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What are sponsor licences?

A sponsor licence allows an employer to sponsor people from outside the UK, to enable them to work for their business. This type of sponsorship is now required for citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020.

UK employers do not need a licence to sponsor certain groups of people, including:

Be aware that sponsoring someone doesn't guarantee they’ll be allowed to come to or stay in the UK.

The first step towards obtaining a sponsor licence is checking that the business is eligible. To get a licence, businesses cannot have:

  • unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes (eg fraud or money laundering), or

  • had a sponsor licence revoked within the last 12 months

Application forms (and any supporting documents) will be reviewed by UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI), who may visit a business’ premises to check whether the business is honest and trustworthy and capable of carrying out its duties.

Which jobs are suitable for sponsorship?

Businesses can sponsor a worker if their job:

  • has a suitable rate of pay and skill level, or

  • meets certain other criteria required for their particular type of visa

What constitutes a suitable rate of pay and skill level for a job depends on the type of job in question. For example, a health or care worker, a seasonal worker, and a religious worker would all have different job suitability requirements to meet. For more information, read the Government’s guidance.

Types of sponsorship licence

The type of sponsor licences businesses can apply for depends on whether the workers wanted are classified as:

  • ‘workers’ (ie they’re being recruited for skilled or long-term employment), or

  • ‘temporary workers’ (ie they’re needed for specific types of temporary employment)

Businesses can hold one or both types of licences.

Worker licences

A worker licence allows businesses to sponsor workers that they want to recruit to perform different types of skilled employment. Depending on the worker’s visa, the skilled work can be short-term, long-term or permanent. There are different types of worker licences, including: 

  • Skilled Worker visas - which require that the job meets the job suitability requirements

  • Senior or Specialist Worker visas (Global Business Mobility) - for intra-company transfers within global companies. These visas can be used to transfer established employees from abroad to the UK.

  • Ministers of Religion - for individuals who are coming to the UK to work for a religious organisation

  • International Sportsperson - used to allow elite sportspeople and coaches to be based in the UK

Temporary worker licences

Temporary worker licences are only available for certain types of employment and certain visa categories. A temporary worker licence allows businesses to sponsor workers on a temporary basis. Temporary workers include volunteers and people work-shadowing. The types of visas that businesses can sponsor people for using a temporary worker licence include:

  • Creative Worker visas - for people who work as entertainers or artists (for up to 2 years)

  • Charity Worker visas - for unpaid charity workers (for up to 1 year)

  • Religious Worker visas - for people working in religious orders or organisations (for up to 2 years)

  • Government Authorised Exchange visas - for those coming to the UK for work experience (for up to 1 year) or for research projects or training, such as practical medical or scientific training (for up to 2 years). This visa aims to facilitate short-term exchanges of knowledge

  • International Agreement visas - for workers coming to the UK do a job covered by international law (eg employees of foreign governments)

  • Seasonal Worker visas - for farm workers and similar coming to the UK for up to 6 months

  • Graduate Trainee (Global Business Mobility) visas -  for workers employed by global companies moving to the UK within to work within their business as part of a graduate training programme

  • Scale-up Worker visas - for workers who come to the UK to work within a fast-growing UK business

For more information on these visa categories, and an exhaustive list of visas that are sponsorable under a temporary worker visa licence, read the Government’s guidance

Who will manage the licence?

People need to be appointed within a business to manage the roles within the sponsor licence application process. These roles can be filled by the same person or by different people. They include:

  • The Authorising Officer, who:

    • has overall responsibility for the licence

    • should be ‘the most senior person in the organisation responsible for recruitment’. This allows the employer some leeway, with often either a director or head of HR taking this role

    • decides who the Level 1 Users and any Level 2 Users should be

    • does not have access to the sponsorship management system (or ‘SMS’), the web interface through which the licence is administered,  unless they’re also appointed as a Level 1 User

  • The Key Contact, who:

    • is the key contact between UKVI and the employer. The UKVI will usually contact this person if they have queries about the business’ sponsorship activities

    • the Key Contact is not automatically granted access to the SMS and must be appointed in the same manner as the Authorising Officer must

  • Level 1 Users, who:

    • are responsible for the general administration of the licence

    • have access to the SMS

Businesses can only appoint a single Level 1 User when applying for a licence. However, additional Level 1 Users can be appointed after a licence is granted. 

Generally, there must always be at least one Level 1 User who is: 

  • a ‘settled worker’ (ie someone who has indefinite leave to remain in the UK, including British citizens, individuals with settled status, and most British overseas territories citizens)

  •  an employee, director, or partner

After a sponsor licence has been granted, businesses can appoint Level 2 Users. A Level 2 User’s role is similar to a Level 1 User but with fewer administrative privileges (eg they cannot withdraw a certificate of sponsorship).

Suitability checks

Businesses will need to ensure that staff appointed to the above roles are suitable for them. A business may not get its sponsor licence if anyone involved in the sponsorship process has:

  • an unspent criminal conviction for certain offences

  • been fined by UKVI in the past 12 months

  • been reported to UKVI

  • broken the law

  • been a ‘key person’ (eg an Authorising Officer) for a sponsor that had its licence revoked in the last 12 months

  • failed to pay VAT or other excise duty

The business and its allocated staff must also:

  • be based in the UK most of the time

  • not be contracted as a contractor or consultant for a specific project

  • not be subject to a debt relief restriction order or undertaking, or a  bankruptcy restriction order or undertaking.

  • not have previously been non-compliant with sponsor requirements

Staff appointed to the above roles must typically be paid members of staff or office holders (eg directors). Businesses may appoint a UK-based legal representative, who is qualified to give immigration advice or services, to any of the above roles except the Authorising Officer role. 

Application process

Businesses should apply for licences online. Once the application is completed, the business needs to send the submission sheet at the end of the application, together with any supporting documents required, to the email address on the submission sheet.

The applicable fee will need to be paid, which depends on the type of licence being applied for and the type of business applying (eg a small business, a large business, or a charity).

Applications are generally dealt with within 8 weeks. However, businesses may be able to pay £500 to get a decision within 10 working days. More information on this option is provided after applying.

What happens after applying?

Licence ratings

Successful business applicants will be given an A-rated licence. This allows the business to issue certificates of sponsorship for jobs suitable for sponsorship. It  will be listed on the register of sponsors.

If a business doesn’t continue to meet its responsibilities as a sponsor, its rating will be downgraded to a B-rating until it brings its practices back to the appropriate standards. 

Sponsor licences will be valid for 4 years unless a business loses its licence because it no longer meets its responsibilities as a sponsor. For more information, read the Government’s guidance.

Providing certificates of sponsorship

Businesses must assign a certificate of sponsorship to each foreign worker they employ. A certificate of sponsorship is an electronic record that a worker can use to apply for a visa. Workers must apply for their visa within 3 months and they must not apply for their visa more than 3 months before the start date of the job listed on the certificate.

When providing certificates of sponsorship for some workers, a business will also have to pay an ‘immigration skills charge’. 

For more information about hiring workers from abroad, read Work visas and employing overseas workers and the Government’s guidance.

Reporting duties for hybrid working

New Government guidance from May 2023 confirms that permanent remote working or regular hybrid working patterns are permitted for sponsored workers

However, sponsors must report changes in a sponsored worker’s normal work location, which must always be recorded on the certificate of sponsorship if:

  • the worker is or will be working remotely on a permanent basis 

  • the worker has or will be moving to a hybrid working pattern (ie where the worker is working out of various locations on a ‘regular and planned basis’, for example, where the worker is required to come into the office for a specified minimum number of days and works from home for the others)

Sponsors need not report day-to-day changes in work location to the Home Office, such as when the worker has the discretion to choose their own working pattern. The worker’s normal work location could be their home address or any other remote location that qualifies as a ‘work location’.

Note that this reporting requirement regarding hybrid working patterns is expected to be removed, in recognition that hybrid working arrangements have become extremely common. However, as of 31 July 2023, the requirement has not yet been removed from the Government’s published guidance.

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