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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 skilled positions.

- 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 the UK.

- 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, which are:

- 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 sponsorship.

- 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 Licence

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 the following:

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 been granted.

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:

- Authorising Officer

- Key Contact

- 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
S3 8WA

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 stages.

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 belong to

- 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 which include:

- 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 exchanges

- 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 businesses.

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 of business/entities.


- They must be submitted within 5 working days.

- They must be original documents..

- The Home Office may also accept certified documents.

- 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 7.

Example: 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:

Online Check:

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

Evidence 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 solicitor

- A practising barrister

- A notary

- A chartered legal executive

- A chartered accountant for certification of financial documents only.

The person must NOT be:

- Living at the same address with you

- Related to you

- In a personal relationship with you

- 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 signature

- 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 UK government

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 as normal.

- 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 documents.

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.

Sponsor 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 Fee

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)

Sponsorship Management 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 sponsorship has:

- An unspent criminal conviction

- Violated the law

- Failed to pay VAT or other excise duty

- Been reported to UKVI

- Been fined by UKVI in the past 12 months

- 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 the time

- Must not be subject to a debt relief restriction order (DRO) or bankruptcy restriction order (BRO) or undertaking

- Must not be a consultant or contractor contracted for a specific project. They must usually be paid members of staff or office holders.

- Must not have a history of non-compliance sponsor requirements

Sponsor Licence Rating

A 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 duties.

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

What 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.

When 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.

What 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.

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