UK employers require Sponsor Licence in order to employ skilled foreign nationals from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. The sponsor licence is granted by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) under the new UK immigration points-based system.

UKVI can grant UK employers a sponsor licence under the Tier 2 and Tier 5 visa subcategories which will allow employers to employ and sponsor the non-EEA migrants. In this article, we will mainly explore Tier 2 Sponsor Licence, as Tier 5 has been severely restricted in scope in recent years.

Upon approval of the Tier 2 Sponsor Licence application, employers can then issue Certificates of Sponsorship in order to sponsor foreign migrants.

Applying for a Sponsor Licence, however, is a complex process and involves submitting the right documents and evidence to satisfy UKVI requirements.

Data from recent years show that more than 15% of sponsorship licence applications are refused by the UKVI and as there’s no right to appeal for unsuccessful applications (though it is possible to request reconsideration), you will need to wait for a specified period of time and make a new application at full cost.

As such, it’s crucial to get it right for the first time and seeking professional help with your sponsor licence application can help you save both time and application costs.

If you are thinking about employing a non-EEA national (this can be someone who already works for you or your new hire to fill one of the positions you have available), we can assist you with both applications for your company and later for your employee for their Tier 2 visa application.

Need Help With Sponsor Licence Application?

We have an experienced team dedicated to Tier 2 Sponsor Licence applications and we will be happy to assist with your application. Contact us today to see how we can help you with obtaining a sponsorship licence.

Our general process of assisting you with your sponsor licence involves;

  • Assess your particular circumstances and advise on the merits of a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence application and any subsequent Tier 2 General visa application, if the employee has already been identified.
  • Assist with the preparation of the application for sponsor licence, including filling the online application form and advising on the documentary requirements.
  • Our lawyers will advise you on the requirements for HR systems and will prepare you for an audit, should one be arranged by the Home Office.
  • Once the sponsor licence is granted, we will assist you with issuing CoS for any employee you have identified.
  • If Resident Labour Market Test needs to be satisfied, we will assist and advise you on the requirements for advertisements.
  • Once the CoS is issued, we will assist with the preparation of Tier 2 General visa application and book an appointment if required.

Continue reading for our detailed guide on Sponsor Licence application.

Sponsor Licence Types

Depending on the job requirements you are looking to fulfil, you can apply sponsor licence that allows you to sponsor migrants in Tier 2 and Tier 5 visa categories of the UK immigration points-based system.

Tier 2 – skilled workers with long-term job offers
Tier 5 – skilled temporary workers

Tier 2 Sponsor Licence is the most common application that allows you to employ skilled workers for permanent job positions but you can choose to apply for both if required.

Tier 2 Sponsor Licence Overview

A Tier 2 Sponsor Licence enables a UK employer to employ (i.e. sponsor) skilled and highly-qualified migrants from outside the EEA and Switzerland to fulfil a suitable job position.

After a migrant (who could be in the UK or outside the UK) has been sponsored by a UK employer to take a particular job, meaning that the certificate of sponsorship has been issued and assigned by the employer, he/she has to apply for a visa under Tier 2 category. If they are successful in the visa application then they are allowed to start working for that employer in the specified job.

To acquire a Tier 2 sponsor licence, the employer has to make an application to the Home Office. The application has two parts: firstly an online application and secondly the physical submission by post or courier of supporting documents.

Documents such as financial accounts, certificate of employer’s liability insurance, premises lease, documents relating to VAT, PAYE, national insurance, etc.. are required to submit along with the application. The documents may differ depending on the size of the company, requirements for mandatory regulation, amount of employees etc.

UKVI Sponsor Licence Audit

The Home Office will assess the application, and quite often will arrange an audit visit to the employer’s premises in order to assess whether the company can comply with its duties, should the sponsor licence be granted to them. There are 3 main areas that the Home Office will consider during the audit:

  • Whether the company has appropriate HR systems to manage sponsored migrants;
  • Whether the vacancy that the company is trying to fill when applying for the licence is genuine, and
  • Whether the company is aware of its duties as a licenced sponsor and is a genuine entity.

Sponsor licence audits can be both announced or unannounced. The audit can take place either during the consideration process or at any point after the licence has been granted. There is a higher chance that the business will be audited following the approval of the Tier 2 sponsor licence if no audit took place during the consideration stage. Therefore, in some way, an audit during an application process can mean that the UKVI may take longer to visit the premises again.

Sponsor Management System (“SMS”)

Once the application is approved, the employer is given access to an online system called the “sponsorship management system” (SMS) which they will use for all matters relating to Tier 2 sponsorship visa in the UK. This system is then used for requests on the certificates of sponsorship, reporting duties, replacing users or authorising officers etc.

The Home Office website contains a set of guides on how to operate a sponsor licence, more information can be found on the Home Office website which contains guidance for employers and educators.

When the employer wants to sponsor a migrant to fill a particular job they may have had to advertise the job beforehand (with few limited exceptions, i.e. Tier 4 (General) student switching upon completion of their course), so as to test whether a resident worker in the UK could have been available to take the job (this is called the “resident labour market test”).

For the employer to sponsor the migrant the employer must also issue a “certificate of sponsorship” (CoS) for the migrant. Once the certificate of sponsorship is issued, it needs to be assigned to the identified migrant. This is an online virtual document which contains various detailed information about the employer, the migrant and the job, and it has a unique reference number. When the migrant submits the visa application they must quote this reference number.

Sponsor Licence Application Process

A general overview of the steps involved in the application process of sponsorship licence include:

Step 1: Ensure Your Business is Eligible to Apply

To ensure your business is eligible to apply, you need to fulfil these main conditions;

  • The business will need to provide specified supporting documents to confirm eligibility.
  • The company should not have a previous history of failing to carry out the sponsorship duties.
  • The company should have appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.

Step 2: Choose The Type of Sponsor licence You Need

You will need to specify the type of workers or migrants your business is looking to sponsor and accordingly apply for a suitable licence.

Tier 2 – Skilled workers with long-term or permanent job offers. Tier 2 visas include Tier 2 General, Intra-Company Transfer, Minister of Religion and Sportsperson.

Tier 5 – Skilled temporary workers. Tier 5 visas include Charity Worker, Religious Worker, Government Authorised Exchange, International Agreement and Creative and Sporting.

You can apply for a sponsor licence covering Tier 2 visas, Tier 5 visas, or both. It is possible to later add additional categories, once the licence has been issued.

Step 3: Appoint Someone to Manage Sponsor Management Roles

As part of the sponsor licence application, you will need to appoint someone within your business to manage sponsor roles once you have been granted the licence.

All the responsibilities are managed using the UKVI’s tool – sponsorship management system (SMS).

The sponsorship management roles that need to be fulfilled include;

Authorising Officer – a senior person within your business 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 Sponsorship Management System.

All these roles can also be allocated to the same person within your business.

Step 4: Prepare and Send Sponsor Licence Application

You will need to use the online application service of the UKVI to get started with the process. After completing the application, you will also be asked to send the required supporting documents to the following UKVI address.

Sponsor casework operations
Sponsor applications team
UK Visas and Immigration
PO Box 3468
S3 8WA

UKVI provides a general estimated time of fewer than 8 weeks, claiming that 8 out of 10 applications are dealt with in less than 8 weeks.

Supporting documents are mainly related to the proof of verifying your business and addressing the requirements listed in the guide above. You will need to submit at least four specified documents to show that you are a genuine business.

UKVI usually allows five working days to submit the required additional documents and the

Sponsor Licence Application Fees

The fees for the sponsor licence application depends on the type of licence you want to apply for and whether you are a small business or a medium and large organisation.

Sponsor Licence TypeSmall / Charitable sponsorsMedium or Large Sponsors
Tier 2£536£1,476
Tier 5£536£536
Tier 2 and Tier 5£536£ 1,476
Add a Tier 2 to an existing Tier 5No Fee£940
Add a Tier 5 to an existing Tier 2No feeNo fee

You are classified as a small business when

  • your annual turnover doesn’t exceed £10.2 million
  • you employ 50 or fewer employees in your business.

UKVI Visits for Verification

Once you submit your application, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your online application along with the supporting documents you provided along with your application.

The UKVI may visit your business to make sure you’re a credible business and capable of carrying out your sponsorship duties after you are issued a licence.

Sponsor Licence Application Lawyers

The Tier 2 Visa system and PBS system in general, is in its entirety, quite complex, and the UKVI is notoriously particular in their assessments, especially with the sponsor licence application process.

Our lawyers have more than 10 years of experience working with corporate clients and we have helped businesses of all sizes successfully obtain Sponsor Licence over the past years.

Our Sponsor Licence Application Services
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If you need assistance with your Sponsor Licence application, please get in touch with our London-based immigration lawyers on 020 7439 3000. You can book a consultation with one of our Sponsor Licence application experts to discuss your application process.