You’ll usually need a sponsor licence to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK. This includes citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020. This also includes unpaid work, like running a charity.
You will not need a licence to sponsor certain groups, for example:
- Irish citizens
- those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
- those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK
To get a licence, you cannot have:
- unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering
- had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months
You’ll need appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your application form and supporting documents. They may visit your business to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.
Types of licence
The licence you need depends on whether the workers you want to fill your jobs are:
- ‘Workers’ – for those with long-term job offers
- ‘Temporary workers’
You can apply for a licence covering one or both types of worker.
- Worker licence
A ‘Worker’ licence will let you employ people long-term or permanently. It’s split into:
- Skilled Worker – the role must meet the job suitability requirements
- Intra-company visas – this includes Intra-company Transfer and Intra-company Graduate Trainee, for multinational companies which need to transfer established employees or graduate trainees to the UK
- Minister of Religion – for people coming to work for a religious organisation
- Sportsperson – for elite sportspeople and coaches who will be based in the UK
2. Temporary Worker licence
A ‘Temporary Worker’ licence will let you employ people on a temporary basis. It’s split into:
- Creative or Sporting Worker – to work as a high-level sportsperson (up to 1 year), entertainer or artist (up to 2 years)
- Charity Worker – for unpaid workers at a charity (up to 1 year)
- Religious Worker – for those working in a religious order or organisation (2 years)
- Government Authorised Exchange Worker – work experience (1 year), research projects or training, for example practical medical or scientific training (2 years) to enable a short-term exchange of knowledge
- International Agreement Worker – where the worker is coming to do a job which is covered by international law, for example employees of overseas governments
- Seasonal Worker – for those coming to the UK for up to 6 months to do farm work
Sponsorship management roles
You need to appoint people within your business to manage the sponsorship process when you apply for a licence.
The main tool they’ll use is the sponsorship management system (SMS).
The roles are:
- authorising officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
- key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
- level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS
These roles can be filled by the same person or different people.
You can also appoint an optional level 2 user once you have your licence. This is an SMS user with more restricted access than a level 1 user, for example they cannot withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.
You and your staff will be checked to make sure you’re suitable for these roles. You may not get your licence if anyone involved in sponsorship has:
- an unspent criminal conviction
- been fined by UKVI in the past 12 months
- been reported to UKVI
- broken the law
- been a ‘key person’ at a sponsor that had its licence revoked in the last 12 months
- failed to pay VAT or other excise duty
You and your allocated staff must also:
- be based in the UK most of the time
- not be a contractor or consultant contracted for a specific project
- not be subject to a bankruptcy restriction order or undertaking, or a debt relief restriction order or undertaking
- not have a history of non-compliance with sponsor requirements
Your allocated staff must usually be paid members of staff, or office holders.
HR contractors and agency staff
You must have at least one level 1 user who is your employee. You can have other level 1 or level 2 users employed by third-party organisations contracted to provide you with HR services. Your level 2 user can be a temporary member of staff supplied by an agency.
You need to pay a fee when you apply. The fee depends on the type of licence you’re applying for and what type of organisation you are.
How long it takes to get a decision
Most applications (8 out of 10) are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. UKVI may need to visit your business.
You may be able to pay £500 to get a decision within 10 working days. You’ll be told if you can after you apply.
After you apply
You’ll be given a licence rating if your application is successful.
You’ll be able to issue certificates of sponsorship if you have jobs that are suitable for sponsorship.
Your licence will be valid for 4 years. You may lose your licence if you do not meet your responsibilities as a sponsor.
Your licence rating
You’ll get an A-rated licence if your application is approved.
A-rating – full sponsor licence
An A-rated licence lets you start assigning certificates of sponsorship. Your business will be listed in the register of sponsors.
Downgrading to B-rating
Your A-rated licence may be downgraded to a B-rating at a later stage if you do not continue to meet your sponsor duties.
If this happens, you will not be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until you’ve made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating.
You’ll still be able to issue certificates to workers you already employ who want to extend their permission to stay.
Upgrade to an A-rating
You need to follow an ‘action plan’ provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to upgrade your licence.
You have to pay £1,476 for an action plan.
You must pay the fee within 10 working days of the date UKVI tells you about the downgrade. If you do not, you’ll lose your licence.
At the end of the action plan
You’ll be upgraded to an A-rating if you complete all the steps and there’s nothing else you need to improve.
You’ll lose your licence if you do not complete all the steps.
If you need to make other improvements, you’ll be given another B-rating and will have to follow a new action plan. You’ll have to pay the fee again.
If you get a second B-rating
You can only have 2 B-ratings in the 4 years that your licence is valid.
You’ll lose your licence if you still need to make improvements after your second action plan.
How to reapply
You cannot appeal if your licence is revoked, but you can reapply. You have to wait at least 12 months before reapplying.
Certificates of sponsorship
You must assign a certificate of sponsorship to each foreign worker you employ. This is an electronic record, not a physical document. Each certificate has its own number which a worker can use to apply for a visa.
When you assign the certificate to a worker, they must use it to apply for their visa within 3 months. They must not apply for their visa more than 3 months before the start date of the job listed on the certificate.
These are for people applying on a Skilled Worker visa from outside the UK.
You must apply for defined certificates for these workers through the sponsorship management system (SMS). You’ll get access to this when you get your licence.
When you get the certificate
Applications are usually approved within one working day. It may take longer if UKVI needs to carry out further checks on the information in your application.
Defined certificates will appear in your SMS account once they have been approved. You can then assign them to a worker.
These are for Skilled Workers applying from inside the UK, and applicants on all other visas.
When you apply for your licence you’ll be asked to estimate how many undefined certificates you’ll need for Workers and Temporary Workers in the first year.
Certificates are free for citizens of the following countries:
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden or Turkey.
For other citizens, you need to pay for each certificate. Currently the certificate fee is £199.00 per worker and £21.00 per temporary worker.
- check that your foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditations to do their jobs, and keep copies of documents showing this
- only assign certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship
- tell UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa
Your licence may be downgraded, suspended or withdrawn if you do not meet them.
You must have HR systems in place that let you:
- monitor your employees’ immigration status
- keep copies of relevant documents for each employee, including passport and right to work information
- track and record employees’ attendance
- keep employee contact details up to date
- report to UKVI if there is a problem, for example if your employee stops coming to work
Changes to your business
You must report any significant changes in your own circumstances within 20 working days, for example if you:
- stop trading or become insolvent
- substantially change the nature of your business
- are involved in a merger or take-over
You must also tell UKVI if you’re changing your details, like your address or allocated roles.
To register a change of circumstances use the sponsorship management system (SMS).
Requests can take up to 18 weeks. You can register a change within 5 working days instead if you use the priority service. It costs £200.
UK-based legal representatives
You can allocate any of the roles to a UK-based legal representative, apart from the authorising officer role. Your representative must be qualified to give immigration advice or services. Makka Solicitors Ltd is qualified to give immigration advice and we are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.Please refer to our Fees page for full details of all of our fees for immigration applications.