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04 June 2021

FAQs: Sponsorship licences

8 mins

Following the introduction in December 2020, of the newly formatted Points Based System, which included the Skilled Worker and Senior or Specialist Worker routes, some of the more stringent aspects of the work permission process and the visa requirements were removed. The mandatory minimum skills level was reduced to RQF 3 for the Senior or Specialist Worker route and the need for an employer to have carried out a Resident Labour Market Test was withdrawn.

Below we have answered some key questions surrounding sponsorship licences which may be of interest to both employers and individuals alike. Please note that most of the questions are posed and answered from an employer’s perspective:

I want to employ someone from overseas to work for my company in the UK.  Do I need permission to do this?


You will need a sponsorship licence to employ someone from outside the UK if they do not already have permission to live and work in the UK. 

I wish to employ workers from the European Union. Do I still need a sponsorship licence?

Freedom of movement between the UK and European Union ended on 31 December 2020.  This means that you will need a sponsorship licence to employ EEA and Swiss citizens who arrive in the UK after this date and do not already have permission to live and work in the UK. 

You can continue to employ European nationals and Swiss nationals who arrived in the UK prior to 31 December 2020, provided they apply for status on the EU Settlement Scheme by no later than 30 June 2021, and that application is granted.

The person who I wish to employ has settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Do I need a sponsorship licence to be able to employ them? 

No.  They already have permission to live and work in the UK.   

Do I need a sponsorship licence if I want to employ an Irish national who is coming to the UK to work for me? 

No. Irish citizens are allowed to live and work in the UK without needing to request permission to do so.

What are the requirements in order to be granted a sponsorship licence?

To be granted a sponsorship licence, your organisation must be genuine and lawfully operating in the UK.  You must be honest, dependable and not engaging/have previously engaged in actions or behaviour which are not conducive to the public good.  You must not have:

  • Unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering
  • A history of failing to carry out your sponsorship duties with previous sponsorship licences

You need to have appropriate systems in place to monitor employees who you sponsor e.g. human resource and recruitment systems which will enable you to meet your sponsor duties.  The Home Office will consider whether they will be able to make unannounced visits to the business premises in order to check that you are complying with your sponsorship duties.

Employers applying under the Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker or Scale-up licence routes (see below), will need to demonstrate to the Home Office that there is a genuine position of employment that meets the salary and skill-level criteria for those routes.

What type of sponsor licence should I apply for?

There are two main immigration routes for overseas nationals who wish to work in the UK and who do not already have permission to live and work here.  These are known as the Worker and Temporary Worker routes.

The Worker route incorporates Skilled Workers, Health and Care Workers, Senior or Specialist Workers (intra-company transfers), Ministers of Religion, Scale-up Workers,  and International sportspeople. 

The Temporary Worker route replaces the old Tier 5 Immigration Rules which were in place before 1 December 2020, and covers Charity Workers, Creative or Sporting Workers, Expansion Workers, Government Authorised Exchange Workers, International Agreement Workers, Religious Workers, Seasonal Workers, Secondment Workers, and Service Supplier Workers. 

As such, there are two types of licence to reflect the two routes above. These are:

  • Worker licence – this permits you to employ people on a long-term basis or permanently
  • Temporary worker licence – this permits you to employ people on a temporary basis

How do I apply for the sponsorship licence?

You will need to complete the online application form and proved information about your business. You will need to supply supporting documents which are detailed in Appendix A of the Sponsorship Guidance.

You will also need to give certain responsibilities to different members of your staff, who are known as ‘Key Personnel’ and who will carry out specific duties associated with the sponsorship licence.  It will be necessary to decide how many workers you are likely to sponsor in your first year of holding the sponsorship licence: this will determine how many Certificates of Sponsorship you will require and be permitted to assign.

How much does an application for a sponsorship licence cost?

The fee you will have to pay varies depending on the type of licence you are applying for, the size of your organisation and whether it has charitable status.  You can find further information about current fees on the Home Office website.

Will the Home Office visit my business when I apply for a sponsorship licence?

Possibly. They may visit your business premises to check that you are trustworthy and capable of carrying out the sponsorship duties. The Home Office introduced digital inspections in late August 2022.

What happens once my application is granted?

If the application is successful, you will be added to the Register of Sponsors on the Home Office website.   The licence will be valid for 4 years unless the Home Office takes action to revoke it or you decide to surrender the licence before its expiry.  If you wish to continue sponsoring migrants after the first 4 years, you will need to apply to renew your licence before its expiry.

 You will be given access to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS)  and will be able to sponsor workers who meet the relevant criteria by assigning them a Certificate of Sponsorship. You may need to pay an Immigration Skills Charge when you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship, unless an exemption applies.  The cost of the Immigration Skills Charge depends on the size of your organisation and how long you plan to sponsor the worker for.  You cannot pass this fee onto the worker.

Once you have assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship, the proposed employee will then need to apply for permission to enter or remain in the UK in order to work for your company.  You can find more information about the Immigration Rules for Workers and Temporary Workers on our website at the following link.

The Home Office Sponsor Register states that some companies have an ‘A’ rating and some have a ‘B’ rating. What rating will my company receive?

You will be awarded an A-rating when you are first granted a licence  if the Home Office assess your business as being eligible and suitable to have a sponsorship licence. 

The Home Office can decide to downgrade your organisation to a ‘B’ rating during the course of your sponsorship licence, if it decides you are not meeting your sponsorship duties or are acting in a way that is not appropriate for sponsors.  If you are downgraded, you will be provided with a sponsorship action plan at a cost and must carry out the steps stated in the plan in order to regain an A-rating.  If you do not meet the requirements of the plan, your sponsorship licence will be revoked.

What happens if my application is refused?

If you do not meet all of the eligibility and suitability criteria, your application will be refused.  You may not be able to re-apply for six months.  You can only ask for a review of the decision if you believe that there has been a simple case working error which has led to the refusal.  You would do this through an Error Correction Request.

I am an individual who wishes to employ someone to work for me, can I apply for a sponsorship licence?

Not unless you are a sole trader who wishes to sponsor someone to work in your business.

My company is an employment agency which supplies workers to other organisations, can I apply for a sponsorship licence for my company in order to sponsor workers and supply them to other organisations?

No. You can apply for a sponsorship licence to sponsor workers who will be employed directly by your company in connection with the running of its business but cannot sponsor workers and supply them as labour to other organisations.  If you do this, your licence will be revoked.

If you would like to find out more about our Business Immigration services, visit our web page here.

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