Efficient Entry with the Self Sponsorship Visa UK

self sponsorship visa uk


If you have ambitions to come to the UK to run your own business, one of the most important tasks will be obtaining the right visa.

Self sponsorship for a UK work visa is one option that has grown considerably in interest in recent years. Following significant changes in the immigration routes for foreign nationals to start their own UK company, self sponsorship has emerged as a more efficient and flexible alternative for foreign business owners looking to enter the UK.

The self sponsorship process involves three crucial stages:


a. setting up a UK company,

b. applying for a sponsor licence, and

c. applying for the Skilled Worker visa.


Each stage requires careful planning and adherence to specific requirements to ensure a successful application.

In this guide, we set out these three stages to securing self sponsorship in the UK, along with the advantages of this route for business owners over alternative visas.

Given what’s at stake, taking professional advice can help ensure you meet all of the requirements at every stage of the self sponsorship process, and avoid the wasted time and expense of a refused application.



Interesting Stat – Visa Applications and Grants

The number of visa applications and grants has seen a significant rise. For example, the number of decisions on sponsor licence applications increased by 56% from 2022 to 2023, indicating a growing interest in self sponsorship as an alternative route for business immigration.

Applications for Skilled Worker visas, often used in the self sponsorship route, were broadly stable but saw a notable peak in early 2024 with over 10,100 applications in April, before stabilising back to around 6,900 per month.



Section A: What is a Self Sponsorship Visa?


There is no actual ‘self sponsorship visa’ for the UK. It’s not an official visa category in the Immigration Rules, and you won’t find it on a visa application form.

Instead, self sponsorship refers to an immigration strategy where you use your own UK-based company to sponsor you under the Skilled Worker visa category.

This visa is particularly appealing to entrepreneurs who have a solid business plan and the resources to establish and operate a business in the UK.

With self sponsorship, you’ll be allowed to start and run your own business in the UK and sponsor yourself, removing the need for a third-party sponsor.

The visa process involves setting up a UK-based company, creating a genuine role within that company, and then applying for a visa as an employee of the company you own.


1. Background to UK Immigration Routes for Business Owners


The UK immigration system has undergone significant changes in recent years, affecting the pathways available for foreign nationals to set up and run businesses in the UK. These changes reflect the UK government’s shifting priorities and efforts to streamline immigration processes while maintaining strict control over who can enter and operate within the country.


a. Closure of Tier 1 Investor and Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visas

One of the most notable changes was the closure of the Tier 1 Investor and Tier 1 Entrepreneur visas.

The Tier 1 Investor Visa allowed individuals to invest a substantial sum of money (starting at £2 million) into UK businesses or government bonds. However, it was closed to new applicants in February 2022 due to concerns about its misuse and potential security risks. The route had been under review for some time, and its closure marked a significant shift in the UK’s approach to high-net-worth immigration.

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa required applicants to make a minimum investment in a UK business and create jobs for local workers. Despite its popularity, the route was closed to new applicants in March 2019. The government cited issues with the visa’s effectiveness in promoting genuine business activities and concerns about fraudulent applications as reasons for its closure .


b. Introduction and Closure of the Start-Up and Innovator Routes

Following the closure of the Tier 1 routes, the UK introduced the Start-Up and Innovator routes in 2019, aiming to attract entrepreneurs with innovative business ideas.

The Start-Up route targeted new entrepreneurs looking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. It required an endorsement from an approved body, usually a business incubator, accelerator, or a university. Although it provided a gateway for many new entrepreneurs, it was often seen as a stepping stone rather than a long-term solution, leading to its eventual phase-out .

The Innovator route was designed for more experienced businesspeople and required a minimum investment of £50,000 and an endorsement from an approved body. It focused on individuals with innovative, viable, and scalable business ideas. Despite its intention to foster genuine entrepreneurship, it faced criticism for being too stringent and difficult to navigate, resulting in fewer applications than anticipated. This visa was eventually replaced by the Innovator Founder route .


2. Overview of the Innovator Founder Route


The Innovator Founder route has now emerged as the primary pathway for foreign entrepreneurs to set up and run businesses in the UK. This route combines elements of the previous visas but with changes aimed at addressing their shortcomings.

Applicants must have an innovative, viable, and scalable business idea, which must be endorsed by an approved body. The business idea should be genuinely new and not an existing business that is already operating in the UK.

Unlike previous rules, there is no minimum investment requirement, but applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial resources to establish and run their business. Additionally, applicants must prove their proficiency in English to at least CEFR Level B2 (equivalent to IELTS 5.5 in all four components). They must also show that they have at least £1,270 in personal savings to support themselves while in the UK. This visa route allows for an initial stay of up to three years, with the possibility of extension or settlement based on business success and continuous residence.

Take up of the Innovator Founder route has been largely underwhelming, largely because the route can seem too restrictive and onerous on business owners.

Under the requirements of the Innovator Founder, the visa holder first has to secure and maintain endorsement by an ‘endorsing body’. These are organisations that have been authorised by the Home Office to assess and monitor innovator founder businesses.

To secure endorsement, you will need to apply to the relevant endorsement body and prove that your business is:


a. New – it cannot already be trading.

b. Innovative – you must have an original business idea which is different from anything else on the market.

c. Viable – it must have the potential to grow.

d. Scalable – you will need to give evidence of planning that includes creating jobs and growth.


In practice, these criteria can be challenging for applicants to meet. The focus on innovation and scalability might exclude traditional business models that do not fit the “innovative” criteria, and given the established nature of the UK economy, presenting true innovation is a high threshold.

If you are successful in securing endorsement, you can then apply to the Home Office for the Innovator Founder visa, which also entails meeting the English language requirement and proving you have enough personal savings to support yourself while you’re in the UK.

With an Innovator Founder visa, you then have to stay engaged and in contact with the endorsing body for the duration of your visa to show that you continue to meet the requirements.

In practice, this can involve a considerable degree of scrutiny and oversight into the running of your company, as you will need to have at least two contact point meetings with your endorsing body at regular intervals during your period of permission as an Innovator Founder.

If your endorsement is withdrawn at any point, it could lead to your visa being curtailed, and you will lose your permission to remain in the UK.

The landscape of UK business visas has transformed significantly over the past few years, moving away from broad investment-based routes to more targeted, innovation-focused pathways. The closure of the Tier 1 Investor and Entrepreneur visas, along with the phasing out of the Start-Up and Innovator visas, has led to the establishment of the Innovator Founder route as the primary means for foreign entrepreneurs to establish their businesses in the UK.

However, the stringent eligibility criteria of the Innovator Founder visa, along with its restrictive and onerous demands on business owners, has led to the growing take up of self sponsorship as a more flexible and attractive alternative route to owning a company in the UK.

3. Benefits of Choosing the Self Sponsorship Visa versus Innovator Founder


To set up your own UK company, the main options for most individuals will be either the Innovator Founder route or self sponsorship under the Skilled Worker visa.

Which option is best for you will depend on your circumstances and preferences, but in general, the self sponsorship route can offer several advantages for foreign business owners:


a. Streamlined Application Process: For foreign business owners, the ability to move to the UK with fewer bureaucratic hurdles is highly appealing. The self sponsorship visa simplifies the application process by removing the need for third-party endorsement, which can make the process quicker and less cumbersome.


b. Greater Control: Unlike the Innovator Founder Visa, which requires endorsement from an approved body, self sponsorship allows individuals to sponsor themselves through their own UK-based business. This gives entrepreneurs greater control over their business and visa applications, allowing for more tailored and responsive business decisions.


c. Type of Business: Self sponsorship does not restrict the type of business you can establish, as long as it is a legitimate and viable business. In contrast, the Innovator Founder route requires that the business idea is innovative, scalable and viable.


d. Flexibility in Business Operations: With self sponsorship, business owners have greater control over their immigration process and business operations. The Innovator Founder Visa, however, involves regular check-ins and assessments by the endorsing body to ensure business progress.


e. Cost-Effective: Potentially lower initial investment requirements and fewer bureaucratic hurdles can make self sponsorship a more cost-effective option compared to other business visas.



Interesting Stat – Business Types

Businesses using the self sponsorship route span various sectors, including technology, retail, and consultancy. This diversity highlights the visa’s suitability for a wide range of business models and industries.



Section B: Overview of the Skilled Worker Visa


When considering if self sponsorship is the route for you, you will need to ensure that you are eligible for the Skilled Worker visa since under the self sponsorship concept, you would effectively be applying for a skilled worker visa through your own business.


1. What is a Skilled Worker Visa?


The Skilled Worker visa is the primary route for foreign nationals coming to the UK to work.

The Skilled Worker visa allows holders to work in the UK for a licensed sponsor in an eligible job.

To be able to sponsor you under this route, your company will need to apply for a sponsor licence. A sponsor licence is the permission granted to UK employers to hire foreign nationals.

This employment must be in specific roles that are classed as eligible for the Skilled Worker visa. These roles must also be at the required skill level of RQF 3 or above, which is the equivalent of an A-level.


2. What the Skilled Worker Visa Allows


With a Skilled Worker visa, you will be allowed to live in the UK for up to 5 years. After this time, you can either apply to extend your stay, if you’re still eligible under the visa requirements, or you may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, which can then open up the path to British citizenship.

With a Skilled Worker visa, you can also bring your close family members – your spouse or partner, and children under 18 – with you to the UK. To be able to join you, they would need to apply for their own dependant visas.

The main restriction with the Skilled Worker visa is that you would need to stay employed and sponsored by the same employer, or if you change employer, you would have to apply for a new Skilled Worker visa.
However, in the context of self sponsorship, this would ordinarily not be an issue since you are being sponsored by your own company.


3. Benefits of the Skilled Worker Visa


The Skilled Worker visa offers significant benefits to business owners and their families, providing long-term stability and security. This stability facilitates smooth business operations and personal life in the UK, ensuring that entrepreneurs can focus on growing their ventures without worrying about frequent visa renewals.

This visa enables business owners to legally work and manage their UK-based companies, driving business growth and expansion. By allowing the sponsorship of skilled workers, it supports the creation of a capable and efficient workforce, which is crucial for the success and scalability of any enterprise.

Being based in the UK grants access to one of the world’s largest and most dynamic markets. This fosters numerous business opportunities and enhances networking potential, allowing businesses to thrive in a competitive global environment.

Furthermore, the visa offers flexibility as visa holders can switch jobs within the same employer or move to a new job with a different employer, provided the new job is eligible and the employer is a licensed sponsor. This flexibility ensures that business owners and employees can adapt to changing circumstances and pursue new opportunities as they arise.

To read a more comprehensive overview of the Skilled Worker Visa see here >>


4. Challenges for Self Sponsorship


As self sponsorship is effectively a strategy to be eligible under the Skilled Worker visa, there are certain considerations and challenges to be dealt with to ensure that the visa criteria are met:


a. Meeting Sponsorship Requirements

The company must first obtain a sponsorship licence, which involves demonstrating genuine business operations and compliance with UK laws.

A valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) must be issued by the sponsoring company for the specific job role.


b. Eligibility Criteria

The job must meet the required skill level (RQF 3 or above), the job must offer a salary that meets the relevant minimum threshold or the ‘going rate’ for the job, whichever is higher. Applicants must also prove their proficiency in English through an approved test or relevant qualifications.


c. Financial Requirements

The visa application fee can be significant, especially when including dependants. Additionally, the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) must be paid for each year of leave granted.

Applicants must also show they have enough personal savings to support themselves when they first arrive in the UK.


d. Operational Challenges

Managing a UK-based business from abroad, if not residing in the UK immediately, can present logistical challenges. In addition, ensuring compliance with sponsorship duties, including record-keeping and reporting to UKVI, is critical to maintaining the sponsorship licence.


e. Legal and Regulatory Framework

Staying informed about changes in immigration laws and regulations is essential to ensure continued compliance and successful business operations. Engaging immigration legal experts can help deal with the complexities of the application process and compliance requirements.


Section C: Setting up a UK Company


Before you can make an application for the Skilled Worker visa, you will first need to establish a UK company ahead of applying for a sponsor licence.


1. Steps to Set Up and Register a UK-Based Company


You can set up and register a UK company from overseas by following these steps:


a. Choose a Business Structure

The most common business structures in the UK are sole trader, partnership, and limited company. For self sponsorship, setting up a limited company is usually the preferred choice due to its separate legal identity and limited liability protection.


b. Registering Your Company

All UK limited companies must be registered with Companies House. This can be done online, by post, or via an agent.

Choose a unique company name that is not already in use. The name must comply with UK naming regulations, avoiding restricted or sensitive words.


c. Appointing Directors

A UK company must have at least one director who is a natural person. There is no requirement for the director to be a UK resident, which is beneficial for foreign business owners.

However, while the director does not need to be based in the UK, some foreign business owners opt to use UK-based nominee director services for administrative convenience and to meet regulatory requirements. These services can act as directors on behalf of the company but should be chosen carefully to ensure compliance and integrity.


d. Nominating a Registered UK Address

The company must have a registered office address in the UK. This address will be publicly accessible and used for official correspondence.

Foreign business owners often use virtual office services to provide a registered address. These services can offer mail forwarding and other administrative support.


e. Compliance and Documentation

Prepare the memorandum and articles of association, which outline the company’s structure and governance. Assign at least one shareholder. The shareholders can be individuals or other companies. Maintain statutory company registers, including records of directors, shareholders, and any significant changes.


2. Considerations for Self Sponsorship


a. Company Director Requirements

While not mandatory, having a UK-based director can facilitate smoother operations and communication with UK authorities. These services can be beneficial but come with risks. It is crucial to choose reputable service providers to avoid issues related to accountability and control.

You should also bear in mind that as part of the sponsor licence application, you will need to show that the company director has sufficient oversight and involvement in the company.


b. Ongoing Compliance

Companies must meet tax obligations with HMRC, including Corporation Tax, VAT, and PAYE for employees, and file annual returns with Companies House. Failure to comply can result in penalties and potential dissolution of the company.


Section D: Applying for a Sponsor Licence


Once the UK company is registered, the second step to self sponsorship is applying for a sponsor licence for your UK company.

A sponsorship licence allows a business to sponsor foreign workers, including the business owner, under the Skilled Worker visa category.



Interesting Stat – Sponsor Licences

In the year ending September 2023, there were 36,819 decisions on sponsor licence applications, with 28,557 licences granted, a 64% increase from the previous year. This indicates a robust uptake in businesses looking to sponsor themselves and their employees.



1. Sponsor Licence Eligibility Criteria


To be eligible for a sponsorship licence, your company must meet several key criteria:


a. Genuine UK Business Operations

The company must be legally operating and actively trading in the UK. It must be able to provide proof of this through supporting documents such as business bank statements, contracts, and proof of registration with Companies House.


b. Appropriate Systems in Place

The company must have appropriate HR systems to manage and monitor sponsored employees, ensuring compliance with sponsor duties. This includes maintaining accurate records, reporting changes to the Home Office, and ensuring compliance with all sponsorship duties.

The Home Office has powers to carry out compliance audits on sponsor licence holders at any time, and in many cases, they may carry out an inspection prior to approving the licence application.


c. Genuine Vacancy

The company must offer a genuine vacancy that meets the skilled worker criteria. The Home Office may request additional information to verify the specific nature of the role and its duties and to confirm that the role actually exists. Exaggerated job descriptions that meet the skill level requirements are likely to raise suspicions that the vacancy is not genuine.


d. Compliance with UK Laws

The company must adhere to UK immigration and employment laws. The company, its directors, and key personnel must be “honest, dependable and reliable” and also have a clean immigration and legal history with no previous sponsor licence revocations.


2. Challenges for Self Sponsorship


Meeting the sponsor licence requirements under the self sponsorship strategy may present certain challenges and considerations.

For example, there are a number of considerations when appointing your company’s key personnel for the sponsor licence.

Sponsor licence holders have to appoint individuals into specific ‘key personnel’ roles, who will have certain responsibilities to manage the licence on an ongoing basis. The roles are:


a. Authorising Officer who will ultimately be responsible for the licence and compliance

b. A Key Contact who will be the point of contact between the Home Office and the UK business

c. At least one level 1 user who will administer the licence on a day to day basis using the Sponsorship Management System.


Those being appointed to the key personnel roles must be named in the sponsor licence application. When deciding who to appoint, consider the following factors:


a. The different roles can be filled by the same person or by different people

b. All of the key personnel have to be based in the UK on the date they’re appointed and for the full duration that they hold the role

c. The Authorising Officer and Level 1 User have to be a paid director, employee or office holder on the date of the licence application

d. The Authorising Officer has to have sufficient oversight over the UK business to be able to fulfil their duties and

e. The Level 1 User has to be British or be settled in the UK.

f. Key personnel must pass suitability checks, demonstrating they are reliable and have no history of immigration breaches or unspent criminal convictions.


In relation to the Authorising Officer, this must be a trusted person who is based in the UK and be someone you are willing to appoint as a paid director, employee or office holder of your UK business.

Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to engage a third-party agent to act as a UK Director and Authorising Officer, but you will still need to be able to show that they have sufficient involvement in and oversight over the UK business.

If you are considering this option, it may be advisable to take professional guidance on how this could work in practice for your company.


3. Sponsor Licence Application Process


The process for applying for a sponsorship licence involves completing an online application form and submitting supporting documents. It is advisable to have all of the documents compiled before you complete the licence application form, as you have only five days to submit the documents after the application has been submitted.

The sponsor licence application is made online via the Home Office website, where you also pay the application fee.


Step 1: Determine the Type of Licence Needed

Choose the correct type of licence. For self sponsorship, this would usually be a Worker sponsor licence for the Skilled Worker category.


Step 2: Prepare for the Application

Before you complete the application form, ensure you have all of the information to hand, including details such as the names and contact details of your key personnel and your company’s registered office address. Also, ensure you have the necessary HR systems in place to meet the sponsorship duties.


Step 3: Supporting Documents

Gather all required supporting documents, as stipulated in Appendix A, which we detail below.


Step 4: Submit the Online Application

Complete the sponsorship licence application form online via the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) website. Pay the application fee, which varies depending on the size and type of business.


Step 5: Pay the Licence Application Fee

Applying for a UK sponsor licence involves paying a fee, which varies based on the size and type of the business.

For small businesses and charitable organisations, the fee is £536. Larger businesses and organisations must pay a higher fee of £1,476.


Step 6: Send Supporting Documents

Send all required supporting documents to the Home Office within five working days of submitting the online application.


Step 7: Compliance Visit

Be prepared for a possible pre-licence compliance visit from the Home Office to verify the information provided and assess the company’s ability to meet sponsorship duties.


4. Sponsor Licence Supporting Documents


When applying for a sponsorship licence, you will need to provide specific supporting documents, as specified under Appendix A of the Immigration Rules. These documents are crucial in demonstrating the legitimacy and operational capabilities of the business, ensuring it can meet the responsibilities associated with sponsoring foreign workers.


a. Appendix A Documents

The specific documents to provide will depend on the specific circumstances, and the different tables within Appendix A set out the various requirements.

For example, if your organisation is a limited company that has been operational for under 18 months, it will be classed as a start-up. Under Appendix A, start-ups have to provide proof of a UK business bank account with a bank registered by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority in the UK.

To make up the mandatory four documents required under Appendix A, start ups also have to provide documents from Table 4, such as proof of PAYE employer registration with HMRC and the most recent annual accounts of the business.

While the business does not need to be actively trading, or to even have generated any revenue in the UK, to qualify for a sponsor licence, it must still meet the Appendix A requirements, which in practice means:


i. Having a detailed business plan for the UK company

ii. Being able to show sufficient investment funds for the company – although a minimum investment is not a mandatory requirement, it can be persuasive for these purposes

iii. showing initial business activities in the UK, such as finding premises or setting up a website, have already been undertaken.


b. Additional Documents

Along with the documents in Appendix A, there are other documents you will need to provide to support your application, including:


a. An explanation as to why your company is applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence.

b. Information about the sector your business is in.

c. A current hierarchy chart detailing any owner, director and board members.

d. A list of employees and titles if the business has 50 employees or less, details about the jobs the company is filling under the licence and if the role has not been advertised, information about how the person to be sponsored was identified as the most suitable person for the job and various personal details. Under self sponsorship, this would mean proving why you are suitable for the role.


c. Certificates of Sponsorship

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a digital document that licensed sponsors must issue to foreign workers they wish to employ in the UK. It is an essential part of the application process for individuals seeking to work in the UK under certain visa categories, such as the Skilled Worker visa.

When applying for a sponsor licence, the company must specify how many CoS it will need, based on an estimate of the number of workers they intend to sponsor under each visa category over the next 12 months.

The allocation can include undefined CoS (which can be assigned to specific individuals later) and defined CoS (for skilled workers applying from outside the UK).

For self sponsorship, you would require one defined CoS. If you plan to hire more sponsored workers over the next 12 months, you should include this figure in your application. The number of CoS requested should be realistic and justified, reflecting the company’s actual hiring needs and business plans. The Home Office may ask for supporting evidence or rationale behind the requested number to ensure the request is legitimate and not excessive.


5. Sponsor Licence Application Costs


Applying for a UK Skilled Worker sponsor licence involves several fees that businesses must consider. These fees vary depending on the size and type of the organisation, as well as additional charges that may apply during the sponsorship process.


a. Standard Processing Fee

The standard processing time for a sponsor licence application in the UK typically takes around eight weeks from the date of submission. During this period, the Home Office assesses the application to ensure that the business meets all the necessary requirements to hold a sponsor licence. This includes evaluating the legitimacy of the business, the robustness of its HR systems, and its ability to comply with sponsorship duties.


b. Priority Processing

For a quicker decision, the company may opt to pay for premium processing, which aims to process sponsor licence applications within ten working days. However, availability is limited, and not all applications may qualify for this expedited service.

The premium service involves an additional fee of £500 in addition to the standard application fee, and it is designed for businesses that need a faster resolution due to urgent business needs.

Using the premium service can significantly reduce the waiting time, allowing businesses to proceed with their sponsorship plans more swiftly. This is particularly beneficial for companies that need to bring in skilled workers quickly to meet pressing business demands or project deadlines.

However, premium processing offers no guarantee that the application will be approved. So, while the premium service offers a faster decision, businesses should ensure that all documentation and compliance requirements are thoroughly met before opting for this service. Any discrepancies or missing information can lead to delays, even with the expedited processing option.


c. Immigration Skills Charge (ISC)

In addition to the application fee, businesses sponsoring workers under the Skilled Worker visa category must pay the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC). Smaller businesses and charitable organisations pay £364 for the first 12 months of employment plus £182 for each additional six months. Medium and large businesses pay £1,000 for the first 12 months of employment, plus £500 for each additional six months.

The ISC must be paid upfront when assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and is calculated based on the total period covered by the CoS.


d. Assigning Certificates of Sponsorship

For each CoS assigned, there is a fee of £239 for the Skilled Worker visa. This fee is paid every time a CoS is issued, regardless of the visa duration or type of employment contract.


e. Other Potential Costs
Businesses may also incur additional costs related to the sponsorship process. Many businesses seek professional advice to navigate the complexities of the application process and ensure compliance with UK immigration laws. These services can add significant costs but help ensure a smoother application process.

Setting up and maintaining robust HR systems to manage sponsored employees and comply with sponsorship duties can also incur costs. This includes record-keeping, monitoring immigration status, and reporting changes to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).


6. Challenges for Self-Sponsorship


When applying for a licence with a view to self sponsorship, consider the following:


a. Opening a UK Bank Account

In practice, companies that have a non-UK resident director may find it more difficult to open a UK business account, particularly with a traditional bank. However, companies with a business bank account with a so-called challenger bank may find the Home Office does not accept that this would meet the requirement for a sponsor licence.

As such, it may be helpful to take professional advice on the banking options and products available to you that would meet the sponsor licence requirement.


b. Immigration Compliance

Immigration compliance is an ongoing, mandatory obligation on employers sponsoring employees under the UK’s immigration system. One major challenge, particularly for new businesses, is ensuring that robust HR systems are in place to manage sponsored employees effectively. These systems must be capable of handling the various administrative tasks and legal responsibilities that come with sponsorship, such as maintaining accurate employee records, tracking visa statuses, and ensuring that all employment practices comply with UK immigration laws.

Maintaining accurate records is another area of compliance risk. Businesses must keep detailed and up-to-date records for each sponsored employee, including their personal information, employment history, and any relevant immigration documents. Regular reporting to the Home Office is also required, which entails notifying the Home Office of any significant changes, such as alterations in the employee’s role, changes in business operations, or updates to personal details.

Failure to maintain accurate records and report changes promptly can result in penalties or the revocation of the sponsor licence, underscoring the importance of meticulous record-keeping and proactive compliance management.


c. Financial Considerations

The costs associated with applying for a sponsor licence can be substantial, especially for small businesses. The application fee alone can be a significant expenditure, but this is just one part of the financial commitment. Businesses must also account for the costs involved in preparing the necessary supporting documents, which can include legal and consultancy fees.

Additionally, setting up robust HR systems to manage sponsored employees can incur further expenses, as these systems need to meet compliance requirements.

Another critical financial consideration is demonstrating sufficient funds to run the business and sponsor employees. This proof of funds is essential not only for the initial application but also for maintaining compliance throughout the sponsorship period. Businesses must ensure they have adequate financial resources to support their operations and their sponsored employees’ salaries. This financial stability is crucial for gaining and retaining the sponsor licence, as it reassures the authorities that the business is viable and capable of fulfilling its sponsorship duties. Without sufficient financial backing, businesses may face challenges in both the application process and ongoing compliance.


d. Potential Compliance Visits

Pre-licence compliance inspections are conducted by the Home Office in some cases to ensure that an organisation is genuinely operating, capable of fulfilling sponsorship duties, and compliant with immigration laws.

During a pre-licence inspection, immigration officials visit the business premises to verify several key aspects. They assess the authenticity of the business by reviewing its operations, financial health, and existence at the specified location. Officials also examine the robustness of the company’s HR systems, ensuring that there are appropriate procedures in place for monitoring sponsored employees, such as tracking attendance, maintaining accurate records, and reporting significant changes to UKVI.

The inspection also involves interviews with key personnel, including the Authorising Officer, Key Contact, and Level 1 User, to ascertain their understanding of sponsorship duties and their ability to comply with UK immigration requirements. This includes ensuring that the business can meet its obligations related to record-keeping, reporting, and preventing illegal working.

Failure to pass the pre-licence compliance inspection can result in the refusal of the sponsor licence application. Therefore, businesses must be thoroughly prepared for the inspection by having all necessary documentation readily available and demonstrating full compliance with UKVI standards.


Section E: Applying for a Skilled Worker visa


If your sponsor licence application is approved, the final stage for self sponsorship is to apply for your skilled worker visa.


1. Skilled Worker Visa Eligibility Requirements


To qualify for the Skilled Worker visa under self sponsorship, applicants must meet specific eligibility criteria and, in doing so, attain 70 points under the visa requirements.


a.  Valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): The sponsoring company must issue you a CoS for the specific job role the applicant will undertake.

b. Job at an Appropriate Skill Level: The job must be on the list of eligible occupations, typically requiring skills equivalent to RQF Level 3 or above (A-levels or equivalent).

c. Minimum Salary Requirements: The job must offer a minimum salary of £38,700 per year or the ‘going rate’ for the occupation, whichever is higher. Lower thresholds may apply based on individual circumstances, such as working in a role on the Immigration Salary List.

d. English Language Proficiency: Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in English to at least CEFR Level B1, usually by passing an approved English language test or holding a relevant academic qualification taught in English.

e. Financial Requirements: Applicants must show they have enough money to support themselves when they arrive in the UK, generally by having at least £1,270 in personal savings.

f. Character Requirement: A clean criminal record and a general good character assessment are required.


2. Skilled Worker Visa Application Process


Once the licence is granted, the business issues a CoS to the applicant, detailing the job role and sponsorship information.

You can then complete your Skilled Worker visa application form online via the UKVI website. Gather and submit all necessary supporting documents, including the CoS, proof of English proficiency, financial documents, and your valid passport.

After submitting the application, you will need to schedule and attend a biometric appointment to provide fingerprints and a photograph.


3. Skilled Worker Visa Application Costs and Processing Times


The application fee for a Skilled Worker visa varies depending on the duration of your stay. For visas valid for up to three years, the fee is £827 per person. If your visa covers a period exceeding three years, you’ll need to pay £1,636 per person. It’s important to note that these fees are subject to change, so always check the official UK government website for the latest figures.

You’ll also need to pay the healthcare surcharge to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during your stay. The cost of this surcharge depends on the length of your visa and whether you have any dependants accompanying you.

There may be a fee for providing biometric information (fingerprints and a photograph) at a visa application centre.

The standard processing time for a Skilled Worker visa application submitted outside the UK is currently around three weeks.

However, expedited services are available for an additional fee. This can reduce processing times to 5 working days for £500, or the super priority service for £800 offers a same-day decision for applications submitted in the UK.


4. Challenges for Self Sponsorship


In addition to meeting these visa criteria, self sponsorship applicants may have to consider the following:


a. Genuine Vacancy  

One of the main challenges for self sponsorship applicants is proving that the role has not just been created for the purpose of immigration or to facilitate a visa.

There has to be a genuine vacancy and role, and you will need to submit evidence to support this as part of your application.


b. Financial Obligations

Financial implications are another significant consideration. The costs associated with the visa application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge can be substantial, particularly for applicants bringing dependents. This financial burden necessitates careful planning and resource management. Furthermore, demonstrating sufficient funds to support oneself and any dependents in the UK is a key requirement. This involves providing detailed financial documents and bank statements to prove financial stability and the ability to meet living expenses in the UK.


c. Legal Obligations

Legal and regulatory hurdles add another layer of complexity. Immigration laws and regulations are subject to frequent changes, requiring applicants to stay informed and adapt accordingly. This can be particularly challenging for those unfamiliar with the UK legal landscape. Engaging immigration legal advisers can be highly beneficial. These professionals can help navigate the complex application process, increase the chances of success, and ensure compliance with the latest regulations.


d. Bringing Dependants

Lastly, applicants must consider the implications of bringing dependents. While it is possible to bring family members to the UK, applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial resources to support them. This includes providing proof of adequate funds to cover the living expenses of all dependents, which adds another layer of financial and logistical planning to the application process.


Section F: Common Pitfalls with Self Sponsorship


1. Application Documentation

Incomplete or inadequate documentation can significantly delay Home Office application processing. To avoid this issue, ensure that all required documents are complete, accurate, and submitted as specified by the guidelines. It’s crucial to double-check each requirement before submission to prevent any oversight that could lead to complications.


2. Poorly Developed Business Plan

A common area of weakness with self sponsorship is a poorly developed business plan, as this can undermine the credibility of your licence application. Investing time in creating a thorough and convincing business plan is essential to evidencing eligibility to the Home Office. This plan should outline clear business objectives, comprehensive market analysis, and realistic financial projections to illustrate the potential success of your business.


3. Application Timings

As the self sponsorship involves a number of stages, it will be important to plan and ensure that you work to the expected timeframes and deadlines. These typically are as follows:


a. Business Setup: 1-2 months to plan, register the business, and open a bank account.

b. Sponsor Licence Document Preparation: 2-4 weeks for preparation and application.

c. Home Office Licence Application Processing: 8 weeks for standard processing, or 10 days for priority processing.

d. Skilled Worker Visa Application Preparation: Allow 2-3 weeks to complete and submit the visa application.

e. Biometric Appointment: Typically scheduled within 1-2 weeks after application submission.

f. Skilled Worker Visa Decision Waiting Period: Approximately three weeks if applying from overseas, or eight weeks if in the UK.


4. Legal Compliance

For business regulations, it is essential to ensure the business is properly registered with Companies House and complies with all registration requirements. Depending on the nature of the business, obtaining the necessary licenses and permits is also crucial. This may include health and safety permits, trading licenses, or industry-specific certifications.

UK businesses must also comply with the UK’s data protection laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to safeguard the personal data of clients and employees, thereby maintaining trust and legal compliance.

Adherence to employment law is another fundamental responsibility. Businesses must ensure they follow UK employment laws, providing fair treatment, appropriate wages, and safe working conditions for all employees. Additionally, it is important to provide clear and legally compliant contracts to employees, outlining the terms of employment, job roles, and rights. These contracts ensure that both the employer and employees understand their obligations and protections under the law, promoting a fair and orderly workplace environment.


5. Financial Obligations and Tax Implications

Understanding and managing financial obligations and tax implications is essential for businesses operating in the UK. One of the primary taxes that businesses need to pay is Corporation Tax, which is levied on the company’s profits. The current rate stands at 19%, though this rate is subject to change. Companies are required to file their Corporation Tax returns annually, detailing their financial performance.

Additionally, businesses with a taxable turnover exceeding the VAT threshold, currently set at £90,000, must register for Value Added Tax (VAT). Once registered, they are responsible for collecting and paying VAT on applicable sales. Alongside Corporation Tax, business owners must pay Income Tax on any personal income drawn from the business, such as salaries or dividends. This income is declared and taxed through the self-assessment process.

National Insurance Contributions (NICs) are another critical component of a business’s financial obligations. These contributions are made for both the business owner and any employees, supporting state benefits and pensions. Ensuring timely and accurate payment of NICs is crucial to maintaining compliance with UK financial regulations.

Financial reporting is a mandatory requirement for UK businesses. Annually, companies must prepare and file their accounts with Companies House, providing a detailed overview of their financial performance and position. This includes submitting a self-assessment tax return for any income not taxed at source, ensuring that all income is accounted for and taxed appropriately.

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date financial records is essential for effective tax reporting and financial management. This includes keeping detailed records of receipts, invoices, and payroll activities. Accounting software can streamline financial management processes, ensuring compliance with the Making Tax Digital (MTD) requirements. This software helps businesses maintain accurate records, simplifies tax filing, and enhances overall financial oversight, reducing the risk of errors and non-compliance with tax regulations.


6. Hiring Employees and Business Operations in the UK

When hiring employees in the UK, ensuring all employees have the legal right to work is essential. This involves conducting right-to-work checks before employment begins, verifying that each potential employee can legally work in the UK. Additionally, businesses must follow fair and transparent recruitment processes, complying with anti-discrimination laws to ensure equal opportunities for all candidates.


7. Not Taking Professional Advice

Opting not to engage professional advice can lead to costly mistakes. Consider seeking guidance from immigration professionals who specialise in UK immigration and visa applications. Their expertise can help navigate the complex process, ensuring all aspects of your application are handled correctly and efficiently.


Section G: Case Studies of Self Sponsorship


The following generalised case studies show how entrepreneurs can succeed and thrive under the self sponsorship route:


Case Study 1: Tech Start-up Success


An experienced software developer from India embarked on a new venture by establishing a tech start-up focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions for the healthcare industry. This entrepreneur aimed to leverage innovative technology to address various challenges in the UK healthcare sector.



The primary challenge for the entrepreneur was to navigate the UK immigration system and secure a visa that would allow the establishment and operation of the business in the UK. This involved developing a robust business plan, demonstrating sufficient funding for initial setup and operations, and complying with all regulatory requirements for business registration and visa application.



The entrepreneur began by developing a detailed business plan that highlighted the innovative aspects of the technology and its potential impact on the healthcare sector in the UK. This plan included market analysis, financial projections, and operational strategies. To meet the financial requirements, the entrepreneur showcased sufficient personal savings to cover initial setup costs and early-stage operations. The process included registering the business in the UK, opening a business bank account, and submitting the self sponsorship visa application along with all necessary documentation.



The entrepreneur received the self sponsorship visa within six weeks of application submission. With the visa approved, the entrepreneur successfully launched the tech start-up, hired a local team, and secured several contracts with UK healthcare providers. Within two years, the business expanded its operations across Europe, demonstrating significant growth and establishing a strong presence in the market.



Economic Impact

The influx of self-sponsored businesses contributes significantly to the UK economy, bringing in investment and creating jobs. The diversity of businesses ranges from tech start-ups to retail and professional services, reflecting the flexibility and broad appeal of the self sponsorship visa.



Case Study 2: Retail Business Expansion


A seasoned retail business owner from South Africa ventured into a new market by expanding his chain of eco-friendly clothing stores. Known for sustainability practices, the entrepreneur sought to bring environmentally conscious fashion to the UK.



The main challenge for the entrepreneur was to navigate the UK’s immigration and business setup processes. This required detailed planning, securing financial resources, and ensuring compliance with UK regulations to successfully launch and operate a new branch of his business in a foreign market.



The entrepreneur began by preparing a comprehensive business plan that included thorough market research, detailed sustainability practices, and projected growth. To meet the financial requirements, the entrepreneur demonstrated adequate financial resources through accumulated business profits and personal investments. The process involved registering a new branch in the UK, establishing a local supply chain, and submitting the visa application with all necessary documentation.



The entrepreneur’s efforts were rewarded when the visa was granted within eight weeks. Following this, he opened the first UK store within six months, which was quickly followed by additional locations. The expansion not only introduced eco-friendly fashion to the UK retail market but also created local jobs and promoted sustainable business practices within the community.


Case Study 3: Professional Services Firm


A financial consultant from Canada with extensive experience in corporate finance decided to establish a consultancy firm in the UK. This firm aimed to offer specialised financial advisory services to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), leveraging the consultant’s vast expertise to fill a market gap.



The main challenge was to navigate the UK’s immigration and business setup processes to legally operate and attract clients in a new market. This involved creating a compelling business plan, demonstrating financial viability, and ensuring compliance with UK regulations.



The entrepreneur addressed these challenges by developing a detailed business plan that showcased the need for specialised financial services for SMEs in the UK. The plan highlighted market opportunities, competitive advantages, and service offerings. To meet the financial requirements, the entrepreneur provided proof of sufficient funds through personal savings and initial client contracts. The process also included registering the consultancy in the UK, setting up a professional office space, and submitting a thorough visa application.



The diligent preparation paid off when the visa was granted within five weeks. Following approval, the entrepreneur quickly established a client base by leveraging previous experience and professional networks. The consultancy firm grew steadily, expanding its services to include financial training workshops and securing long-term contracts with UK businesses, thereby achieving significant market penetration and operational success.


Section H: Summary


Self-sponsorship can offer a viable and attractive route to running your own business in the UK. Unlike traditional visas, self sponsorship allows individuals to set up their own business and sponsor themselves for a visa, bypassing the need for third-party sponsorship. This option provides greater control over your immigration status and business operations, making it an attractive proposition for entrepreneurs.

However, you will need to meet all of the requirements at each stage of the process – from setting up your UK company to obtaining a sponsor licence and then applying for the Skilled Worker visa.

In practice, applicants may opt to take professional advice to help with their applications and ensure compliance with the various requirements through the self sponsorship process.


Section I: FAQs on Self Sponsorship Visa for the UK


What is a self sponsorship visa?
There is no actual self sponsorship visa in the UK. Instead, self sponsorship refers to an immigration route that allows a foreign national to be sponsored for a work visa by their own UK company.


How do I prove my business is legitimate for a sponsor licence application?
Provide a detailed business plan, proof of business registration, financial documents showing sufficient funds, and professional qualifications. These documents should demonstrate the viability and sustainability of your business.


What types of businesses qualify for self sponsorship?
Any legitimate and viable business can qualify. This includes start-ups, existing businesses looking to expand, sole traders, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).


What is the investment requirement for a self sponsorship visa?
There is no fixed or mandatory minimum investment. However, the company must prove to the Home Office that it qualifies for a sponsor licence.


Can I extend my visa under the self sponsorship route?
Skilled Worker visas can usually be extended after five years, provided you remain eligible under the visa requirements. However, you may also consider applying for UK settlement after five years under a Skilled Worker visa if you qualify for indefinite leave to remain.


Can my family join me in the UK under the self sponsorship route?
Your dependents – which include your spouse or partner and children under 18 – can apply for a dependant visa to join you and would be allowed to live, work, and study in the UK.


Can I hire employees if I’m self sponsored?
As a UK company, you can employers, provided you are registered as an empoyer with HMRC, that you comply with UK employment laws and that the employees have the right to work in Britain.


What happens to my Skilled Worker visa if my business fails?
If your business fails, you must inform the Home Office. Without a sponsor, your visa may be at risk, and you may need to explore other visa options or leave the UK.


How can I transition to permanent residency and citizenship?
After five years of continuous residence in the UK under the Skilled Worker visa, you may become eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) if you meet the criteria. After holding ILR for one year, you can apply for British citizenship, subject to residency and other eligibility requirements.


Do I need professional advice to apply for self sponsorship?
While not mandatory, seeking professional legal advice can significantly improve your application’s success. They can provide guidance on eligibility, preparing documents and following the required steps of the self sponsorship process.


Section J: Glossary


Self Sponsorship Visa: A visa that allows business owners to establish and run their own business in the UK while sponsoring themselves, eliminating the need for a third-party sponsor.

UK Innovator Founder Visa: A visa route for experienced businesspersons seeking to establish a business in the UK that is innovative, viable, and scalable, requiring endorsement from an approved body.

Business Plan: A detailed document outlining a business’s objectives, strategies, market analysis, financial projections, and operational plans.

Corporation Tax: A tax paid by UK companies on their profits.

Value Added Tax (VAT): A tax on the value added to goods and services, with businesses required to register if their taxable turnover exceeds £90,000.

Income Tax: Tax paid on personal income, including salaries and dividends drawn from a business.

National Insurance Contributions (NICs): Payments made by employees and employers in the UK, contributing to state benefits and pensions.

Companies House: The UK government agency responsible for incorporating and dissolving limited companies, and maintaining the registry of companies.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): A regulation in UK law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the UK and the European Economic Area.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): The right to live in the UK indefinitely, granted to those who meet specific residency and other criteria.

British Citizenship: The status of being a citizen of the United Kingdom, which can be obtained by naturalisation after holding ILR for one year and meeting other requirements.

Endorsing Body: An organisation approved by the UK government to assess and monitor innovator founder visa applicants based on the innovation, viability, and scalability of their business plans.

Biometric Residence Permit (BRP): A document issued to non-UK nationals that contains biographic details, biometric information, and visa status.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC): The UK government department responsible for the collection of taxes, the payment of some forms of state support, and the administration of other regulatory regimes.

Right to Work: The legal right of an individual to work in the UK, which employers must verify before employment begins.

Making Tax Digital (MTD): An initiative by HMRC to digitise the tax system, making it easier for individuals and businesses to keep on top of their tax affairs.

Sole Trader: A type of business owned and operated by one person, with no legal distinction between the owner and the business entity.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): Businesses whose personnel numbers fall below certain limits, typically fewer than 250 employees in the UK.

Certificate of Incorporation: A legal document relating to the formation of a company or corporation


Section K: Additional Resources


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Official Website
Provides comprehensive information on various visa types, application processes, and requirements.


UK Government Guidance on Skilled Worker Visa
Detailed guidance on eligibility, application process, and requirements for the Skilled Worker visa.


Companies House
Information on how to register a company in the UK, including step-by-step guides and legal requirements.


Home Office Immigration Rules and Policies
Latest updates on UK immigration rules, policy changes, and legislative guidance.


Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
Provides resources on HR best practices, including compliance with sponsorship duties and managing a diverse workforce.


Law Society of England and Wales
Directory of legal professionals who specialise in immigration law, offering advice and representation.


Institute of Directors (IoD)
Resources and support for directors and business leaders, including information on governance and business operations.


British Chambers of Commerce
Offers business support services, including networking opportunities, market information, and advice on setting up a business in the UK.


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Guidance on tax obligations for businesses and individuals, including information on Corporation Tax, VAT, and PAYE.


Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
Provides support and resources for small businesses, including legal advice, financial products, and networking events.



Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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.

skilled worker visa to ilr

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