Sponsor Licence Guidance for Employers

Whether you represent a business employing migrant workers, or an educational institution looking for assistance with sponsoring overseas students, the solicitors at Latitude Law will be happy to guide you through the requirements of the Points-Based System (PBS) sponsorship scheme.

Sponsor licences are available for new hires, intra-company transfers and certain visa routes. To employ skilled workers from overseas, UK employers must hold a valid sponsor licence.

The process of sponsoring an overseas worker can be complex; penalties for non-compliance, or failure to maintain proper records, are significant. Those who are seeking to renew an old Tier 2 sponsor licence will need to take account of changes to the system and should consult expert advice.

To speak to a lawyer about the sponsor licence application process, call us today on 0044 161 234 6800 or complete our enquiry form and we will get in touch as soon as possible.


What is a Sponsor Licence?

A sponsor licence is the authority you need from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to sponsor non-UK/Irish staff or students in the UK. A sponsor licence lasts four years (unless withdrawn by the Home Office) and must be renewed before it expires if you wish to continue to sponsor overseas staff.

The UK’s sponsor licence system was introduced in November 2008 and is designed to regulate which employers in the UK can employ non-UK resident workers.

For a UK business or educational institution to be considered for a sponsor licence, you must be able to prove the following:

  • Your business/institution is legitimate and operates lawfully in the UK
  • You have a genuine vacancy that could be filled by an overseas worker, at an appropriate salary and skill level
  • You have proper systems in place to monitor sponsored employees/students
  • You do not have a history of non-compliance with immigration laws

Before applying for a sponsor licence, our solicitors can take a look at your organisation’s policies, practices and documents to ensure they are in line with Home Office expectations. We can also advise on the best action to take should changes need to be made. We offer mock audits to firms wishing to test their HR systems, which can help you to determine whether you are well-placed to apply for a sponsor licence.

Worker Sponsor Licence

If you wish to employ a worker who is not a UK/Irish citizen and who is not otherwise permitted to work in the UK, you must first apply for a sponsor licence. Once issued with the licence, you will be able to facilitate the entry of your employees.

This will allow them to live and work legally in the UK. There are multiple options for organisations and education institutions, which include:

  • Skilled Worker – where a genuine vacancy meeting minimum skill and salary levels exists.
  • Senior/Specialist Worker – for companies that operate in multiple countries and need to transfer senior managers or specialist staff on temporary assignment to the UK business.
  • Graduate Trainee – for employers wanting to transfer foreign workers to the UK for a work placement as part of their graduate training course.
  • Expansion Worker – for businesses operating a branch or subsidiary in the UK.
  • Service Supplier – for contractual service suppliers or self-employed professionals working under a UK trade agreement.
  • Secondment Worker – for workers involved in high-value contracts or investments by their overseas employer.
  • Minister of Religion – for people who are coming to the UK to join a religious organisation.
  • Temporary worker in a charity or religious organisation
  • Sportsperson – for sportspeople and coaches who are looking to take up roles at the highest level in their sport.

There are no restrictions on the size or type of business that can apply.

Student and/ or Child Student Sponsor Licence

A sponsor licence is required if your educational institution wants to enrol students who are non-British or Irish, or not otherwise entitled to study in the UK. In order to be able to facilitate their visa application, the establishment must offer courses of study to full-time students in the UK.

As a Student and/or Child Student sponsor, you are responsible for:

  • Ensuring the student attends their course
  • Monitoring the student’s unauthorised absences
  • Contacting the authorities if the student leaves their course prior to the course end date

Educational establishments that fail to comply with their duties will be investigated by the UKVI, which, depending on the nature of the breach, may take compliance action resulting in an action plan or revocation of their licence.

Eligibility for a Sponsor Licence

The Home Office will deem a business eligible for a sponsor licence if they meet some key criteria, which includes providing key information on your organisation. This includes:

  • Proof that your organisation is genuine, operating lawfully and is based in the UK. The Home Office will also want full details about the premises where the sponsored worker will be working
  • Key personnel who will have specific responsibilities for the duration of the sponsor licence and meet the good character requirements
  • Use of HR systems and practices that are effective in managing all your sponsorship duties, including training all key and relevant personnel, to ensure compliance for the duration of the licence
  • Proof that the roles you are recruiting are genuine and meet the relevant skill level and appropriate rates of pay for the specific visa route. Once a role has been filled, UKVI may require work records or other evidence to prove the sponsor workers in question are fulfilling the duties outlined in the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)

If you do not have a specific role to employ but want to apply for a sponsor licence as you may wish to recruit from overseas in the future, you are able to do this; however, you will still need to meet the eligibility criteria above in order for a licence to be granted.

What key personnel do I need to appoint?

There are three key personnel you need to appoint to ensure you manage your sponsor licence appropriately. These include:

  • Authorising officer – this person will usually be someone senior within the organisation who is involved in recruitment and/or HR. They are ultimately responsible for the sponsor licence, and ensuring your organisation remains compliant
  • Key contact – this person will be the primary point of contact for the Home Office. A legal representative can undertake this role for you
  • Level 1 user – this person will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the sponsor licence through the online sponsorship management system (SMS). They must be an employee at the time of the application. Other users, known as level 2 users, can be set up to handle certain tasks on the SMS

All key personnel will need to be in place when you apply for your sponsor licence. These roles can be filled by the same person or a combination of different people. Each person to take on a role must be based in the UK, not have any unspent criminal convictions, civil penalties or other adverse history.

Applying for a Sponsor Licence

Once you have been deemed eligible for a sponsor licence, we will assist you through the stages of future PBS visa applications, ensuring you comply with the Home Office’s requirements every step of the way. The process includes:

  • Making sure you apply for the correct type of sponsor licence
  • Helping you find someone suitable in your business/institution to manage the sponsoring
  • Collating all the necessary supporting documents for your sponsor licence application
  • Advising on the correct way to fill in the sponsor licence application form and ensuring you pay the correct fee

Following an application, your business may be subjected to a compliance check from the Home Office – this can be carried out digitally or in person – to assess whether or not to grant the sponsor licence. This process will involve your HR and recruitment processes being scrutinised, and compliance officers will require proof to see how you intend to meet your compliance duties.

When it comes to renewing your licence, you should also expect a compliance visit from the Home Office who will conduct an audit to ensure you have operated in line with your duties before granting a renewal.

Throughout the application process (and the duration of the licence), you must be responsive and cooperative with any requests from the Home Office. Requests can include providing certain information or documentation, or carrying out a site inspection – you have a responsibility to act honestly and with full disclosure.

Our expert solicitors will be with you at every step of the visa application process and can provide advice on renewing a sponsor licence.

How much does it cost to apply for a sponsor licence?

The sponsor licence fee you are required to pay will vary depending on the type of workers you are planning to hire, the length of time they will be employed for, and the size of your business.

If you are applying:

  • For a standard Worker licence – £536 for small or charitable sponsors, and £1,476 for medium and large sponsors.
  • For a Temporary Worker licence – £536 for both small and charitable, and medium and large sponsors.
  • For a Worker and Temporary Worker licence – £536 for small or charitable sponsors, and £1,476 for medium and large sponsors.
  • To add a Standard Worker licence to an already existing Temporary Worker licence – no fee is required for small and charitable sponsors, but £1,476 for medium and large sponsors.
  • To add a Temporary Worker licence to an existing Worker licence – no fee is required for sponsors of any size.

For any questions about these bands, or what your company qualifies as, please call 0044 161 234 6800 for our Manchester office, or 0044 203 752 6620 for our London office.

What supporting documents do I need to make a sponsor licence application?

You will be required to provide supporting documentation as part of your application for a sponsor licence. To understand which supporting documents you will need to include in your submission, refer to the latest version of Appendix A to Home Office guidance. In addition, you will be required to present information about your business activities, including details of your company, the industry you occupy, the number of existing employees, and why you need to apply for a sponsor licence.

Typically, you will need to provide at least four pieces of evidence, and these must be supplied within five days of the application. Failure to provide all required supporting documents may result in your application experiencing delays or being rejected.

We understand that gathering and providing the required evidence can be time-consuming, particularly if your organisation is large or complex, which is why we provide specialist advice on the documentation requirements specific to your application to help you avoid delays or issues.

What is the ‘genuineness test’?

The test will assess the role(s) you are looking to recruit from overseas for and how these roles will fit within your organisation. Many applications are let down by a failure to pass the genuineness test, so it is vital you are able to convince the Home Office of the following:

  • The role meets the requirements of the occupation category
  • The role is suitable for a business of your type

If you already have somebody in mind for the role, you must provide evidence that their previous employment or training is suitable for this new role.

How long does it take to process a sponsor licence application?

Sponsor licence applications are typically processed within eight to 10 weeks, although you may pay an additional £500 to use the Sponsor Licence Application Priority Service for processing in around two weeks.

How to avoid a refused Sponsor Licence Application

There are many reasons why a sponsor licence application might be refused. Employers are also often unaware of the extent of the Home Office checks and evaluation of the organisation, resulting in organisations not committing adequately enough to manage and ensure compliance.

Before making an application for a sponsor licence, it is important to ensure that you are fully prepared and compliant to minimise the risk of having an application refused. Taking professional legal advice can provide you with the guidance you need to stand the best chance of securing a sponsor licence, enabling you to continue with your recruitment plans.

What supporting documents do I need to make a sponsor licence application?

You will be required to provide supporting documentation as part of your application for a sponsor licence. To understand which supporting documents you will need to include in your submission, refer to the latest version of Appendix A to Home Office guidance. In addition, you will be required to present information about your business activities, including details of your company, the industry you occupy, the number of existing employees, and why you need to apply for a sponsor licence.

Typically, you will need to provide at least four pieces of evidence, and these must be supplied within five days of the application. Failure to provide all required supporting documents may result in your application experiencing delays or being rejected.

We understand that gathering and providing the required evidence can be time-consuming, particularly if your organisation is large or complex, which is why we provide specialist advice on the documentation requirements specific to your application to help you avoid delays or issues.

Assigning Certificates of Sponsorship

A CoS acts as your organisation’s confirmation to the Home Office that an overseas worker you intend to recruit is suitable for visa sponsorship. The worker will use the unique reference number on the CoS to apply for their visa.

There are two types of CoS:

  • Defined – these are for skilled worker visa applicants applying from overseas
  • Undefined – these are for skilled worker visa applicants who are already in the UK and applicants for other visa categories

A CoS is only valid for three months from the date of issue, and workers are not able to apply for their visa more than three months before the start date on the CoS. Certificates are also not transferable between workers.

You must request an allocation of certificates with your application, and then every 12 months once a licence is granted. You should be able to justify the amount you request through your planned recruitment activity. You will receive email reminders from the Home Office about renewing your allocation.

To assign a CoS, you will need to log into the SMS and submit your request. This will generate the unique reference number that the worker will need to provide when applying for their visa.

Your Duties as a Sponsor

Once you have obtained a sponsor licence, you have a number of duties that you must adhere to that begin from the moment the licence is granted.

The main responsibility for sponsor licence holders is complying with the UK’s illegal working requirements, which states that all employees must provide documentation to prove their right to work before being employed by a UK business. You are required to keep copies of this information.

Other sponsor duties include:

  • Informing UKVI if:
    • A sponsored worker/student does not turn up for the first day of work/study
    • A sponsored worker/student is absent from work/lessons without your permission for 10 consecutive days
    • A sponsored worker resigns or is dismissed, or a student quits
    • You stop sponsoring a worker or student
    • There are any changes to the sponsored worker’s/student’s circumstances
  • Regularly reviewing HR systems and procedures used to manage sponsored workers and addressing any possible issues
  • Monitoring and maintaining compliance with the sponsor licence rules

Your sponsor licence compliance should be handled as an ongoing, day-to-day concern to ensure you adhere to the Home Office’s immigration rules and regulations. It is vital that staff named on your licence are kept up to date; if an authorising officer or other key person resigns, arrangements to replace them must be made before they leave.

If your company loses its sponsoring licence due to unlawful practice or difficulties when applying, any visa applicants aiming to work for them will have their applications cancelled. We can provide advice and guidance on how to carry out your duties so you can obtain and maintain a sponsor licence.

How our Sponsor Licence solicitors can help 

Latitude Law is dedicated to helping immigrants understand and fulfil their legal obligations to enter the UK as smoothly as possible. Our award-winning immigration solicitors have been recognised by the Legal 500 for our integrity and success when dealing with difficult cases.

Whether you require an assessment of your prospects of making a successful sponsor licence application, assistance with a current application, or advice on what supporting documentation to submit, when you call us, we will consult your situation and determine the best course of action. Our expert advice has helped many people attain visas and sponsorship licence, and your business will benefit from our expertise and our thorough approach to this process.

Given the importance of hiring overseas workers correctly, you should seek advice as early as possible to ensure your submission for a sponsor licence is thorough and gives you the best chance of success. Our guidance can also help to ensure your business continually stays compliant to the duties expected of a sponsor licence holder so you do not run the risk of having your licence revoked or suspended.

Contact us

Do not take any chances when applying for a visa or sponsorship licence; the future of your business or your employees may be at risk if you neglect proper practice or fail to meet every legal requirement. Call Latitude now on 0044 161 234 6800 (Manchester) or 0044 207 046 7185 (London) and our expert immigration solicitors will help you break down the application process and offer sponsor licence guidance.

FAQs about Sponsor Licences

When can I renew my sponsor licence?

If you hold a sponsorship licence, you can check your expiry date and its earliest renewal date in your SMS account. Usually, the earliest renewal date is three months before the expiry date, but sometimes the Home Office can invite a sponsor to apply earlier. You will need to ensure all the information in your SMS account is accurate before applying to renew the sponsor licence and paying the application fee.

What happens if you employ a worker without a sponsor licence?

If you are found to be employing a migrant worker without a sponsorship licence, you could face severe penalties, as well as irreparable damage to your reputation. These penalties will also apply if your authority expires, meaning that prompt sponsor licence renewal is vital if you intend to continue employing migrant workers.

Punishments include:

  • imprisonment for up to five years;
  • a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker.

If you are given a penalty notice, our specialist solicitors have expertise on the legal framework governing civil penalties and the measures you must employ in order to avoid them. We can advise on the merits of appealing and represent your interests in seeking to have the penalty reduced or cancelled.

What should I do if I receive a ‘sponsor licence revocation letter’ from the Home Office?

There are many reasons a sponsor licence can be revoked, therefore, it is recommended that you seek expert legal advice as soon as you receive a revocation letter from the Home Office. Depending on the severity of the revocation, a solicitor may be able to start building a case to appeal the decision.

How do I prevent my sponsor licence being revoked?

In order to prevent your licence certificate being revoked, it is advised that you always adhere to your sponsorship duties. This includes:

  • Checking that your foreign workers have the correct skills, qualifications and accreditations to do the job advertised
  • Only assigning certificates of sponsorship for suitable jobs
  • Making UKVI aware if your sponsored workers aren’t adhering to the terms of their visa

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All content on this page was reviewed by Latitude Law and is accurate as of 25/01/2023