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Sponsor licences


Renewing the Undefined CoS Annual Allocation

In this short video, we take a look at the renewal application process for a undefined skilled worker CoS annual allocation.

Resident Labour Market Test scrapped – but what now?

The Resident Labour Market Test has now been scrapped. In this short video, immigration expert Gillian Burns talks about what happens now.

What is the requirement for ‘key personnel’?

When applying for a sponsor licence you must nominate people within your organisation as ‘key personnel’. Immigration expert Natalie Payne talks you through the roles and responsibilities of the ‘key personnel’ in this short video.

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How to apply for a sponsor licence

Applying to become a registered sponsor for migrant workers is a process many organisations are unfamiliar with. Immigration expert Flora Mewies breaks down how to apply for a sponsor licence in this short video.

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What is a sponsor licence?

In order to recruit individuals from outside the UK who do not otherwise have the right to work in the UK, employers must have a valid sponsor licence. An employer with a sponsor licence will then agree to sponsor an individual that is working for them and this allows the individual to apply for their work visa.

The licence comes with many strict compliance conditions that must be met at all times, otherwise the licence may be downgraded or revoked  – read more about sponsorship duties here.

The Workers licence can cover both Skilled Worker and ICT visas and you can also hold a sponsor licence to sponsor Temporary Workers too.


Which employees do I need a sponsor licence for?

An employer must have a sponsor licence to sponsor anyone who is not a “settled worker”.

Generally speaking, a settled worker is a person who is:

  • a British citizen
  • an EEA national or Swiss national who arrived in the UK before 11 pm on 31 December 2020 (and their eligible family members), provided they apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 and that application is granted
  • a person with pre-settled status or settled status granted under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • a British overseas territories citizen (except for those from sovereign base areas in Cyprus)
  • a Commonwealth citizen with a UK Ancestry route visa or with the right of abode in the UK
  • anyone who has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK or is otherwise settled within the meaning of section 33(2A) of the Immigration Act 1971
  • an Irish citizen

Anyone who does not fall into the above category will require a visa to live and work in the UK.

Who are the ‘Key Personnel’?

As part of the application process, you need to appoint people internally and provide their details to UKVI to manage the sponsorship process and the sponsored workers. The main way in which this is done is through the Sponsor Management System (SMS).

The main roles are:

  • Authorising Officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff who use the SMS
  • Key Contact – your main point of contact with UKVI, and
  • Level 1 user – the member(s) of staff responsible for all day-to-day management of your sponsor licence using the SMS.

You should consider suitability and eligibility of key personnel fulfilling these important roles before they are assigned to individuals. We recommend that you provide training on sponsor duties and obligations for Key Personnel. If you would like help with this, details of the training courses we can offer can be found here.

What is the Sponsor Management System (SMS)?

This is the online system that sponsors are given access to when the licence is granted. You can update on any changes to circumstances as well as applying for and assigning Certificates of Sponsorship using this system.

If you require assistance with the SMS, we offer a Sponsor Management Service and further details can be found here.

How do I apply for a sponsor licence?

To become a registered sponsor, you must complete a lengthy online application form, provide supporting documents and a covering letter, all of which must satisfy UKVI’s exacting criteria.

UKVI will assess your suitability to be a sponsor, and will consider:

  • whether you are a genuine, lawful business in the UK
  • the business’ background as well as key personnel
  • whether you are capable of complying with UKVI’s sponsor duties, including examining HR and recruitment practices, and
  • whether you are capable of providing suitable work and remuneration to migrant workers.

Our team has a 100% success rate with sponsor licence applications and can provide a range of services to assist you with the process. Please contact us to discuss this further.

What supporting documents do need I for a sponsor licence application?

You will need to submit your application online and all supporting documents and a covering letter are to be provided within five working days of submitting the online application form. Failure to provide these will invalidate the application. These documents provide evidence to UKVI that you are a genuine business and commonly relate to you being registered with the tax authorities, any required regulatory body and having suitable insurance in place.

How much is the sponsor licence application fee?

A sponsor licence is granted for four years and must be renewed thereafter. There are initial fees to pay as part of the application process which vary depending on the size of the business. If you have an annual turnover of £10.2 million or less and employ fewer than 50 employees, the fee is currently £536. If you do not satisfy these criteria, the fee is currently £1,476.

There are additional fees to be paid including the Immigration Skills Charge and when assigning a CoS.

If you are applying for sponsorship for the first time, we recommend that you take advice on the application process. If the application is refused your fees will not be refunded. There is also a cooling off period of six months for reapplying if your application is rejected so getting it wrong can be costly and it will delay your plans for recruitment. Get in touch to see how we can help you get it right first time

What is the average timeframe to gain sponsorship?

Most applications (8 out of 10) are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. This can take longer if UKVI need to carry out a compliance visit before dealing with your application, for example to check your HR systems and processes, visit your business premises and so on, or have additional queries in light of their interpretation of your original on line submission and supporting documents.

Can this process be expedited?

In some circumstances yes.  There is a priority processing service for sponsor licence applications which you can apply to use.  There is an additional fee to pay of £500 and the outcome should be received within 10 working days.  There is no guarantee however that your application will be eligible for the priority service

Sponsoring a worker

Do we have to carry out a full recruitment process?

Despite the RLMT being abolished, sponsors need to satisfy UKVI that the role they want to sponsor is a genuine vacancy within their business and carrying out a recruitment process and retaining evidence of this is one way to satisfy UKVI.


What is the Immigration Salary List?

The Immigration Salary List, previously known as the Shortage Occupation List, is a list of all roles in the UK which UKVI believes there are not enough settled workers to fill. Occupations on the ISL benefit from a lower general salary threshold The current Immigration Salary List can be found here .

Is it relevant if the job an employer wants to sponsor for is on the shortage occupation list?

The Shortage Occupation List is a list of all roles in the UK which UKVI believes there are not enough settled workers to fill. The current List can be found in the Immigration Rules here.

If a job is on the Shortage Occupation List, they will not need to meet the £26,200 salary threshold. Instead the threshold will be lowered to £20,960 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation, whichever is higher. Employers will find it more affordable to sponsor individuals in shortage occupations.

What is the process that an employer has to go through at present to recruit and sponsor an EEA or a non-EEA worker for a visa?

Firstly, an employer needs to hold a sponsor licence with UK Visas & Immigration.  This requires them to go through the application process so that UKVI is satisfied that it is a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK and has the procedures and processes in place to take responsibility for workers that are sponsored.

Once a suitable candidate is identified the employer will need to obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and assign this to the prospective employee.

Once the individual has the CoS, they will then be able to apply for their visa to work in the UK using their assigned CoS.

What is a SOC Code?

For a job to be eligible for sponsorship it must be matched against an applicable “SOC Code” as confirmation that it meets the minimum skill level requirements. The codes are the method used by UKVI to classify jobs according to their titles and activities. Each code has other potential job titles and details of the minimum salary for that role and can be found here.

Unhelpfully, each Code no longer has example duties however these are still relevant in order to identify the correct Code for the role to be sponsored and whilst it should be treated with caution, the previous guidance and ONS website can be helpful resources.

Identifying the correct SOC Code is crucial as failure to do so could result in the role not meeting the minimum salary or minimum skill which would ultimately result in the visa application being rejected. To check whether you have identified the right SOC Code for the role in question, please contact us.

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)?

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a virtual document assigned by a sponsor to the employee. It provides details of the role the employee is being sponsored for and matches the employer and employee with UKVI. The employee cannot submit their visa application until they have a CoS.

Under the old immigration system there were two types of CoS:

  1. Restricted CoS –used when making a new hire into the UK from overseas and there was an annual limit on how many restricted CoS could be granted by UKVI; and
  2. Unrestricted CoS –used whenever you didn’t need a restricted CoS, which was usually in the following circumstances:
    • for individuals coming to the UK from overseas where their salary was at least £159,600pa;
    • for individuals already in the UK extending their Tier 2 General visa (either to work for their current employer or for a new employer) or who were able to switch from their current immigration category; or
    • for inward investment posts.
What are Defined and Undefined CoS?

Under the current system there are two types of CoS: Defined and Undefined . Choosing the right type is vital as if the wrong type is issued to an employee a sponsor could have their licence suspended or revoked as a result.

A Defined CoS should be used where the applicant is applying for a Skilled Worker visa and they are making their application from outside the UK.

An Undefined CoS should be used where the applicant is applying for a Skilled Worker visa from within the UK, or are applying for any other type of visa which requires a CoS.


How do I get a CoS?

Undefined CoS’ are issued on an annual basis on 6 April.  This is called your ‘annual allocation’.  You can apply for an annual allocation in the three months prior to 6 April via the Sponsor Management System.

If throughout the year, you need an additional undefined CoS, you can apply for more via the SMS however it can take weeks for this application to be dealt with by UKVI.

A defined CoS has to be applied for each time you need one for a specific role to be sponsored.  This application is also made by the Level 1 User on the Sponsor Management System.  Unlike with the old style restricted CoS, you can apply as and when needed and applications are usually dealt with within 1 working day if they are straightforward.


What happens when a CoS has been issued?

If the application for a certificate of sponsorship has been successful you must assign this to the individual worker using the Sponsor Management System. The prospective employee should then go on to apply for their visa.

Case study

Case Study

Who was the applicant?

Through our connection with the University of Leeds where we provide visa advice to international students, we were introduced to a growing Leeds based wholesale company which was rapidly expanding into the Chinese market.

How did we help?

As well as advising the company on the sponsorship of two Chinese nationals, we also advised the individual directly when their Tier 2 General visa application was rejected.  This application had been prepared without any professional support and a number of minor errors in the application form meant that they were not eligible for the visa. Through our Sponsor Management Service, we are registered as legal representative and level 1 user for this organisation which allowed us to use the priority service to obtain a new unrestricted CoS within days and assign this to the individual before their current Tier 4 Student visa expired.

We then worked with the individual to prepare the visa application and supporting documents and submit these urgently in order to protect the individual’s right to remain and work in the UK whilst the application was being considered. The Tier 2 General visa was successfully granted within a matter of weeks.

The result:

As a result of the previous errors made when sponsoring workers, this organisation was also subject to a sponsor licence compliance visit from UKVI. We conducted an audit at the company premises of the records, systems and processes and conducted mock interviews with the Key Personnel in preparation for the audit which was passed with no concerns raised by UKVI.

Services, audits, training and pricing

Services and pricing options

We have a 100% success rate of sponsor licence applications for our clients. Whether you require advice on the merits of applying for a sponsor licence, need full support with the application process or simply want to run a query past us, we can help.

By way of an example, our comprehensive sponsor licence advice service is set out below and is designed to take you from the initial application process through to the successful grant of your employee’s visa:

Stage 1 – sponsor licence application:

we provide a template sponsor licence application form to be completed which we can check before you submit the application online

we collect the required information from you and prepare a draft covering letter to accompany the application which includes all of the information required by UKVI

we discuss with you the supporting documents required to accompany the application to identify which are applicable to the company and easiest for you to provide

we consider the appropriate SOC Code for the role to be sponsored

we check the application form, covering letter and supporting documents before submission to ensure all information is included and is correct

we answer any questions you have about the process or correspondence from UKVI, and

we advise you on the documentation to retain to evidence the submission of the application.

Stage 2 – applying for, creating and assigning the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS):

we assist you in applying for a Defined CoS (if required)

we assist you with creating and assigning the Defined or Undefined CoS is to the future employee, and

we support you with general queries and any queries from UKVI in relation to the CoS.

Stage 3 – visa application:

we assist your future employee with their visa application by reviewing and suggesting amendments to the completed draft application

review and advise upon the necessary supporting documents, and

provide support to the company and the individual with general queries and queries from UKVI.

Fee estimate*: £4,250 – £6,500

Stage 1 – £2,500 – £3,500

Stage 2 – £750 – £1,000

Stage 3 – £1,000 – £2,000

*:  Our fees are calculated based on the number of hours it will take us to carry out this work. The exact number of hours it will take depends on the circumstances in your case, such as:

  • the volume of supporting documents and evidence that we need to consider
  • the quality of the draft supporting documents provided by you, the amount of time required to amend these and the number of amended drafts required
  • whether face to face meetings  or video calls with you are required and the volume of calls and queries from you
  • the urgency of your application
  • whether the company or future employee has an adverse immigration or criminal history
  • the need to obtain documentation from or liaise with third parties such as accountants or translation companies
  • whether advice is required on current immigration status.

Fees are excluding VAT at the rate of 20%. Disbursements are costs related to your matter that are payable to third parties, such as application fees payable to the Home Office and document translation fees. These are not included in the above estimate.

Full details can be found in our comprehensive pricing document, which can be found here, or please contact one of our immigration specialists.

About the Sponsorship Management Service

As a registered sponsor of Skilled Worker and Global Mobility migrants you have a wealth of obligations and duties to UK Visas & Immigration and failure to comply can ultimately lead to your licence being revoked.

Have peace of mind from as little as £200 per month

Let our business immigration experts take away that risk and strain by being named as Legal Representative on your sponsor licence, as well as having day-to-day involvement as a Level 1 User of the Sponsor Management System.

Our service includes:

  • Submitting reports to UKVI via the SMS in relation to:
    • sponsored migrants, including absences, termination of employment, salary changes
    • key personnel, including changes to named personnel and contact details
    • the organisation, including changes to contact details, size and structure
  • Preparing and submitting applications for renewal of undefined Certificates of Sponsorship
  • Preparing and submitting applications for renewal of the sponsor licence
  • Access to guidance for sponsors on key personnel, record keeping and reporting duties
  • Preferential pricing on training packages and immigration audits
  • Updates on matters affecting your sponsor licence

Contact us or click here to find out more.

Skilled Worker Sponsor Management training course

We run an in-depth training course on Sponsor Management for Skilled Worker sponsor licence holders. This half day course is aimed at members of HR and Management and those who are Key Personnel named on the sponsor licence. This training, previously delivered at your premises but available to be delivered online, covers:

  • the current immigration landscape
  • the roles of the organisation’s Key Personnel
  • the Sponsor Management System
  • Skilled Worker visa sponsorship requirements – skill and salary level and genuine vacancies
  • Certificates of Sponsorship – what these are and identifying the appropriate type
  • the Immigration Skills Charge
  • record keeping and reporting duties as a sponsor, and
  • the future for UK immigration sponsorship.

Alternative courses are also offered including use of the Sponsor Management System.

Prices for our training courses start at £1,500 plus VAT and can be delivered in-house to your staff.  To discuss your immigration training requirements or the above courses, please contact us.

Right to Work training

Our immigration solicitors provide Right to Work training for HR and Recruitment teams and those who are responsible for carrying out right to work checks on employees. Using practical examples and case studies, the course is designed to up-skill your staff and ensure compliant right to work checks are completed. This training can be delivered at your premises and covers:

  • the history of illegal working legislation
  • the groups of individuals who are subject to right to work checks
  • the statutory excuse – what it is and how to obtain it
  • how to carry out a compliant right to work check
  • types of right to work documentation commonly encountered
  • right to work checks for EU nationals in light of Brexit, and
  • civil penalties and responding to Home Office enquiries

The above session is a guide and bespoke courses can be built around your requirements.  Prices for our training courses start at £1,500 plus VAT and can be delivered in-house to your staff or online. To discuss your immigration training requirements or the above courses, please contact us.

Immigration compliance audit

Correctly managing your organisation’s Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence and retaining copies of all of the relevant documents is an onerous but important task.

If you are concerned that the organisation is not on top of this, or you want peace of mind that your reporting and record keeping is up to date, or perhaps you have a pending visit from a Home Office Immigration Compliance Officer, a member of our expert immigration team can carry out a thorough compliance audit for you.

This typically includes:

  • attendance at your offices (where possible)
  • review of the organisation’s sponsor licence
  • interview with a member of the Key Personnel responsible for the sponsor licence
  • review of your HR systems and processes
  • review of all sponsored Senior or Specialist Worker and and Tier 2 (General) holder’s personnel files
  • sample review of employee right to work checks and procedures in place, and
  • provision of report and action points.

Prices start from £2,000 plus VAT.  Contact us to find out more.


Given the fast pace of change, we would stress that this information is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

As a hub, we have included references to articles and explainers from third parties. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

Our immigration team

Flora Mewies

Flora Mewies

Partner | Employment

Leeds and Manchester

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Roisin Patton

Roisin Patton

Partner | Employment


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Gillian Burns

Gillian Burns

Associate | Employment


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Natalie Payne

Natalie Payne

Solicitor | Employment

Leeds and Manchester

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Isabelle Cernis

Isabelle Cernis

Solicitor | Employment


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