When applying for a UK work visa, many of the available immigration routes designed for overseas nationals coming to the UK to undertake employment are sponsored routes. This means that before being able to apply for a visa, you will need the offer of a suitable job and to be assigned a valid certificate of sponsorship from a UK licensed sponsor.

The following guide to certificates of sponsorship looks at what these are and the circumstances in which you will need one when applying as a migrant worker for either entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK for employment-related purposes.

What is a certificate of sponsorship?

Before you can make a successful application for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK for the purposes of work, you must be assigned a valid certificate of sponsorship (CoS). An CoS is a certificate issued by an organisation approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to sponsor workers on specific routes to enable each worker to apply for a visa on that route, where a certificate must be assigned to each sponsored worker.

A certificate of sponsorship is an electronic record, rather than a physical document, confirming your personal details and a description of the work that you will be doing for your sponsor in the UK. The CoS provides confirmation from your licensed sponsor, that:

they wish to sponsor you and are eligible to sponsor workers on the relevant route
they are satisfied that you can meet the immigration requirements of that route
they agree to comply with the terms and conditions set out on the sponsorship management system (SMS), where the SMS is used by licensed sponsors to issue sponsorship certificates and to report any changes to UKVI, where necessary.

Each certificate of sponsorship has its own unique reference number, which you can then use to submit your visa application to UKVI, together with any other evidence in support.

Do you need a certificate of sponsorship?

If you are applying to UKVI for permission to work in the UK under one of the sponsored work routes, you will need a certificate of sponsorship. For example, under the Skilled Worker route — where the rules relating to eligibility are set out under Appendix Skilled Worker of the UK’s Immigration Rules — to qualify for this type of visa, you must score 20 points for sponsorship. The provisions relating to sponsorship certificates, as set out under section SW 5.1 of that appendix, require that the applicant must have been assigned a valid certificate of sponsorship for the job they are proposing to do, which to be valid must:

  • confirm the applicant’s name, that they are being sponsored as a Skilled Worker, details of the job and salary the sponsor is offering them, and PAYE details if HMRC requires Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions for the job to be paid via PAYE
  • have been allocated by the Home Office to that sponsor for the specific job and salary details shown where the application is for entry clearance
  • include a start date which is no more than 3 months after the date of the visa application
  • not have been used in a previous visa application which was either granted or refused
  • not have been withdrawn by the sponsor or cancelled by the Home Office, and
  • confirm whether the requirement under Appendix ATAS applies.

In applications where Appendix ATAS applies — which refers to the Academic Technology Approval Scheme — you will need a valid ATAS certificate if you will be doing a skilled job role in the UK involving PhD-level research in a relevant subject. This is typically where you will be working for a university, where your sponsor is also a licensed student sponsor.

Your sponsor may also want to certify maintenance on your certificate of sponsorship. Under the Skilled Worker routes, together with other work routes, your sponsor can certify that they will maintain and accommodate you, if necessary, up to the first month of your employment. This will enable you to meet the financial requirement under the rules that would otherwise require you to show that you have held funds in an amount of at least £1,270 for a period of 28 days prior to the date of application. By your sponsor certifying maintenance on the CoS, you will be treated as having met this financial requirement.

Types of certificate of sponsorship

There are two broad categories of certificates of sponsorship: defined and undefined. You will be assigned a defined CoS if applying for entry clearance on the Skilled Worker route. In contrast, you will be assigned an undefined CoS if applying for permission to stay as a Skilled Worker from inside the UK, as well as for applications on all other work routes, regardless of whether your application is for entry clearance or leave to remain.

Your sponsor will need to make a specific request for a defined CoS, which will usually take 24-48 hours to be approved, although it can take longer if UKVI need to carry out further checks on the information contained within your sponsor’s request. Once approved, a defined certificate will appear in their SMS account where, at this stage, the CoS can then be assigned to you to enable you to apply to UKVI for a visa.

When it comes to undefined CoS, if your employer already has an existing licence in place to sponsor the relevant category of worker, they should already have an unused allocation of undefined sponsorship certificates showing in their SMS account. One of these can be completed and assigned with immediate effect once you have been offered a job, although it can take several weeks for an increased allocation request by a sponsor to be processed.

The responsibility for assigning the right type of sponsorship certificate rests with your UK sponsor, although it is important that they get this right, where assigning the wrong type of CoS, even if an inadvertent error, will invalidate your visa application and may even result in UKVI taking action against the sponsor. UKVI can reduce or remove the number of CoS that a sponsor can assign for any breach of the rules around certificates of sponsorship. It can additionally revoke, suspend or downgrade their licence, where a sponsor must usually be an A-rated sponsor to be eligible to assign certificates of sponsorship to migrant workers.

Certificates of sponsorship can also be categorised as CoS on either the Worker or Temporary Worker routes. The Worker routes are for skilled or long-term employment, while the Temporary Worker routes are for specific types of short-term employment, including the five visas under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella, together with the different Temporary Worker visas across various industry sectors.

Your UK sponsor, unless already licensed, can apply to UKVI for a licence covering either one or both types of workers. Equally, if they are only currently licensed for one or the other, they can apply to add the alternative route to their existing sponsor licence.

How do you get a certificate of sponsorship?

To get a certificate of sponsorship in the UK, you must first be offered a genuine job role with a UK licensed sponsor who can then assign you a valid CoS so you can apply for a visa.

The job you will be doing in the UK must be suitable for your selected immigration route. Your sponsor must also be licensed to sponsor this specific category of worker. For example, if you applying to the come to the UK as a Skilled Worker, your job offer must meet the minimum skill and salary requirements for the Skilled Worker route, and your prospective new employer must be licensed by UKVI to sponsor Skilled Workers. Before assigning you a certificate of sponsorship, your sponsor must also satisfy themselves that you can meet all of the relevant immigration requirements of your chosen route.

Importantly, being assigned a certificate of sponsorship does not guarantee that you will be granted entry clearance or permission to stay from UKVI where, in addition to the sponsorship requirement, you must meet all of the other route-specific requirements.

How long does a certificate of sponsorship last?

The certificate of sponsorship will specify the date this was assigned to you and will only be valid for a period of 3 months. This means that when an CoS has been assigned, you must use this to apply for your visa within 3 months, although you cannot apply for your visa more than 3 months before the start date of the job listed on the sponsorship certificate.

If you fail to make an application for a visa within the validity period of your certificate of sponsorship, the CoS will show as expired in your sponsor’s SMS account. As such, if you still want to make an application, your sponsor will need to assign you a new certificate.

How much does a certificate of sponsorship cost?

The costs associated with a certificate of sponsorship can vary, depending on the nature of the sponsored work route. For certificates assigned under the Worker route, with the exception of workers on the International Sportsperson route, the cost to an employer of assigning each certificate will be £199. In contrast, the cost to assign a certificate under a Temporary Worker route is just £21. If you are applying for a visa as an International Sportsperson, where the certificate assigned is for a period of more than 12 months, the cost will be £199, reduced to £21 where the CoS is assigned for 12 months or less.

For the Temporary Worker routes, given that permission will typically be granted for a much a shorter period of time, the costs associated with applying for these types of visas are also lower. For example, the cost to apply for a Creative Worker (Temporary Work) visa is just £259, as compared with a fee of up to £1,235 when applying for entry clearance on the Skilled Worker route, or up to £1,423 when applying to switch to this route or for leave to remain. On either the Skilled Worker route and the Senior or Specialist Worker route, where both routes are treated as Worker routes for fee purposes, the employer may also be liable to pay an immigration skills charge having assigned a certificate of sponsorship.

The immigration skills charge will usually be payable if a new recruit or transferring employee is applying for a visa outside the UK to work for a period of 6 months or more, or applying from inside the UK for any length of time. The charge payable will be based on the size of your sponsor’s organisation and how long you will be working for them, using the start and end dates on your CoS. For small or charitable sponsors, this will be £364 for the first 12 months, plus an additional £182 for every extra 6 months. For medium or large sponsors, this will be £1000 for the first 12 months and £500 for each additional 6 months.

Who pays for a certificate of sponsorship?

The cost to apply for a sponsor licence, and to assign a certificate of sponsorship once approved to sponsor certain categories of worker, is payable by your UK sponsor. Your sponsor will also be liable to pay any immigration skills charge when assigning an Cos, where applicable. However, unless your prospective new employer agrees to reimburse any costs for which you are directly responsible, you will be liable to pay the visa application fee. This fee will become payable once you have been signed a valid sponsorship certificate, proving you with a unique CoS reference number with which to submit your application.

You may also be liable to pay an immigration health surcharge. This is to provide you with access to the UK’s NHS, on generally the same basis as a permanent resident. Set at £624 per year of stay, this means that if you are coming to the UK as a Skilled Worker for a period of 3 years, you will be required to pay £1,872 on top of your visa application fee.

Certificate of sponsorship FAQs

What is a certificate of sponsorship?

A certificate of sponsorship is a certificate issued by an employer approved to sponsor workers on specific routes, to enable each worker to apply for a visa on that route. This is an electronic record, rather than a physical document.

How do I get a certificate of sponsorship UK?

To get a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) in the UK, you must be offered a genuine job role with a UK licensed sponsor who can then assign you a valid CoS to enable you to apply for a suitable visa.

How do employers get certificate of sponsorship UK?

Any employer licensed by the Home Office to sponsor workers in the UK will have access to the Home Office sponsorship management system (SMS). They will be able to access the SMS and use this to assign certificates of sponsorship.

How long does it take NHS to issue CoS?

When a request is made by the NHS using the Home Office sponsorship management system to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), it can take as little as 24-48 hours for the request to be confirmed.

Can I start work before CoS date?

Your Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) will specify a start date for your new job, where you cannot apply for your visa more than 3 months before that start date and you must have a visa to legally start work.


Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


As editor of Xpats.io, Gill is passionate about helping individuals and organisations overseas explore and pursue opportunities in the UK. She is a content specialist in the fields of immigration, law and business.