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Work Visa Sponsorship UK – Guide For Employers

You’ll need a sponsor license if you wish to employ workers from outside the UK, including citizens of the EEA and Switzerland. IAS lawyers are happy to help you fast-track the process of obtaining a sponsor licence and helping your foreign workers get their Skilled Worker visas.

We’re always available to help you in person, via the phone, or online. Call us on 0333 305 9375 for immediate help and assistance.


What is a UK Work Visa Sponsorship?

UK work visa sponsorship allows eligible businesses to employ foreign nationals and sponsor them on a UK work visa. UK employment sponsorship has become more accessible to employees following the implementation of the Skilled Worker visa in 2021. UK employers can now assign certificates of sponsorship to their foreign workers to enable them to process their Skilled Worker visas.

To do this, however, you must have a sponsor licence. Employers need a sponsor licence to hire workers from outside the UK and citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31st December 2020.

You do not need to sponsor a foreign worker with Indefinite Leave to Remain status or a citizen of EEA and Switzerland that arrived in the UK before 31st December 2020 and have obtained a settled status. Irish citizens also do not need a licensed sponsor to work in UK.

Skilled Worker Visa

The Skilled Worker visa is a points-based immigration system introduced by the UK government to replace the Tier 2 (General) visa. It took effect in January 2021 and allows UK employers to recruit eligible foreign workers for skilled roles. It is the main UK immigration route for foreign nationals and one of the visa routes to obtaining a settlement status or Indefinite Leave to Remain.

This immigration program targets skilled workers who meet specific requirements and score at least 70 points on the 130 points system. The 70 points benchmark consists of 50 points for mandatory criteria ( such as job offer, English proficiency, a minimum of level 6 Regulated Qualifications Framework or above skill level, and salary level) and 20 points for tradeable criteria.

Skilled Worker Visa and UK Work Visa Sponsorship

All foreign nationals in and outside the UK, including EEA and Swiss citizens who are ineligible for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, need a Skilled Worker visa to work in the UK. And one of the mandatory criteria to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa is an employment offer and sponsorship from a UK employer. However, citizens of certain countries can agin entry into the UK without a job offer via the Youth Mobility Scheme.

Skilled Worker visa applicants must submit a certificate of sponsorship alongside their application (alongside other requirements) to qualify for a visa. Companies looking to hire foreign workers will need a sponsor licence to issue CoS to foreign employees.

Business Eligibility for UK Work Visa Sponsorship

An employer or business must meet the following conditions to be eligible for a work visa sponsor license.

  • You must have taken the resident labour market test to ascertain that the job position could not be filled by a local or EEA nationals.
  • The business must have the required system for monitoring sponsored employees and adequate personnel in its sponsorship management roles.
  • Must meet the necessary business standards and be in good legal standing with the UKVI.

The United Kingdom Visas and Immigration (UKVI) decides after reviewing your application and supporting documents. They’ll typically visit your business to ensure you meet all eligibility requirements. Your sponsor licence application will be denied if:

  • you have an unspent criminal conviction for immigration-related offences such as hiring an illegal immigrant or a foreign national without a work permit. Other past criminal offences like money laundering or fraud can also disqualify you.
  • your sponsor license was revoked in the last 12 months.

Get in touch with our expert immigration lawyers to receive assistance with your UK Work Visa sponsorship.

Types of Sponsor Licences

A sponsor license grants an employer legal permission to issue certificates of sponsorship to foreign workers in their employment. The license is valid for four years but can be revoked if the business commits an immigration offence. There are two main types of sponsor licenses

  • Worker License – for skilled, long-term employment,
  • Temporary Worker License – for specific kinds of temporary employment, e.g. volunteers.

You can apply for a license covering one or both classes of workers. The skilled worker license lets you sponsor several categories of skilled workers on a long-term or permanent basis. It is split into

  • Skilled worker – for roles that meet the skilled worker visa job requirements
  • Senior or Specialist Worker  formerly known as intr-company transfer) – for multinational companies looking to transfer senior staff members to their UK office.
  • Minister of Religion – for persons coming to work for religious organisations.
  • International Sports Person – for international sportspersons and coaches coming to work in the UK

Temporary worker license allows you to sponsor workers for specific kinds of jobs temporarily. It has several categories, such as:

  • Creative Worker – for those coming to work in the creative and entertainment sector for a maximum of two years.
  • Religious Worker – for those coming to work in a religious order (two years validity)
  • Charity Worker – for unpaid volunteers in charity organisations (one-year validity)
  • Government Authorised Exchange – for participants in research or training projects to foster an exchange of knowledge (up to two years)
  • Graduate trainee – for participants in the graduate training programs of multinational companies who need to work in their UK branch temporarily as part of the program.
  • UK Expansion Worker – for workers sent to the UK to establish a branch of a multinational

How to Get a Sponsor Licence

To obtain a sponsor licence, you must ensure you meet the requirements before filling out an application. The Steps to getting a sponsor licence are;

  1. Check if your business is eligible
  2. Choose the type of license you want to apply for depending on the types of workers you intend to sponsor
  3. Decide who will fill the sponsorship management roles within your organisation and create a sponsor management team
  4. Apply online for UK visa sponsorship and pay the application fee
  5. Print out and scan the submission sheet
  6. Email scanned submission sheet and relevant supporting documents to the UKVI. If you cannot send the documents via email, you can send hard copies to the UK Visas and Immigration office address.

Applications are typically reviewed and processed in less than eight weeks.

Licence Ratings

You’ll receive an A-rated license if your application is approved, and your business will be included in the register of sponsors. The A-rated licence allows you to issue a certificate of sponsorship to foreign employees. You’ll receive a provisional rated license if you’re applying to sponsor a UK expansion worker.

If you fail to meet up with your sponsor responsibilities after issuance, your licence will be downgraded to a B-rated license. This means you’ll no longer be able to sponsor new workers.

The UKVI will provide you with an action plan for a £1476 fee if you wish to upgrade to an A-rated license. The fee is to be paid within ten days of receipt of the downgrade notice, or you will lose your license. Your license will be upgraded upon the successful completion of the action plan.

If you do not meet the requirements for an upgrade, you’ll be given a B-rating again and have to pay for another action plan. If you still do not qualify for an upgrade by the end of the second action plan, your license will be revoked.

Sponsorship Management Roles

Once you’ve applied for a sponsorship license, you’ll need to appoint people within your organisation to fill relevant sponsorship management roles. They will form your company’s sponsorship management team and work with the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) to issue certificates of sponsorship. The key roles are

  • Authorising Officer: A senior personnel that will oversee the actions of staff and representatives in the sponsorship management team, especially the use of the SMS.
  • Key Contact: The person designated to maintain contact with the UKVI
  • Level 1 User: The person responsible for overseeing the daily use and management of your sponsor license via the SMS.
  • Level 2: A support staff with limited access to the SMS. This particular role is optional and can be filled after getting your license.

You and all your work sponsorship team members will undergo a suitability check to ensure you’re fit to fill the respective roles. Your license application will be rejected if any staff in a sponsorship role:

  • has an unspent criminal conviction for a sponsorship-related offence
  • has been fined by UKVI within the last year
  • been reported to UKVI
  • been a key person at a sponsor whose licence was revoked in the last one year
  • failed to pay excise duty including VAT
  • a history of non-compliance with sponsorship requirements
  • is not based in the UK
  •  is subject to a bankruptcy order or undertaking

While you are allowed to fill sponsorship management roles with HR staff provided by third-party organisations, at least one level 1 officer must be a full member of your staff.

You can also hire a UK-based legal representative to fill all the roles except that of the authorising officer. IAS lawyers are experts in immigration lawyers and can help you fill your sponsorship management roles to meet UKVI requirements. They’ll ensure strict compliance with sponsorship guidelines and prevent revoking your license.

If you have any questions about sponsoring a foreign worker, our team is happy to assist.

Certificate of Sponsorship

Once you’ve gotten your sponsor license, you can issue a certificate of sponsorship to any foreign worker you employ. It is an electronic record, not a physical document. Each certificate has a unique number that the employee can use in applying for a visa.

The CoS is generated from the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) by the staff overseeing the system (authorising or level one officer). The SMS manager has to provide all necessary information about the sponsored foreign worker. The information includes passport details, ID info, current home address, work dates, Uk home address, and other information required to complete the online form.

CoS must be used to apply for a skilled worker visa within three months of issuance. The two types of CoS were reviewed and modified in 2021. Before 2021, they were called “restricted certificates of sponsorship and unrestricted certificates of sponsorship.” They are now called defined and undefined certificates of sponsorship.

Defined Certificate of Sponsorship

This is for foreign nationals applying for a Skilled Worker visa from outside the UK. You have to apply for a defined CoS for them using the Sponsorship Management System. The application is generally approved within one working day, except the UKVI wants to conduct further checks to verify the submitted information.

Once a defined certificate is approved, it will appear in your SMS account. You can then issue it to a worker.

Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship

Undefined CoS is for skilled foreign workers applying from within the UK and applicants on other types of visas (except indefinite leave to remain and settled status). When you apply for your sponsor licence, you’ll be asked to estimate the number of undefined certificates you’ll need for the first year.

You’ll be able to assign only one CoS if your license has a provisional rating. When sponsoring a UK expansion worker, the CoS should be given to the authorising officer. You can then apply for an upgrade to A-rating once the visa is approved. You can request four additional CoS after a successful upgrade.

Cost of Assigning Certificate of Sponsorship

You’ll pay a fee for every CoS you assign to a worker. The price depends on the type of Cos. Each Worker CoS you assign will cost you £199, while Temporary Worker CoS costs £21 each. Assigning CoS for more than one year to international sportspersons costs £199, while CoS valid for less than one year costs £21.

Additionally, you might be required to pay an immigration skills charge when you assign CoS to workers on a Skilled Worker visa or Senior/Specialist Worker visa.

Immigration Skills Charge

You might be charged an additional fee when you assign a CoS to someone applying for a Skilled Worker or Senior/Specialist visa. It is known as an “immigration skills charge” and is mandatory if the applicant is coming from outside UK to work for six months or more or from inside the UK.

The amount you’ll pay depends on the size of your organisation and the duration of the worker’s employment using the state and end dates on the CoS.

For Small or Charitable Sponsors

First 12 months, you pay £384

And for each additional six months, you pay £182

For Medium or Large Sponsors

For the first 12 months, you pay £1000

And for each additional six months, you pay £500

You must pay the full charge at a go. UKVI will contact you if you fail to pay the charge or pay the wrong amount. Your employee’s visa application will be rejected if you do not pay within ten working days of notice. You will get a full refund if your employee’s visa application is denied or if it’s successful but they do not work for you.

If you have any questions about your sponsorship licence application, our team is happy to assist.

How Can IAS Help

As an employer looking to hire skilled workers from abroad or foreign nationals in the UK, It is essential to understand the modalities of UK work visa sponsorship and Skilled Worker visa to avoid having problems with UKVI. An indiscretion can cost you your sponsor license, and you’ll also lose the application fee.

It is essential to seek legal advice to ensure compliance with immigration policies and a hassle-free employee sponsorship process.

IAS lawyers are professionals in UK immigration law and are recognised for their expertise and experience. We are available to offer expert immigration advice and help sort out knotty issues. Contact us at 0333 305 9375 for immediate help and assistance.

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

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Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, Uk companies with a sponsor licence can sponsor foreign employees for a UK work visa. You’ll find a list of licensed employers in the register of sponsors.

A certificate of sponsorship is valid for 5 years, and it costs £1,000 per year for large and medium sponsors. So it’ll cost a total of £5,00 for each employee.

Only licensed businesses can sponsor one on a UK work visa. If your friend runs a legal and licensed company, he can.

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