The United Kingdom has a sponsorship-based system for work and business visas. This means that all companies seeking to bring over foreign national employees must have a valid sponsor licence from the UK Home Office. If your business would like to send an employee to the United Kingdom or bring an employee from abroad, you will first need to apply for and be approved for an A-rated sponsor licence.

This article will explain the sponsor licence system and the importance of your sponsor licence application. It will outline the different types of sponsor licences, eligibility requirements, required supporting documents, how to apply for a sponsor licence, associated costs, processing times, and responsibilities as a sponsor licence holder. Finally, we will answer frequently asked questions from employers seeking to apply for a sponsor licence to employ foreign national workers.

 

What is a sponsor licence?

A sponsor licence is a formal permission granted by the UK Home Office that allows employers to either send or bring over eligible foreign national workers. This permission will let you employ foreign workers for at least four years at a time and comes with a number of essential responsibilities, such as monitoring immigration compliance and human resources information. Holding a sponsor licence for your organisation comes with rights and duties outlined in this article. Your sponsor licence is not permanent and can be downgraded in status or revoked by the Home Office if you fail to meet compliance requirements at any point after your licence is granted. If you would like to hire foreign national workers through the Points-Based Visa System, such as through the Skilled Worker Visa, Global Business Mobility Route, and Temporary Worker Route, you will need to apply for and be granted a sponsor licence.

 

Why are sponsor licences important?

Previously, UK employers could hire EU citizen workers without needing a sponsor licence. The post-Brexit era will require all employers seeking to employ foreign national workers under the Points-Based Visa System to have a sponsor licence. This means that more employers seeking to diversify and broaden an employee base will need to apply for and be granted a sponsor licence. If you hire foreign national workers subject to work restrictions without a sponsor licence, you can face severe legal consequences, including being issued with an unlimited fine and 5 years in prison. Therefore, sponsor licences are essential for employers and businesses to understand going forward.

 

What are the different types of sponsor licences?

Before applying for your sponsor licence, you will need to consider what type of sponsor licence you need based on the nature of your organisation’s work. There are two broad categories of sponsor licences – Worker and Temporary Worker. However, under each category, there are a number of sub-categories, including the following:

 

Sponsor Licence – Worker

  • Skilled Worker Visa – Under this visa, overseas workers with desirable professional skill sets can move to the United Kingdom to work a specific job with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 5 years, with the option of extending the visa as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. The Skilled Worker Visa provides a settlement route (sometimes called Indefinite Leave to Remain, ILR, or permanent residence).
  • Health and Care Worker Visa – Under this visa, overseas workers with desirable professional skill sets in the health and social care sectors can move to the United Kingdom to work a sector-specific job with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 5 years, with the option of extending the visa as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. The Health and Care Worker Visa provides a settlement route (sometimes called Indefinite Leave to Remain, ILR, or permanent residence).
  • Senior or Specialist Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility Route) – Under this visa, overseas workers for existing global employers can move to the United Kingdom to work a specific job with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 5 years, with the option of extending the visa as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. The Senior or Specialist Worker Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Minister of Religion Visa – Under this visa, religious professionals such as ministers of religion, missionaries, and members of religious orders can move to the United Kingdom to serve faith communities with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work for the faith community in the United Kingdom for up to 5 years, with the option of extending the visa as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. The Minister of Religion Visa provides a settlement route (sometimes called Indefinite Leave to Remain, ILR, or permanent residence).
  • International Sportsperson Visa – Under this visa, overseas elite sports persons and elite, qualified sports coaches can work, train, and compete in the United Kingdom with a licenced sports governing body. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 3 years, with the option of extending the visa as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. The International Sportsperson Visa provides a settlement route (sometimes called Indefinite Leave to Remain, ILR, or permanent residence).

 

Sponsor Licence – Temporary Worker

  • Temporary Worker (Charity Worker) Visa – Under this visa, overseas workers can provide unpaid volunteer services on a temporary basis to a licenced charity based in the United Kingdom. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 12 months. The Temporary Worker (Charity Worker) Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Temporary Worker (Creative Worker) Visa – Under this visa, overseas workers in creative industries such as actors, dancers, technical crew members, and musicians can temporarily work in sector-specific roles with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 12 months, with the option of extending the visa as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. The Temporary Worker (Charity Worker) Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Temporary Worker (Government Authorised Exchange) Visa – Under this visa, overseas workers can participate in a temporary government-authorised work, research, training, or fellowship programme with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for either 12 or 24 months, depending on the type of scheme. The Temporary Worker (Charity Worker) Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Temporary Worker (International Agreement) Visa – Under this visa, overseas workers whose job roles fall under international treaties and international law can work for their licenced employer in the United Kingdom on a temporary basis. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 2 years. The Temporary Worker (International Agreement) Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Temporary Worker (Religious Worker) Visa – Under this visa, overseas religious workers such as those in religious orders and non-pastoral jobs can work in the United Kingdom on a temporary basis for a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 2 years. The Temporary Worker (Religious Worker) Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Temporary Worker (Seasonal Worker) Visa – Under this visa, overseas horticultural workers can work in the British agricultural sector on a temporary basis. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 6 months. The Temporary Worker (Seasonal Worker) Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Temporary Worker (Scale Up) Visa – Under this visa, skilled workers have to be sponsored by a ‘scale up’ business for an initial six months, after which they can change employer and switch to an unsponsored Scale Up visa.
  • Graduate Trainee Visa (Global Business Mobility Route) – Under this visa, overseas workers currently working for existing global employers can move to the United Kingdom to work in a graduate training programme with a licenced sponsor. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 12 months. The Graduate Trainee Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • UK Expansion Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility Route) – Under this visa, overseas workers currently working for existing global employers can move to the United Kingdom to establish a trading presence in the UK. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 2 years. The UK Expansion Worker Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Secondment Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility Route) – Under this visa, overseas workers currently working for existing employers with high-value contracts can be seconded to the United Kingdom to work for a UK-based organisation. The visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for up to 2 years. The Secondment Worker Visa does not lead to settlement.
  • Service Supplier Visa (Global Business Mobility Route) – Under this visa, overseas workers who have a service contract under a relevant international trade agreement can come to the United Kingdom to fulfil the contract. Depending on the type of trade agreement, the visa holder can work in the United Kingdom for either 6 months or 12 months. The Service Supplier Visa does not lead to settlement.

 

What are the eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence?

To be eligible for a sponsor licence, your organisation must meet a number of requirements, including the following:

  • Your company or organisation must not have a history of failing to meet sponsor licence compliance duties
  • Your company or organisation must not have a history of unspent criminal convictions for crimes such as fraud and immigration offences
  • Your company or organisation must create processes to meet sponsor licence compliance duties
  • Your company or organisation must provide extensive documentation related to the business to demonstrate trustworthiness and responsibility

 

What supporting documents are required for a sponsor licence?

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be required to submit a variety of supporting documents, such as the following:

  • Covering letter including details information about your company or organisation
  • Hierarchy chart of your company or organisation
  • Most recent annual accounts *
  • VAT certificate *
  • Agreement for office lease or rental property *
  • Certificate of employer liability insurance *
  • Documentation acknowledging the latest Company Tax Return CT620
  • HMRC documents noting Accounts Office Reference Number and PAYE Reference Number *
  • Bank statements of business *

You will need to provide a minimum of four of the starred documents, plus all additional documents on this list.

 

How to apply for a sponsor licence

First, you should prepare for the responsibilities of holding a sponsor licence. You will need to discuss the rights and duties of immigration sponsorship internally as an organisation and to ensure that you will be able to support overseas workers. If your application is approved, you should also assign an individual or a team to manage sponsor licence compliance duties.

Second, you should begin collecting all required supporting documents based on the circumstances of your company or organisation. All documents for your sponsor licence application will need to be provided in English, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic. If they are not originally in English, you must source official translations of all documents if they are not originally in English.

Third, you should submit the online sponsor licence application form. You should fully and truthfully complete the form. If you have any questions about the sponsor licence form, you should discuss these with your colleagues before submitting the application. At the end of the application form, you will need to pay the relevant fee for your organisation’s circumstances. You may be given the option to pay for expedited processing of your sponsor licence application. If so, you will need to pay the additional fee. Your online sponsor licence application is now sent to the Home Office for processing.

Fourth, you will need to provide all required supporting documents to the Home Office. After submitting your application, the Home Office will note the documents you need to provide for your company or organisation. The Home Office will inform you how to submit these documents. Once you submit all documents, your full application is forwarded to the Home Office for processing. You will need to wait for a decision on your application before sponsoring any overseas workers. If your application is approved, you will be given access to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

 

Sponsor licence costs

The associated costs for your sponsor licence application will depend on the nature of your request and the size of your organisation. Here are the following various application fees:

Application fees for small and charitable sponsors

Worker £536
Temporary Worker £536
Worker and Temporary Worker £536
If you have a Worker licence, add a Temporary Worker licence Free
If you have a Temporary Worker licence, add a Worker licence Free

Application fees for medium and large sponsors

Worker £1,476
Temporary Worker £536
Worker and Temporary Worker £1,476
If you have a Worker licence, add a Temporary Worker licence Free
If you have a Temporary Worker licence, add a Worker licence £940

 

How long is sponsor licence application processing?

The Home Office will process the majority of sponsor licence applications within 8 weeks (2 months). Your application could take longer to process if a UK Visas and Immigration representative needs to visit your business premises for additional checks. Not all business premises will be visited – this occurs on an as-needed basis.

Depending on availability, you may be eligible for expedited processing within 10 working days on your sponsor licence application. After submitting your application, you can submit the request to the Home Office. A limited number of expedited processing requests are permitted per day. If expedited processing is available for your application, you must pay an additional £500 for this service.

 

Sponsor licence compliance

If your sponsor licence application is approved, you must uphold the responsibilities and compliance duties required by the Home Office. If you do not maintain compliance, your sponsor licence can be downgraded in status or revoked. This means you cannot sponsor new foreign national employees until you fix issues with your sponsor licence. This is a matter of great importance and should not be taken lightly.

As a sponsor licence holder, you will need to assign an individual in your organisation to manage record-keeping duties and the Home Office Sponsorship Management System (SMS). This person will need to keep ongoing and updated records regarding the details of sponsored workers, such as their passport, Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), and employment contract. The assigned individual will also need to update the SMS with any changes about sponsored workers within 10 days, such as significant absences, terminations, or promotions. If there are significant organisational changes, you will also need to report these to the Home Office through the SMS. Lastly, you will need to renew your sponsor licence within the required timeframe – please note that your sponsor licence will be valid for 4 years, and proactive action must be taken for the renewal process.

 

Sponsorship licence FAQs

What is a sponsor licence application?

A sponsor licence application is a formal request to the Home Office for permission to employ foreign national workers legally. Your organisation cannot sponsor foreign national workers to come to the United Kingdom without a valid sponsor licence.

How do I get a sponsor licence in the UK?

To get a sponsor licence in the UK, your organisation must submit an application to the Home Office. You will need to fill out an online application form, pay the relevant application fee, and submit all required supporting documents.

What documents will I need to apply for a sponsor licence?

The documents required for your sponsor licence application will depend on the nature of your organisation. In general, you will need to provide documents such as bank statements, VAT certificates, HMRC documents, office rental agreements or leases, and annual accounts.

How long does it take to get a sponsor licence?

Most applications will be processed within 8 weeks of full submission to the Home Office. You may be able to pay for expedited processing, which will allow for a decision within 10 working days. Some applications may take longer if they are complex or missing required documents.

 

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.

 

Share.

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.