The specific type of Sponsor Licence you’ll apply for is determined by the immigration pathway that the prospective overseas employee is targeting. Each type of licence comes with its own set of criteria. Employers should be aware that most EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals who have arrived in the UK since December 31, 2020 now require sponsorship to be legally employed here.

What is a Sponsor Licence?

A Sponsor Licence is an authorisation granted by the UK Home Office, permitting a UK-based organisation to employ foreign nationals. Such a licence is requisite for employing most categories of overseas workers, including but not limited to Skilled Workers and UK Expansion Workers. This encompasses both non-EU nationals, as well as citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who have arrived in the UK post-December 31, 2020.

Exemptions exist for Irish citizens, individuals holding settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, those with Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK and foreign nationals already authorised to work in the UK.

Organisations must apply to the Home Office and pay the applicable application fee to procure a Sponsor Licence. The licence is accessible to businesses of diverse sizes and operational sectors, contingent upon meeting specified business eligibility and job suitability criteria for the licence category under consideration.

The benefits of a Sponsor Licence

Securing a Sponsor Licence offers substantial advantages to organisations looking to hire overseas talent, thereby filling skills gaps and bolstering competitiveness. The licence not only expands the pool of qualified candidates but also enhances an organisation’s reputation as a global employer.

It facilitates compliance with immigration regulations and provides a structured framework for legally employing non-resident workers.

Moreover, it grants companies the agility to adapt to market changes and emerging skill set requirements, with the ability to quickly onboard specialists from around the globe. Obtaining a Sponsor Licence is a strategic investment in the long-term growth and diversification of your workforce.

Requirements for a Sponsor Licence

To successfully apply for a Sponsor Licence, organisations must meet certain general and specific criteria set forth by the Home Office.

General requirements for Sponsor Licence application
  1. Prove that your organisation is genuine and lawfully operating in the UK.
  2. Demonstrate that your organisation is trustworthy and reliable, and has not engaged in activities that are harmful to the public.
  3. Show that your organisation can fulfil sponsor duties and comply with guidelines within the timeframes established by the Home Office.

To establish lawful operation, you’ll need to submit various business-related documents, the details of which may vary based on your type of organisation and the immigration routes you aim to use for sponsorship.

The Home Office will evaluate your business history, the backgrounds of key personnel named in your application and anyone involved in the daily running of your organisation to assess trustworthiness.

Your organisation’s existing HR and recruitment practices will be examined to ensure your ability to meet sponsor responsibilities and compliance requirements.

Route-specific requirements for a Sponsor Licence

In addition to the general criteria, organisations must also meet specific requirements that pertain to the immigration route through which they aim to sponsor an overseas national.

For instance, if applying for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence, organisations must satisfy the Home Office on the following counts:

  1. The employment offered aligns with the skill level requirements of the Skilled Worker route.
  2. The employment offered meets the salary level criteria of the Skilled Worker route.
  3. The job role(s) intended for sponsorship are genuine.
  4. A direct employer-employee relationship exists between the organisation (the sponsor) and the overseas national, excluding scenarios where the role would involve subcontracting the worker to a third party for an ongoing or routine of UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licence Requirements.
UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licence

If you aim to apply for a UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licence under the Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker visa route, you must meet specific conditions as dictated by the Home Office:

  1. The offered employment must align with the skill level requirements of the UK Expansion Worker route.
  2. The employment must meet the salary level criteria for this route.
  3. The job role(s) intended for sponsorship must be genuine.
  4. The role should not involve work delegated to a third party.
  5. There must be a qualifying relationship between the sponsoring organisation and the overseas business sending workers.
  6. Your organisation should not already be actively trading in the UK but must have some form of a UK ‘footprint.’
  7. The overseas business planning UK expansion must be actively trading and, unless exceptions apply, should have been in operation for at least 3 years.
  8. Your organisation must genuinely intend and be capable of expanding to the UK and establishing a trading presence within two years.
  9. The intended UK expansion should align with the type of business you conduct overseas.
  10. The UK entity being established must be either wholly owned by the overseas business or part of the same legal entity, such as a branch.

Other worker and temporary worker immigration routes in the UK

The UK provides an array of additional Worker and Temporary Worker immigration options, such as the Global Business Mobility Route, Senior or Specialist Worker, Scale-up, International Sportsperson, Minister of Religion and Creative Worker routes. The requirements for sponsoring an overseas national under these varied routes will differ based on the specific immigration pathway in question.

Application outcome

Failure to meet the requisite criteria for a Sponsor Licence will result in the denial of the sponsorship licence application.

To discuss your Sponsor Licence application contact one of our business immigration team members at 0141 339 7373 – ask for Dan Doherty or Teresa Saksida.

Required documents for Sponsor Licence application

To apply for a Sponsor Licence, you must include at least four mandatory documents. These are outlined in Appendix A of the Home Office guidelines. The exact documents you’ll need will depend on your specific situation.

Additional details needed

In addition to providing the required documents, your application must also include information about your organisation, the job role you’re looking to fill and the candidate you wish to sponsor. You’ll need to explain why you are applying for a Sponsor Licence to the Home Office.

Designation of key personnel for Sponsor Licence

Prior to submitting a Sponsor Licence application, your organisation must designate the following roles: an Authorising Officer, a Key Contact and a minimum of one Level 1 User. Each of these roles interact with the Home Office through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) and have distinct responsibilities:

  1. Authorising Officer: Typically a senior member within the organisation involved in recruitment or HR. This individual will be ultimately accountable for the sponsorship licence and for ensuring compliance with sponsorship duties.
  2. Key Contact: This individual serves as the main liaison between your organisation and the Home Office. A legal representative can fulfill this role.
  3. Level 1 User: Responsible for routine management of the sponsorship licence via the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). While the Level 1 User must be an employee at the time of application, after the licence is granted, additional Level 1 or Level 2 Users can be assigned. Level 2 Users have limited capabilities within the SMS.

Each of these key personnel must be appointed before your sponsorship licence application. These roles can be assumed by one individual or distributed among several persons.

For licences other than the UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licence, all Key Personnel must be UK-based for the duration they serve in their respective roles. They should also have no unspent criminal convictions, civil penalties or other adverse history, including immigration-related issues. They must either be salaried employees or engaged as ‘office holders,’ unless specific exceptions apply.

Sponsor Licence fees

The application fee for a Sponsor Licence is contingent upon the size of the organisation. Small enterprises or charities are subject to a fee of £536.00, while medium or large organisations will incur a fee of £1,476.00.

Application processing time

The Home Office typically adjudicates Sponsor Licence applications within an eight-week timeframe. A priority service is available at an additional charge of £500.00, which ensures a decision is reached within 10 working days.

Licence validity period

An approved Sponsor Licence has a validity period of four years. To maintain sponsorship capabilities beyond this timeframe, it is incumbent upon the organisation to renew the licence before its expiration. UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licences are exceptions to this, as they are not renewable; these licences presuppose the establishment of a UK trading presence within two years from the date of initial issuance.

Appeal and rating

It is crucial to exercise meticulous care during the application process, as an unsuccessful application is non-appealable and subjects the applicant to a six-month cooling-off period.

Successful applications typically yield an ‘A’ rating on the register of licensed sponsors, although UK Expansion Worker applicants may receive a ‘Provisional’ rating under specific conditions.

Sponsorship management

Upon licence approval, organisations gain access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS), an online portal for Sponsor Licence management. The portal must also be utilised to report certain events, such as migrant non-compliance with work reporting.

Compliance requirements

Failure to adhere to sponsorship duties, including the proper execution of right-to-work checks, may result in the revocation of the Sponsor Licence.

Assistance with Sponsor Licences: how Five Star can help

Our specialised team helps UK employers secure the appropriate Sponsor Licences, maintain top-tier licence ratings and fulfil sponsor obligations.

Should you need tailored guidance on the appropriate business documents for a Sponsor Licence application, specialised support in formulating a compelling business case that meets UKVI requirements or expert advice on the responsibilities essential for obtaining and maintaining a Sponsor Licence, we can customise our assistance in any of these areas or manage the entire application process on your behalf.

We are committed to being accessible and proactive in addressing the unique requirements of our business clients. Our team is highly motivated and focuses on delivering straightforward, dependable immigration advice to UK employers through a professional yet personable service.

Read our Sponsor Licence application guide


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