Any UK business looking to recruit an overseas national under the skilled worker route must first have in place a valid licence to sponsor this category of worker.
In this guide for businesses, we explain the rules and requirements to apply for a skilled worker sponsor licence and obtain the necessary permission to hire non-UK resident workers.
What is a skilled worker sponsor licence?
A skilled worker sponsor licence is the permission granted by the UK Home Office to enable the licence-holder to assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to migrant workers under the skilled worker route, as set out in Appendix Skilled Worker of the UK’s Immigration Rules. A skilled worker must have an offer of a genuine job from an approved sponsor which meets the criteria under these rules before they can make a valid application to enter or stay in the UK on this route. The sponsor confirms this by assigning a CoS to the worker.
The skilled worker route is the main immigration route for any overseas nationals wanting to work in the UK, and allows UK-based employers to recruit migrant workers to fill a wide range of skilled vacancies, provided they’re able to offer a job at an appropriate skill and salary level.
What are the skilled worker sponsor licence requirements?
There are a number of general and route-specific requirements that must be met to be approved for a skilled worker sponsor licence. To be eligible for skilled worker visa sponsorship, the Home Office must be satisfied that the organisation is:
- a genuine organisation and operating lawfully in the UK
- honest, dependable and reliable, and is not engaging and has not engaged in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good
- capable of carrying out its’ sponsor duties, and evidencing compliance within prescribed timeframes, with reference to its’ existing recruitment practices and HR systems.
The Home Office will look at the history and background of the applicant, including evidence of previous non-compliance with the Immigration Rules. It will also look into the background of those involved in the day-to-day running of the business and the key personnel named in the sponsor licence application, including any criminal convictions and immigration issues. The key personnel are the nominated people who will manage the sponsorship process.
In addition to the general requirements for a skilled worker sponsor licence, under the skilled worker route, the applicant must be able to offer a job role that:
- is genuine and not a sham, and has not been created mainly so that the worker can apply for either entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK
- does not amount to the hiring of the worker to a third party who is not the sponsor to fill a position with that party, whether temporary or permanent, or contract work to undertake either an ongoing routine role or provide an ongoing routine service for a third party
- meets both the skill level and salary requirements for the skilled worker route.
A skilled worker must have a job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from a Home Office approved sponsor, as set out in either Table 1 or Table 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations, or under occupation code 6145 (care workers and home carers). In most cases, this means that the job must be skilled to level 3 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for England and Northern Ireland, or the equivalent level in Wales or Scotland, being broadly equivalent to A-level standard. This doesn’t mean that the worker has to have A-levels or equivalent qualifications, but the work that they will be doing in the UK must be at that level.
All jobs sponsored on this route must also meet the skilled worker salary requirements, as set out in Appendix Skilled Worker and in Tables 1 to 4 of Appendix Skilled Occupations. This means that the salary for skilled workers must meet or exceed all of the following:
- the general salary threshold, which for most jobs is at least £25,600 per year
- the ‘’going rate’ for the occupation in question, and
- where applicable, the minimum hourly rate of at least £10.10 per hour.
What is the process to apply for a skilled worker sponsor licence?
To apply for a sponsor licence, the applicant will need to register details of the organisation with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and submit an online application form. The online form requires the applicant to nominate a number of key personnel, some or all of whom will have access after a licence is granted to the Home Office sponsorship management system (SMS). The form will also ask for an estimate of the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) that the applicant may want to assign during its’ first year of sponsorship.
Nominating key personnel
An authorising officer will need to be appointed to manage the application for a skilled worker sponsor licence. This must be the most senior person in the organisation responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers. The applicant must also nominate a key contact to act as the main point of contact with UKVI, together with a level 1 user who will responsible for the day-to-day management of the sponsor licence using the SMS.
Once a skilled worker sponsor licence is in place, additional level 1 users can be appointed, together with level 2 users, although they’ll have fewer permissions than level 1 users. Only level 1 and level 2 users will have access to the SMS. This means that if the authorising officer or key contact also require access, they must be set up as a Level 1 or 2 user.
The key personnel roles can be filled by the same person or a combination of different people, but they must usually be either paid members of staff or office holders. They must also meet a number of other requirements, such as being based in the UK for the period of their role.
Deciding on CoS allocation
A decision will need to be made at the application stage as to how many skilled workers are likely to be sponsored in the first year, as this will determine how many CoS will be needed.
A skilled worker sponsor licence-holder must assign a CoS to any migrant worker it wishes to sponsor before that worker can apply to enter or stay in the UK. This means that careful thought must be given as to how many workers are likely to be recruited during the year and why, as the applicant must be able to justify its’ request to UKVI. The applicant may also need to provide additional information about current vacancies and workers it wishes to sponsor.
Submitting supporting documents
Having completed the online application, the applicant must pay the relevant fee. The submission sheet at the end of the licence application must also be emailed, signed and dated by the authorising officer, and all supporting documents sent within 5 working days. A number of very specific and detailed documents must be provided to meet the skilled worker sponsor licence requirements. These can be found in Sponsor Guidance Appendix A.
Having submitted the application, paid the fee and submitted all documentation, a decision will usually be made in less than 8 weeks, although this can be longer if UKVI need to conduct a site visit to make sure that the applicant is trustworthy and capable of carrying out its’ sponsor duties. If granted, a skilled worker sponsor licence will last for an initial period of 4 years, unless it’s revoked or surrendered before then. This will then need to be renewed before expiry of the 4 years if the organisation wishes to continue sponsoring skilled workers.
What happens once a skilled worker sponsor licence has been granted?
Once a skilled worker sponsor licence has been granted, the sponsor will be added to the register of licensed sponsors. The level 1 user will also be given full access to the SMS.
To sponsor an overseas national on the skilled worker route, the sponsor must assign them a valid CoS. This can be done using the sponsor’s SMS account. Provided the certificate is valid, this will then enable that prospective new recruit to make a skilled worker visa application, although before assigning a CoS, the sponsor must first be satisfied that the worker can meet the relevant immigration requirements for this route. The sponsor will also need to pay a fee for assigning each CoS and, subject to certain exceptions, an Immigration Skills Charge.
Having assigned an CoS, it’s important to tell the Home Office if the worker fails to start their employment, is absent without permission, or there are any significant changes to the nature of their work or salary, or to the sponsoring organisation. There are also various other reporting and record-keeping duties that sponsor’s must meet, otherwise risk having their skilled worker sponsor licence suspended, downgraded or even revoked.
What is the cost of applying for a skilled worker sponsor licence?
The costs when applying for a skilled worker sponsor licence include the licence application fee, an Immigration Skills Charge for every CoS assigned, plus a fee for issuing each certificate.
The cost of applying for a licence will depend on the size and status of the organisation. For small or charitable sponsors, the application fee is £536, and £1,476 for medium or large sponsors. The amount that a sponsor will need to pay for the Immigration Skills Charge is again based on its’ size and status, as well as how long the skilled worker will be in the UK, using the start and end dates on the CoS. For small or charitable sponsors, this is £364 for the first 12 months, plus £182 for every further 6 month period. For medium or large sponsors, this is £1,000 for the first 12 months, plus £500 for every further 6 months.
The fee for issuing the sponsorship certificate itself is £199.
What best practice tips can be followed for skilled worker visa sponsorship?
The process of obtaining a skilled worker sponsor licence can be complex, costly and fraught with risk. By following these best practice tips, this can help to maximise the chances of a successful outcome to a sponsor licence application:
Applications for skilled worker visa sponsorship are carefully scrutinised, where UKVI commonly conduct site visits prior to making its’ decision as to whether or not to grant a licence. This means that prospective sponsors must ensure that they already have in place proper procedures and robust HR practices prior to applying.
If all required documents are not submitted in time, the application for a skilled worker sponsor licence may be rejected or, at the very least, delayed. It’s therefore vital that all documentation is prepared in advance of making the online application, and that the authorising officer and key contact are available to deal with any requests from UKVI.
There are a number of different pitfalls to navigate when making an application for a skilled worker sponsor licence, including submitting the right documentation to meet all the requirements under the rules. By seeking professional advice from an immigration specialist, prospective sponsors can be safely guided through the application process.
Skilled worker sponsor licence FAQs
Can I sponsor a skilled worker?
You can sponsor a skilled worker from overseas provided you have a valid licence in place to sponsor this category of worker. You must also assign the worker with a valid sponsorship certificate for a suitably skilled and salaried job.
How much does it cost to sponsor a skilled worker?
There are several costs involved in sponsoring a skilled migrant worker. These include a sponsor licence application fee, an Immigration Skills Charge and a fee to assign each Certificate of Sponsorship.
What are the eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence?
The eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence depend on the category of worker to be sponsored, for example, successful skilled worker visa sponsorship requires a business to be able to offer genuine employment that meets minimum skill and salary levels.
How do I sponsor a skilled worker UK?
To sponsor a skilled worker in the UK, the employer must have a valid skilled worker sponsor licence, and be able to offer a new recruit a genuine job that meets the skill and salary requirements under this route.
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.