Sponsoring Migrant Workers

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How to sponsor a worker from overseas

Virtually any business can sponsor an overseas worker. But first, the business has to have a sponsor licence.

If you are the employer applying for a licence you will need to demonstrate that you have

  • a genuine business, with an operating and trading presence in the UK;
  • a genuine need for the sponsor licence, and
  • a suitable human resources and recruitment system which would allow you to comply with employer’s duties and suitable for prevention of illegal working

The application may be rejected as invalid if any of the required documents are not provided or refused if the Home Office is not satisfied that all of the above factors are in place. If the application is refused, there may be a cooling-off period of six months before you can re-apply. 

We strongly recommend making the application successful from the first try. This guidance is aimed to give you a general idea of what is required. If you need help with the application, we are happy to take you through the process and ensure that all the requirements for the licence are met.


Sponsor licence application process

The application for a Sponsor Licence is made online by the employer. 

You will be given a list of documents, depending on the type of organisation you represent, which will include mandatory documents and additional documents you may submit. All mandatory documents are required. From additional documents you can choose whatever you have at hand to prepared the required total number of documents (usually at least four).

You will be asked to name the key personnel of your organisation. This includes:

  • The Authorising Officer
  • The Key Contact
  • Level 1 User

All three roles can be performed by the same representative of the business. However, if you have a legal representative helping you with the application, your legal representative can act as your Key Contact. Once the licence is issued, you can add your legal representative as Level 1 User.

The Authorising Officer, who has to be an employee or director of the business, will be responsible for hiring the overseas workers, the Key Contact is responsible for communications with the Home Office and Level 1 user is responsible for day-to-day management of the Sponsor Management System. There can be only one Authorising Officer and only one Key Contact, but you can have several Level 1 Users.

There is a short online application form which asks about the nature of the business, its size and location and the roles of the prospective sponsored employees, and the number of employees you intend to sponsor in the first year. The form takes 20-30 minutes to complete.

It is important, however, that you take the form seriously. On the basis of the form, the Home Office will assess whether you genuinely need the licence, whether your recruitment and HR procedures are adequate for hiring people from overseas, and whether you have the knowledge and procedures to offer immigration advice to prospective spondees. Your legal representative would normally cover these aspects of the application and would ensure that you are fully compliant and fully competent as a prospective sponsor.

Once the application is submitted, you will have five working days to email the signed submission sheet and supporting documents to the Home Office. 

Examples of accepted documents may include the VAT registration certificate, a licence for the business premises, HMRC issued documents, employer liability insurance and such like. The Home Office has strict requirements regarding authentication and the format of documents and you or your representative have to check on this before submitting the papers.

Pre-licencing visits are quite common and you would normally be asked to expand on the information in the application form and show evidence of the relevant procedures and recruitment process. Your legal representative can be present during the pre-licencing visit and we recommend this – it helps to avoid any potential misunderstandings between your personnel and the Home Office compliance officer. 

The difference between a Skilled Worker and an ICT licence

ICT licence (previously Tier 2 ICT) is for employers who wish to transfer senior employees from an overseas branch of the business to the UK-based branch or affiliated entity. The worker should either have been with the employer for at least 12 months and be paid at least £41,500 annual salary when in the UK or be paid an annual salary of not less than £73,900 if they have not been with the employer for 12 months prior to transfer to the UK. 

In practice, very few employers would now need the ICT licence. In the past, Tier 2 ICT compared favourably with Tier 2 General in that it didn’t require the resident labour market test. Now that resident labour market test has been abolished, the only advantage of ICT visa is that it doesn’t require the applicant to pass the English language test.

ICT visa may be used for short term assignments or longer periods, normally of up to five years. ICT visa holder is not allowed to spend more than five years in the UK in any six-year period. For high earners (with salaries over £150K per year) Tier 2 ICT visa can be issued for up to nine years and the visa holder is restricted to nine years in any 10-year period.

The worker is expected to return home on completion of the assignment. There is no right to apply for indefinite leave to remain. However, it is now possible to switch from ICT visa or Tier 2 ICT into the Skilled Worker route.

Unlike ICT licence, Skilled Worker licence allows the employer to sponsor a non-British worker whether or not the worker previously worked for the employer. There is no maximum permitted stay in this category. The worker is entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain after five years of sponsored employment in the Skilled Worker route.

Certificate of sponsorship

Certificate of sponsorship (CoS) is a document issued by the Home Office on request of an authorised sponsor. Certificate of sponsorship is then used, or assigned, by the employer to the worker. This begins the sponsorship process. 

There are two types of certificates of sponsorship: restricted and unrestricted.

An unrestricted certificate of sponsorship can be issued to a migrant who is already part of UK labour market (is already sponsored in the UK either by the same or another employer) or is a Tier 4 student who has completed studies and is switching to Tier 2 General route.

A licence holder has an annual number of allocations, in other words, the number of unrestricted certificates of sponsorship that they can issue at any time without asking the UKBA for special permission to do so.

Restricted certificates of sponsorship are issued by the Home Office upon a request from the sponsor for the purpose of employing a worker from abroad. These certificates are limited in numbers, hence the term “restricted”. They are issued monthly by the Home Office and are subject to competition. Points are awarded depending on whether the job is on a shortage occupation list and in proportion to the remuneration of the prospective employee.

Applications for restricted certificates of sponsorship are accepted monthly, with a cut off date on the 5-th day of the month. The decision is normally made on or around the 11-th day of the month and notified to the employer on the next business day.

Once the employer has received the certificate of sponsorship, it can be assigned to the specific worker and the sponsorship process begins.

The worker should apply for entry clearance within three months of getting an assigned certificate of sponsorship.

Applications for certificates of sponsorship and assignment of the certificates is done through the online Sponsor Management System (SMS). Most employers appoint their legal representative as the level 1 user of the SMS to avoid any mistakes which may lead to the annulment of the certificate or even suspension or revocation of the licence.

Pre-licencing compliance visits

The Home Office may do a compliance visit before making a decision on the licence application. The purpose of the visit is to check if the organisation will be capable of carrying out the sponsor’s duties. In this assessment, the visiting officer will review the employer’s HR procedures, and may interview the employer in relation to the proposed sponsorship.


What is the processing time for a sponsor licence application?

The Home Office processing time for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence application can take up to 16 weeks. In practice, we expect a decision in 3 – 8 weeks.

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Last updated on January 13, 2022

Last updated on January 13, 2021