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Sponsoring Work Visa UK: Guide for Employers

If you are a business owner looking to sponsor a work visa in the UK, our immigration lawyers can help.

Call our friendly advisors today at 0333 305 9375 for immediate assistance and help with your situation. We’re here to help you in person, via the phone, or online.


Overview of UK Work Visa

To employ someone from outside the UK, businesses have to apply for a sponsor licence. This includes citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020.

You do not need a licence to sponsor some groups, such as Irish citizens, those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

You can sponsor someone to apply for a visa to work for you in the UK, but this does not guarantee that their application will be successful.

What is a Sponsor Licence?

A sponsor licence is a legal document that allows UK employers to hire foreign nationals who are not from the United Kingdom. It also allows them to provide their employees with a visa that permits them to work in the UK.

You’ll need to be registered as an employer with the Home Office, which means that you must meet certain criteria and pay the fees for your licence. The licence lasts for four years and can be renewed.

As a sponsor, you are responsible for ensuring that your employees meet the conditions of their visa. This includes paying their salary and providing them with accommodation.

Eligibility for a Sponsor Licence

To be eligible for a sponsorship licence, your business must have a UK presence and be trading lawfully. If you have multiple branches or locations in the UK, you can apply for one licence to cover all your linked entities. If not, you might apply for separate licences for each branch depending on your circumstances.

The UKVI will check for any unspent criminal convictions and could refuse your application if you have committed an offence of dishonesty, such as fraud or money laundering, or if you had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months.

The UKVI may also visit your business to check if it meets the requirements and that you have the capability of carrying out your duties.

Sponsor Licence Cost

The cost of a Sponsor Licence varies depending on the type of business you have.

As a sponsor, you’ll usually be considered small if at least 2 of the following apply:

  • your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less
  • your total assets are worth £5.1 million or less
  • you employ fewer than 50 people

Registered charities are also considered small sponsors.

As a small or charitable sponsor, you’ll be required to pay £536 for a licence for a worker or temporary worker. There is no application fee to add an additional worker or temporary worker licence to an existing worker or temporary worker licence.

For medium or large sponsors, the fee for a standard worker licence is £1,476 and for a temporary worker licence, it’s £536. To add an additional worker licence to an existing temporary worker licence, the fee is £940.

What is a Sponsor Licence Rating?

There are two types of sponsor licence ratings:

  • A-rating
  • B-rating

If you are successful in your sponsor licence application, the Home Office will award you an A-rating. This is the highest rating and is awarded to trusted organisations that have proven they have the necessary systems in place to comply with sponsor duties.

You’ll need to keep your systems and policies in shape if you want to maintain your A-rating. The UKVI can re-evaluate your rating at any time and downgrade it if you don’t meet their criteria for an A-rating.

If you’re downgraded, you will receive a B-rating. If this happens, you will not be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until your rating has improved and you have been upgraded to an A rating.

You must pay a fee of £1,476 to upgrade back to an A-rating within 10 working days of UKVI telling you about the downgrade. If you fail to submit the fee within the given time period, your licence will be revoked.

Get in touch with our expert immigration lawyers to receive assistance on sponsoring UK work visa.

Documents Needed for a Sponsor Licence

You usually need to provide 4 documents (or 4 combinations of documents), unless you are one of the following:

  • public body recognised by the UK Government, such as a local authority
  • a company listed on the London Stock Exchange Main Market

To get a sponsor licence, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • evidence that you have a current, UK-registered corporate bank account
  • a certificate of VAT registration
  • proof of ownership or lease of business premises, or a rent agreement
  • Latest audited or unaudited accounts

You can send your submission sheet and supporting documents by either scanning or taking pictures of them and sending them via email to the address listed on the submission sheet. If you are unable to scan and send documents by email, contact UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) using the contact details provided on the submission sheet.

Note that you will need to provide different types of documents depending on the type of sponsorship licence you are applying for. Our team can help you figure out exactly what documents you will need and provide a checklist suited to your needs. Call us at 0333 305 9375 for immediate assistance and help with your situation.

Types of Licence

The licence you need depends on whether the workers you want to hire are:

  • ‘Workers’ – for skilled or long-term employment
  • ‘Temporary workers’ – for specific types of temporary employment

You can apply for either a licence covering one type of worker or a combined licence covering both types.

1. Worker Licence

A ‘Worker’ visa will allow you to sponsor people for skilled employment. The type of work can be short-term, long-term or permanent depending on the worker’s visa.

The licence is made up of:

  • Skilled Worker
  • Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
  • Minister of Religion
  • International Sportsperson

2. Temporary Worker Licence

If you want to sponsor someone temporarily, you can apply for a Temporary Worker licence. This will let you sponsor people including for volunteering and job-shadowing. You can only get a Temporary Worker licence for specific types of employment, and visas.

The licence is made up of:

  • Scale-up Worker
  • Creative Worker
  • Charity Worker
  • Religious Worker
  • Seasonal Worker
  • Secondment Worker
  • Government Authorised Exchange
  • Graduate Trainee
  • UK Expansion Worker

Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)

Certificates of sponsorship (CoS) are certificates issued to employees by the employers who want to hire foreign workers.

The certificates are electronic records and allow employers to sponsor the migrants, who can then apply for visas and work permits. The certificates are obtained through an online application process and must be used for the skilled worker visas within the 3 months of their issuance date.

When you assign a certificate of sponsorship to a foreign worker, you will need to pay a fee of £199 for workers and £21 for temporary workers. The fee is £199 for an international sportsperson assigned to your organisation for more than 12 months, and £21 for 12 months or less.

If you assign a certificate of sponsorship to someone applying for a Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker visa, you might have to pay an additional charge. This is called the ‘immigration skills charge’. If the worker is applying for a visa to work in the UK for 6 months or more, or inside the UK for any length of time, you may have to pay this.

Defined CoS

The UK Home Office offers Defined Certificates of Sponsorship to people applying for a Skilled Worker Visa from outside the UK.

You need to get a defined certificate for these workers through the sponsorship management system (SMS). When you get your sponsor licence, you’ll have access to the SMS.

Your application will usually be approved within one working day. If UKVI needs to carry out extra checks on your application, it may take longer to approve it. Once your application has been approved, defined certificates will appear in your SMS account and can then be assigned to a worker.

Undefined CoS

Skilled Workers applying from within the UK, as well as applicants on all other visas, are eligible for undefined CoS.

When you apply for a licence, you’ll be asked to estimate the number of undefined certificates you’ll need in your first year.

If you do not have an A-rating on your licence, you may only request one certificate of sponsorship at a time. Once you receive an A-rating on your licence, you can then request up to 4 additional CoS using the SMS.

If you have any questions about sponsoring UK work visa, our team is happy to assist.

How to Get a Sponsor Licence?

To get a sponsor licence for your organisation, you need to:

  • Check if your business is eligible
  • Select the type of licence you need
  • Decide who will be in charge of sponsorship
  • Fill out and submit the online application form for the sponsor licence
  • Pay the fee online
  • Send the supporting documents to UKVI

What Happens After You Apply?

The UKVI usually processes most applications within less than 8 weeks. However, you can pay an extra £500 to get a decision within 10 working days. This service is limited to only a few applications each day and the acceptance is based on a first-come, first-served basis.

After you apply for a Sponsor Licence and your application is approved, you will be given a licence rating. This will allow you to issue Certificates of Sponsorship if you have jobs that can be sponsored.

The licence is valid for four years and if you fail to meet your responsibilities as a sponsor, you may lose your licence.

If your application is refused, you can apply for a review if you think the caseworker made a mistake or if supporting documents were not considered. Note that you cannot simply reapply because you disagree with the decision.

How to Renew your Sponsor Licence?

You can renew your sponsor licence within 90 days of the expiry date printed on your current sponsor licence. You can apply for the licence renewal using your sponsor management system (SMS) account and logging in as a Level 1 user.

The UKVI will also send you a letter 120 days before the expiry date of your licence to remind you that it is time to renew it. The fee to renew your licence is the same as the fee required to apply for a licence for the first time.

If you fail to renew your licence in time, and you still wish to sponsor workers, you will have to apply for a new licence. In the meantime, your existing sponsored workers’ permission will be cancelled

Employer’s Responsibilities for Sponsoring

Employers have several responsibilities in order to sponsor a foreign worker. The following are some of the responsibilities of an employer who is sponsoring workers from outside the UK:

  • Check that your foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditations
  • Assign the CoS to workers only when they are eligible for sponsorship
  • Inform UKVI if sponsored workers do not comply with their visa conditions or if they stop coming to work
  • Keep copies of relevant documents, and make a record of when you made the check
  • Keep track of your employees’ immigration statuses
  • Keep the contact details of the workers

If your circumstances change, for example, your address or role, your business stops trading or becomes insolvent, or you are involved in a merger or takeover, you must inform the UKVI within 20 working days.

If you don’t fulfil these responsibilities, your licence can be downgraded, suspended or withdrawn.

If you have any questions about sponsoring UK work visa, our team is happy to assist.

How can IAS Help

If you are looking to sponsor employees to work in the UK, we can help.

At IAS, we have helped thousands of companies sponsor their employees to work in the UK. We know what it takes to get your employees through the process successfully—and we can help you do it, too.

Our team has a huge amount of experience in this field, as well as a deep understanding of the process involved. We know that there are many different steps involved in bringing someone over from another country to work for your business and we want to help you overcome any hurdles that may arise along the way.

We will guide you through each step of applying for a work visa, including those steps that are required before even applying. We will also help you understand how long it will take for an application to be processed by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), what documents are required, how much they cost, what fees must be paid at various stages along with much more information about applying for sponsorship.

If you would like more information about sponsoring work visa applications then contact us today at 0333 305 9375 for immediate assistance and help with your situation. We’re here to help you in person, via the phone, or online.

We offer immigration advice sessions as face to face appointments at all of our UK offices, or via the phone.

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