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Sponsor licences


UK Immigration Update

Recent months have seen tweaks being made to the rules and requirements of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system and more changes are on the horizon.

During this webinar, on 26th May, our expert immigration solicitors identified key changes employers should be aware of and provided practical tips and guidance for HR and Management on:

  • Registration of EU staff for the EU Settlement Scheme;
  • Right to work checks for EU employees post-Brexit;
  • Carrying out compliant right to work checks following the withdrawal of the covid-19 concession;
  • Introduction of the Graduate Visa and using this to an employer’s advantage; and
  • Management of sponsor licences including updated record keeping, advertising and salary requirements for the Skilled Worker visa.

Watch below

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.

Read more about this
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.

Read more about this


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.


When would I need a sponsor licence?

You will need to become a licenced sponsor if you are:

  • Hiring a worker who is not a British citizen and does not otherwise have the right to work in the UK
  • Hiring a worker who is currently sponsored for a work visa by another UK employer
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

Sponsoring a worker

What is the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT)?

The RLMT has now been abolished however previously, sponsors were required to advertise the role they wanted to sponsor a worker for in line with UKVI’s RLMT. This was to show that the role could not be filled by a settled 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 a SOC Code?

Every role that UKVI deems suitable for sponsorship under a Skilled Worked visa is assigned a “SOC Code” (Standard Occupational Classification Code). This is a four digit identifier for the role and it includes:

  • the duties that UKVI expects someone to do in the role
  • suggested job titles for the role
  • the minimum salary for the role, and
  • the number of working hours the minimum salary is based on.

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.

What are Defined and Undefined CoS?

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*: £3,000 – £4,500

*:  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 ICT 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 only £100 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 and ICT Sponsor Management training course

We run an in-depth training course on Sponsor Management for Skilled Worker and ICT 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 (previously Tier 2 General 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.

These half day training courses cost £995 plus VAT each 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
  • responding to Home Office enquiries and civil penalties.

Half day training courses cost £995 plus VAT each and can be delivered in-house to your staff. To discuss your immigration training requirements or the above courses, please contact us.

Immigration compliance audit

Correctly managing your organisation’s Skilled Worker and ICT 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 Skilled Worker and ICT visa 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 £1,000 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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