Under current immigration rules, UK-based businesses will in most cases need a sponsor licence from the Home Office to recruit non-UK resident workers who don’t otherwise have permission to work in the UK.
There are different types of sponsor licences available, depending on the type of sponsored workers you want to hire. In this guide, we look at the different types of sponsor licence and what these are for, together with the key requirements and costs for each, and the ongoing obligations as a sponsor.
What are the different types of sponsor licence?
If you want to hire someone who is not a settled worker, you’ll need Home Office approval by way of a licence. A sponsor licence is the permission needed for UK-based businesses to recruit overseas nationals to work for them in the UK. Sponsoring someone doesn’t guarantee that the migrant worker will be granted a visa, but it’s a necessary step to enable them to apply for entry clearance or leave to remain.
The sponsor licence you’ll need to have in place will depend on whether the worker you want to fill a job vacancy in the UK is either a:
- Worker: for skilled or long-term employment
- Temporary worker: for specific types of short-term employment.
You’ll need to decide which route you wish to be licensed under, although you can apply for a licence including one or both types of worker, and under the various different categories that fall under each. If your application is approved, these will be the routes on which you can sponsor workers and assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). The CoS is an electronic record with a unique reference number that the migrant worker will need to apply for a visa.
What are the categories under the two types of sponsor licence?
There are various categories under each of the two types of sponsor licence:
A Worker licence will allow you to sponsor overseas nationals in different types of skilled jobs. This work can be for a short length of time or long-term, depending on the worker’s visa. This type of licence is split into the following categories:
- Skilled Worker: this allows employers to recruit overseas nationals to work in the UK in a specific job role, although the worker must have a job offer in an eligible skilled occupation and meet the applicable salary requirements for that role
- Senior or Specialist Worker: this is one of five new routes recently introduced on 11 April 2022 under the Global Business Mobility (GMB) umbrella, aimed at multinational companies looking to transfer senior managers or specialist employees to a branch in the UK, and replacing the former Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) route
- Minister of Religion: this is for individuals who have an important leading role within a religious order or faith-based organisation in the UK
- International Sportsperson: this is for elite sportspeople or coaches who will be based in the UK in a role in which they’ll make a significant contribution to the development of UK sport.
Temporary Worker licence
A Temporary Worker licence will allow you to sponsor overseas nationals short-term. You can only get this type of licence for certain types of employment, including:
- Creative Worker: this is for those who want to work in the creative industry for up to 12 months, but with the option to extend to 24 months if working for the same sponsor
- Charity Worker: this is for unpaid workers at a charity for up to 1 year
- Religious Worker: this is for those working in a religious order in the UK, or undertaking non-pastoral work for a UK-based religious organisation, for up to 2 years
- Government Authorised Exchange: this is for someone who wants to come to the UK on an approved research or training scheme of no more than 12 or 24 months, depending on the scheme, to facilitate a short-term exchange of knowledge
- International Agreement: this is for those coming to the UK to provide a service covered by international law, such as employees of overseas governments, for up to 2 years
- Seasonal Worker: this is for those coming to the UK to work in edible horticulture, for example, picking fruit and vegetables, or for pork butchery workers, for up to 6 months.
The following four additional routes were also introduced under the GBM umbrella:
- Graduate Trainee: this is for workers transferring to their employer’s UK branch under a graduate training programme for either a managerial or specialist role with their overseas employer, replacing the former Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route
- Service Supplier: this is for workers providing a service under contract to a UK business via an eligible trade agreement, replacing the provisions for contractual service suppliers and independent professionals on the former International Agreement route
- UK Expansion Worker: this is for workers being sent to the UK to set up a new branch or subsidiary of an overseas business, replacing the previously unsponsored Sole Representative provisions of the Representative of an Overseas Business route
- Secondment Worker: this is for workers being seconded to the UK as part of a high-value contract or investment by their overseas employer, creating a brand new business route.
What are the requirements for the two types of sponsor licence?
To be eligible for either a Worker or Temporary Worker sponsor licence, you’ll need to meet various eligibility and suitability requirements, including satisfying the Home Office that:
- your organisation is genuine and operating lawfully in the UK or, in the case of the UK Expansion Worker route, that you have a UK ‘footprint’
- the organisation can be trusted, and those involved in its’ day-to-day running and the key personnel nominated in the licence application are all honest, dependable and reliable, where any evidence of previous non-compliance with the Immigration Rules or unspent criminal convictions could result in the automatic refusal of your licence application
- you have adequate human resource and recruitment systems in place to meet your duties as a licensed sponsor, and to do so within the prescribed timeframes
- you can meet the specific requirements of the immigration route(s) for which a licence is sought, for example, you can offer genuine employment meeting the skill level and salary requirements under the Skilled Worker route.
What is the application process for the two types of sponsor licence?
To apply for either type of sponsor licence, you’ll need to register your organisation with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), complete an online application form and pay the relevant fee. However, there are various steps that you must first take prior to applying, including:
- checking that your business is eligible for sponsorship
- checking the work which needs to be undertaken in the UK is suitable for sponsorship
- choosing the right type of licence you want to apply for, where this will depend on what type of worker you want to sponsor
- ensuring that you have all of the necessary documentation prepared in advance to meet the mandatory and other route-specific requirements
- deciding how many workers you’re likely to sponsor in your first year, as this will determine how many CoS you will need
- deciding who will manage sponsorship within your business, where you will be required to nominate various key personnel within your licence application.
You’ll need to appoint an Authorising Officer to manage your sponsor licence application. This must be the most senior person within your organisation responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers and ensuring that you meet your sponsor duties. You must also nominate a Key Contact who will act as your main point of contact with UKVI, and a Level 1 user who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of your sponsor licence using the Home Office sponsorship management system (SMS). If your application is approved, additional Level 1 users can then be appointed, together with Level 2 users with fewer SMS permissions.
The key personnel roles can be undertaken by several people or the same person, but they must usually either be paid members of staff or office holders. They must also be based mainly in the UK, and meet various other requirements, although you can appoint an overseas worker as your Authorising Officer when applying for approval on the UK Expansion Worker route.
Having completed the online application and paid the relevant fee, the Authorising Officer will be required to submit a signed and dated submission sheet, together with a number of detailed mandatory and route-specific supporting documents within 5 working days. UKVI will review your application and supporting documentation. Before reaching a decision, you may also receive a pre-licence visit to make sure that you’re both trustworthy and capable of carrying out your sponsor duties. A decision should be made by UKVI in less than 8 weeks, although this can take longer if a site visit is needed or additional documentation is requested.
What is the cost associated with the two types of sponsor licence?
When sponsoring an overseas national there are various costs involved, although much will depend on the type of licence sought and what type of organisation you are.
These costs include:
- a sponsor licence application fee
- applying to renew an existing licence
- applying to extend the scope of an existing licence
- each CoS assigned, unless the worker is exempt
- an Immigration Skills Charge, where applicable
- any additional premium services once your licence has been granted.
The fee for your initial sponsor licence application depends on the type of licence, and the size or status of your organisation. The Worker licence application fee is £536 for small or charitable sponsors, and £1,476 for medium or large sponsors. If seeking both a Worker and Temporary Worker licence, the same fees apply, although for a Temporary Worker licence alone, the fee is £536, regardless of size or status. To add a Worker licence to an existing Temporary Worker licence, there will be no fee for small or charitable sponsors, but a £940 fee for medium or large sponsors. There will be no fee in either case to add a Temporary Worker licence to an existing Worker licence, again regardless of size or status.
The fee for assigning a CoS under a Worker licence is £199, except workers on the International Sportsperson visa, and just £21 under a Temporary Worker licence. For workers on the International Sportsperson visa, where the certificate is assigned for more than 12 months, the fee is £199, reduced to £21 where the certificate is assigned for 12 months or less.
If you’re assigning a CoS to a worker on either the Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker routes, you may also be liable to pay an Immigration Skills Charge. You must pay this charge if the worker is applying for a visa from outside the UK to undertake work for 6 months or more, or inside the UK for any length of time, although certain occupations are exempt. The amount payable is again based on the size and status of your organisation. For small or charitable sponsors, this is £364 for 12 months, plus £182 for each extra 6 months. For medium or large sponsors, this is £1,000 for 12 months, plus £500 for each extra 6 months.
Compliance obligations for the two types of sponsor licence
If your application for a Worker and/or Temporary Worker licence is approved, you can sponsor migrant workers by assigning each one a CoS, provided you have jobs at a suitable rate of pay and skill level, or meet the other criteria needed for their visa. You may also need to meet additional requirements, such as advertising jobs for religious workers.
Your sponsor licence will be valid for 4 years, although you may be at risk of losing your licence if you fail to meet your ongoing obligations as a licensed sponsor, including:
- keeping records for the workers you sponsor, for example, up-to-date contact details and evidence of their right to work in the UK
- tracking and recording their attendance, informing UKVI if a sponsored worker doesn’t start their employment or is absent from work for a significant period without permission
- reporting any significant changes in the circumstances of your organisation, for example, if the nature of your business has changed
- informing UKVI of any changes to your details, such as key personnel named on the licence
providing UKVI with any documentation requested, within the timeframe specified.
UKVI will continually monitor your ability and willingness to comply with your obligations as a licensed sponsor and may conduct compliance visits. They will also make checks with HMRC to ensure that you’re paying your sponsored workers appropriately. If you’re not complying with your reporting and record-keeping responsibilities, or become no longer eligible or suitable to hold a sponsor licence, action may be taken against you. This can include licence suspension, downgrading or revocation. UKVI can set a limit on the number of CoS you can assign or reduce your allocation to zero. They may also refer cases for civil penalty action or possible prosecution if they find evidence that you may have employed workers illegally.
Types of sponsor licence FAQs
What is sponsorship licence?
A sponsorship licence is the permission needed from the Home Office for UK-based businesses to recruit overseas nationals to work for them in the UK, either on a short or long-term basis.
What is a Level 1 user sponsor licence?
A Level 1 user is the person responsible for the day-to-day management of the sponsor licence using the sponsorship management system. Initially, only a single Level 1 user will be nominated, although additional users can be appointed later.
What is temporary worker sponsorship?
Temporary worker sponsorship is for specific types of temporary employment in the UK, such as Creative Workers, Charity Workers, Religious Workers, Government Authorised Exchange Workers, International Agreement Workers, Seasonal Workers, Graduate Trainees, Service Suppliers, UK Expansion Workers and Secondment Workers.
Who can be a sponsor?
To be a Home Office approved sponsor, you’ll usually need to prove that you’re a genuine organisation and operating lawfully in the UK, and trustworthy and capable of carrying out your sponsor duties as required under the UK’s Immigration Rules.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.