includes how long your business has been in operation.
For instance, businesses trading for less
than 18 months are regarded as start-ups by UKVI, and as such may need to
provide certain documents that aren’t required from the long-existing
Similarly, those who operate charity,
franchise or other entities that are subject to monitoring, inspection or
regulation may also need to submit documents relating to their type of
organisation. This UKVI
webpage provides detailed guidance on required evidence for all Tiers and types
They must be submitted within 5
They must be original
The Home Office may also accept
You will also need to pay the
appropriate application fee.
Document Submission Procedures
Most sponsor licence applications must be
supported with at least 4 pieces evidence which must be in the form of
documents. Some of these documents must be sent to UKVI while some will simply
be checked online without you having to send them. There is a time limit for
the documents to be sent – failure to do so within the stipulated time will
lead to refusal of your application.
Documents You Must Send and Documents for Online Checks
The nature of your business will determine
those documents you must send to UKVI and those they can verify online, as well
as the total number of the documents required. For instance, while some
organisations only need a total of 4 pieces of evidence, some will need up to
A Registered Charity Organization Applying for Tier 2 Sportsperson
This example will require 3 documents you must
send to UKVI and 1 online check, making a grand total of 4 pieces of evidence,
following the description below:
UKVI will need evidence of your charitable status. They can check this online.
This will count as one piece of evidence.
Compulsory Documents to Send
of your endorsement from the governing body in
charge of your sport will be required. You must send them the appropriate
document. This will count as one piece of evidence.
Other Documents to Send
You will then need to choose 2 pieces of
evidence from Table 4in this link. This will
count as 2 pieces of evidence. By the time you add to the above 2 pieces of
evidence, you would have the required 4 pieces of evidence.
NOTE: For every online check, UKVI may verify the evidence with the appropriate
governing body provided your organisation is registered with the body from
which the evidence is needed. Or if you have the required information on your
website, they may also use that as a source.
Requirements for Certifying a Document
If you are sending a certified document,
you must observe the following.
The person certifying the documents must be:
A practising barrister
A chartered legal executive
A chartered accountant for
certification of financial documents only.
The person must NOT be:
Living at the same address with
Related to you
In a personal relationship with
Employed directly by you
The person must confirm the certified copy of the document following
the instructions below:
Write 'Certified to be a true
copy of the original seen by me' on the document.
Sign the document with date
Print their name under the
Add their occupation, address
and telephone number.
UKVI Verifies Genuineness of Your Documents
Both online-based and sent documents may be
verified for details, genuineness or correctness:
With issuing organisation, such
as banks, professional bodies and universities
With other departments of the
After the verifications, there are 3
possible outcomes, which are:
Confirmed to be genuine: If
UKVI confirms your document to be genuine, they will consider your application
Confirmed to be false: If they conclude
that the document is false, they will refuse your application.
Check inconclusive: If they are
unable to conclude whether or not a document is false or genuine, they will not
use such a document as evidence, they may ask you for further supporting
How is the UKVI Sponsor Licence Audit Conducted?
UKVI will carry out the audit by sending a
team to visit your business premises to evaluate whether your organisation has
all it takes to be a licenced sponsor. This visit can be announced or unannounced,
and it is done to determine 3 key points, which are:
Whether your organisation has
appropriate HR system required to manage migrant employees
Whether the position the
organisation is trying to fill is genuine
Whether the organisation is a
genuine entity and understands its responsibilities as a licenced sponsor
Sponsor Licence Application Fees
The fees for sponsor licence application
vary, depending on the type of licence you are pursuing and the size of your
business, whether you are a large, medium, or small organisation.
Licence Tier Small/Charitable Medium or Large
Tier 2 £536 £1,476
Tier 5 £536 £536
Tier 2 & Tier 5 £536 £1,476
Adding a Tier 2 to an existing Tier 5 No fee £940
Adding a Tier 5 to an existing Tier 2 No fee No
NOTE: You are categorised as a small
business if you have fewer than 50 employees and less than£10.2m turnover year.
Processing Time for LIcence Application
After submitting your application, you will
likely receive a decision from UKVI within
8 weeks. According to UKVI, 8 out of 10 applications are processed within
that timeframe. That said, certain circumstances may arise that will lead to
longer processing time. It is best to factor in the possibility of such delays,
and start your application process on time.
Understanding Sponsorship Management Duties
You will need to appoint some people within
your organisation to manage the sponsorship application process when you apply
for a licence. Your appointees will use the government-designated online system,
known as the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) to perform their tasks. Below
is the description of each of the appointed persons and their roles:
Authorising Officers: A
competent senior personnel who will be responsible for the actions of your
staff members and representatives who use the SMS.
Key Contact: The company’s main
point of contact with the UKVI
Level 1 User: To be responsible
for the day-to-day management of the company’s licence using the SMS
NOTE: The above roles can be occupied by the same person or different
people. You can also decide to appoint an optional level 2 user after getting
your licence. The level 2 user will, however, have more restricted access to
the SMS compared to the level 1 user. For instance, a level 2 officer cannot
withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.
Sponsorship Management System (SMS)
System (SMS) is a UKVI online system used by employers for all matters
relating to visa sponsorship for employees. As an employer, you will be given
access to this system once your sponsorship licence application has been
approved. You can use it to conduct every sponsorship management roles, which
include issuance or certificates of sponsorship, replacing authorising officers
or users, and reporting of duties.
Eligibility Criteria for Sponsorship Management Roles
You and your appointed sponsorship
management team must meet the requirements for the roles above. If any of you
is found wanting, that will affect your chances of getting the licence.
According to UKVI, you may not get your licence if anyone involved in the
An unspent criminal conviction
Violated the law
Failed to pay VAT or other
Been reported to UKVI
Been fined by UKVI in the past
Once held a ‘key person’
position at a sponsor that had its licence revoked in the last 12 months.
In addition, you and your appointed staff
must also meet the following requirements:
Must be based in the UK most of
Must not be subject to a debt
relief restriction order (DRO) or bankruptcy restriction order (BRO) or
Must not be a consultant or
contractor contracted for a specific project. They must usually be paid members
of staff or office
Must not have a history of
non-compliance sponsor requirements
Sponsor Licence Rating
sponsor licence can have either A or B rating.
After your application is approved, your
organisation will be issued an A-rated licence and will also be listed in the
UKVI register of licenced sponsors. The A rating indicates that UKVI has
verified and confirmed that you have the systems in place to meet your sponsor
If after the licence has been issued, UKVI
finds that you are unwilling or unable to continue to continue to meet those
duties, or there is evidence of immigration abuse, they may downgrade your
rating from A to B. If this happens, you will lose the authority to issue new
certificates of sponsorships until you have shown improvements and upgraded
back to A-rating.
Upgrading from B to A rating will require
you to follow an ‘action plan’ and this will cost you £1,476. The fee must be
paid within 10 working days of receiving information about the downgrade.
Failure to do so means you will lose your licence.
Sponsor Licence FAQs
are the duties of a licenced sponsor?
As a licenced employer, you will work with
UKVI to ensure the immigration system is not abused. As such, you will be
carrying out 2 major duties, which are reporting
duties and record keeping duties.
do the duties start and end?
Your duties start the very moment UKVI
grants your licence and end if you surrender your licence or UKVI revoke it.
happens in the event of takeover or de-mergers?
If takeover or de-merger happens and some
of your sponsored migrant workers moved to a new organisation, you must report
the change to UKVI, suing the SMS within 20 days. You must include details of
the migrants that moved to the new organisation. If you are left with no more
sponsored migrant, you will have the options of surrendering your licence or
retaining it, using the change of circumstance form on the SMS.
If you surrender your licence, you will
need to reapply to get another one if you need to sponsor an applicant in the
future. But if you retain it even with no sponsored migrant, though UKVI will
reduce your CoS allocation to zero, you will still be able to use it if the need
arises in the future.