A UK company may need a Sponsor Licence to hire or retain employees who do not hold British Citizenship or have Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.
*Most applications (8 out of 10) are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. UKVI may need to visit your business.
Employer Sponsorship Licence
How to get a Sponsor Licence:
- Check your business is eligible.
- Choose the type of licence you want to apply for – this will depend on what type of worker you want to sponsor.
- Decide who will manage sponsorship within your business.
- Apply online and pay the fee.
*UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may visit your business to check it’s suitable.
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 don’t meet your responsibilities as a sponsor.
To get a licence, you can’t have:
- unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, eg fraud or money laundering
- any history of failing to carry out your sponsorship duties
*You will 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 are trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.
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 either tier or both.
Skilled Worker Visa is to enable you to employ someone for a specific period or permanently. It is 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 who 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
Temporary Worker Licence
This Licence is to sponsor temporary staff in these sub-categories:
- Creative and Sporting – to work as a sportsperson (up to 1 year), entertainer or artist (up to 2 years)
- Charity Worker – for unpaid workers (up to 1 year)
- Religious Worker – for those working in a religious order or organisation (2 years)
- Government Authorised Exchange – work experience (1 year), research projects or training, e.g. practical medical or scientific training (2 years) to enable a short-term exchange of knowledge
- International Agreement – where the worker is coming to do a job which is covered by international law, e.g. employees of overseas governments
- Seasonal Worker – for those coming to the UK for up to 6 months to do farm work
Your licence rating: You will get an A-rated licence if your application is approved.
A-rating – full sponsor licence: An A-rated licence enables you to start assigning certificates of sponsorship. Your business will be listed in the register of sponsors. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/register-of-licensed-sponsors-workers
Downgrading to B-rating: Your A-rated licence may be downgraded to a B-rating at a later stage if you don’t continue to meet your sponsor duties. If this happens, you won’t be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until you’ve made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating. You may still be able to issue certificates to workers you already employ who want to extend, or who are switching from a Work Permit.
Upgrade to an A-rating: You need to follow an ‘action plan’ provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to upgrade your licence. *You may 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 don’t, you may lose your licence.
At the end of the action plan: You may be upgraded to an A-rating if you complete all the steps and there’s nothing else you need to improve. You may lose your licence if you don’t complete all the steps. If you need to make other improvements, you may 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 may lose your licence if you still need to make improvements after your second action plan.
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 would 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, eg they cannot withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.
Suitability checks: You and your staff will be checked to make sure you are 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.
‘key personnel’ guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sponsor-a-tier-2-or-5-worker-guidance-for-employers
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.
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.
Supporting documents: You need to send the correct supporting documents to prove that you are a genuine business. Your application could be refused if your documentation is inadequate.
You can sponsor a worker if the tier 2 or tier 5 job they’re going to do has a suitable rate of pay and skill level.
Offering a skilled job in Scotland: If you want to offer someone a skilled job, it must be Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 9 or above for both Tier 2 (General) and Intra-Company Transfer.
Creative jobs: There are separate rates of pay and skill levels for:
- ballet dancers and other dancers
- film and TV performers
- theatre and opera performers
- film and TV workers
Your responsibilities: 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 don’t meet them.
Monitoring employees: 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, eg 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 are changing your details, like your address or allocated roles.