UK visa sponsorship for employers
You might need a sponsor licence to employ someone from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to work for you in the UK.
This includes unpaid work, like running a charity.
Sponsoring someone does not guarantee that they’ll be allowed to come to or stay in the UK.
After you apply
You’ll be given a licence rating if your application is successful.
You’ll be able to issue certificates of sponsorship if you have jobs that are suitable for sponsorship.
Your licence will be valid for 4 years. You may lose your licence if you do not meet your responsibilities as a sponsor.
To get a licence, you cannot have:
• unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering
• any history of failing to carry out your sponsorship duties
You’ll need appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your application form and supporting documents. They may visit your business to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.
The licence you need depends on whether the workers you want to fill your jobs are:
• Tier 2 – skilled workers with long-term job offers
• Tier 5 – skilled temporary workers
You can apply for a licence covering either tier or both.
Tier 2 is for skilled workers who you want to employ long-term or permanently. It’s split into:
• General – the role must meet the job suitability requirements
• Intra-Company Transfer – for multinational companies which need to transfer employees to the UK
• Minister of Religion – for people coming to work for a religious organisation (for up to 3 years)
• Sportsperson – for elite sportspeople and coaches who will be based in the UK
Tier 5 is for skilled workers you want to employ on a temporary basis. It’s split into:
• Creative and Sporting – to work as a sportsperson (up to 1 year), entertainer or artist (up to 2 years)
• Charity Worker – for unpaid workers (up to 1 year)
• Religious Worker – for those doing preaching, pastoral and non-pastoral work (2 years)
• Government Authorised Exchange – work experience (1 year), research projects or training, for example practical medical or scientific training (2 years) to enable a short-term exchange of knowledge
• International Agreement – where the worker is coming to do a job which is covered by international law, for example employees of overseas governments
You need to appoint people within your business to manage the sponsorship process when you apply for a licence.
The main tool they’ll use is the sponsorship management system (SMS).
The roles are:
• authorising officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
• key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
• level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS
These roles can be filled by the same person or different people.
You can also appoint an optional level 2 user once you have your licence. This is an SMS user with more restricted access than a level 1 user, for example they cannot withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.
You and your staff will be checked to make sure you’re suitable for these roles. You may not get your licence if anyone involved in sponsorship has:
• an unspent criminal conviction
• been fined by UKVI in the past 12 months
• been reported to UKVI
• broken the law
• been a ‘key person’ at a sponsor that had its licence revoked in the last 12 months
• failed to pay VAT or other excise duty
You and your allocated staff must also:
• be based in the UK most of the time
• not be a contractor or consultant contracted for a specific project
• not be subject to a bankruptcy restriction order or undertaking, or a debt relief restriction order or undertaking
• not have a history of non-compliance with sponsor requirements
Your allocated staff must usually be paid members of staff, or office holders.
You must have at least one level 1 user who is your employee. You can have other level 1 or level 2 users employed by third-party organisations contracted to provide you with HR services. Your level 2 user can be a temporary member of staff supplied by an agency.
You can allocate any of the roles to a UK-based legal representative, apart from the authorising officer role. Your representative must be qualified to give immigration advice or services.
You need to send the correct supporting documents to prove that you’re a genuine business. Your application could be refused if you do not.
You need to provide at least 4 documents – unless:
• you’re a public body recognised by the UK government, for example a local authority
• you’re a company listed on the London Stock Exchange Main Market
The documents must be the originals or certified copies.
Certify a copy of a document
A copy of a document can be certified by either:
• the issuing authority
• a practising barrister, solicitor or notary
The certifier must provide a statement confirming that the document is an accurate copy of the original document and write their name, signature and the name of the organisation they represent on every page of the copy.
Printouts of documents sent as an email attachment can be certified if the person certifying them has seen the original email containing the file.
You’ll get an A-rated licence if your application is approved.
A-rating – full sponsor licence
An A-rated licence lets you start assigning certificates of sponsorship.
Your business will be listed in the register of sponsors.
Downgrading to B-rating
Your A-rated licence may be downgraded to a B-rating at a later stage if you do not continue to meet your sponsor duties.
If this happens, you will not be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until you’ve made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating.
You’ll still be able to issue certificates to workers you already employ who want to extend, or who are switching from a Work Permit.
Upgrade to an A-rating
You need to follow an ‘action plan’ provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to upgrade your licence.
You have to pay £1,476 for an action plan.
You must pay the fee within 10 working days of the date UKVI tells you about the downgrade. If you do not, you’ll lose your licence.
At the end of the action plan
You’ll be upgraded to an A-rating if you complete all the steps and there’s nothing else you need to improve.
You’ll lose your licence if you do not complete all the steps.
If you need to make other improvements, you’ll be given another B-rating and will have to follow a new action plan. You’ll have to pay the fee again.
If you get a second B-rating
You can only have 2 B-ratings in the 4 years that your licence is valid.
You’ll lose your licence if you still need to make improvements after your second action plan.
You cannot appeal if your application is unsuccessful, but you can reapply. You may have to wait before reapplying – the time will depend on your circumstances.
You need to start a new application.
You have to wait up to 12 months before reapplying if you’ve been fined for employing illegal workers and you lost your licence.
You must assign a certificate of sponsorship to each foreign worker you employ. This is an electronic record, not a physical document. Each certificate has its own number which a worker can use to apply for a visa.
Certificates must be used within 3 months from when they’re assigned.
When you apply for your licence you’ll be asked to estimate how many Tier 2 and Tier 5 certificates you’ll need.
These are called unrestricted certificates because you can get as many as your business needs. You’ll need to give evidence that you need the amount of certificates that you’ve asked for.
These are for:
• Tier 2 (General) workers currently abroad who’ll be paid less than £159,600 a year and are not in an inward investment post
• family members (dependants) of Tier 4 migrants who are switching to a Tier 2 visa
You must apply for restricted certificates for these workers through the sponsorship management system (SMS). You’ll get access to this when you get your licence.
There’s a limited number of restricted certificates available each month. Each application is assessed using a points system – you can see how the system works in the Immigration Rules appendix A.
Applications are considered on the first working day after the 10th day of the month. This is called the ‘allocation date’. If you apply after the 5th day of the month then your application will be held until the next month’s allocation date.
Your application may also be held until the next month’s allocation date so that the details of your application can be checked.
Your restricted certificate will appear in your SMS account on the allocation date if your application has been approved. You can then assign a certificate to a worker.
You can apply again if your application is not approved.
A restricted certificate can be issued before the next allocation date in exceptional circumstances. This does not include applications which have been delayed for reasons which you could have avoided.
You might have to pay an additional charge for each foreign worker you employ. This is called the ‘immigration skills charge’.
You must pay this if they’re applying for a visa to work in the UK for 6 months or more under either a:
• Tier 2 (General) visa
• Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa
If the worker has applied for their visa from within the UK, you must pay the charge even if they’re applying for less than 6 months.
You will not pay the immigration skills charge if the worker you’re sponsoring:
• has a Tier 4 (Student) visa and is switching to a Tier 2 (General) visa
• has a Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) Graduate Trainee visa
• will do a job with a PhD-level standard occupational classification (SOC) code
You will not need to pay the charge for any of the worker’s dependants, for example their partner or child.
How to pay
You pay the immigration skills charge when you assign a certificate of sponsorship to the worker.
How much it costs
The SMS will work out how much you need to pay based on:
• the size of your organisation
• how long the worker will work for you, using the start and end dates on their sponsorship certificate
If the worker will be in the UK for longer than 6 months but less than a year, you must pay for at least 12 months.
You must pay the full charge in one go.
As the longest you can sponsor a worker for is 5 years, the most you have to pay will be:
• £1,820 (5 x £364) if you’re a small or charitable sponsor
• £5,000 (5 x £1,000) if you’re a medium or large sponsor
You’ll get a full refund if the worker’s visa application is:
• refused or withdrawn
• successful, but they do not come to work for you
You’ll get a partial refund if the worker:
• gets less time on their visa than you sponsored them for
• starts working for you but then changes to another sponsor
• leaves their job before the end date on their certificate of sponsorship
How long it takes
You usually get a refund within 90 days of:
• telling UKVI that the worker did not come to work for you
• the expiration date on the worker’s certificate of sponsorship, if they did not use it to apply for a visa
• the date the worker’s visa application is refused or withdrawn
If the worker’s visa application is refused, they can ask for the decision to be reviewed. This is known as an ‘administrative review’.
If they do not ask for an administrative review, you’ll get a refund within 90 days of the deadline for applying for one.
You’ll get a refund within 90 days of the administrative review being dismissed if the worker applied for one and were unsuccessful.
You can sponsor a worker if the job they’re going to do has a suitable rate of pay and skill level.
If your worker has a Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa, the job will usually need to be Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 or above.
There are separate rates of pay and skill levels for:
• ballet dancers and other dancers
• film and TV performers
• theatre and opera performers
• film and TV workers
You may need to advertise the job you’re offering if it’s not on the shortage occupation list. This is known as carrying out the ‘resident labour market test’.
You must advertise any job you offer to a worker in the following categories:
• Tier 2 (General)
• Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) or Tier 5 (Religious Workers) unless it’s a non-essential position or involves living within a religious order (such as a monk or nun)
• Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) in the creative and entertainment sector, unless you can explain why the job cannot be done by a settled worker
You must place at least 2 adverts.
The adverts make sure that there are no suitable workers already living permanently in the UK. It must be a genuine vacancy.
How long to advertise the job for
You must advertise in the UK for at least 28 days. This can be continuous or in 2 stages.
If you advertise in 2 stages, the total time of advertising must be at least 28 days. Neither stage can be less than 7 days.
You must be able to show that you did not find a suitable worker.
You cannot sponsor a foreign worker under 18 for:
• a Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa
• a Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – International Agreement) visa – if they’ll be working as a private servant in a diplomatic household or in the household of an employee of an international organisation
You cannot sponsor a child under 16 for a Tier 2 visa.
• check that your foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditations to do their jobs, and keep copies of documents showing this
• only assign certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship
• tell UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa
Your licence may be downgraded, suspended or withdrawn if you do not meet them.
You must have HR systems in place that let you:
• monitor your employees’ immigration status
• keep copies of relevant documents for each employee, including passport and right to work information
• track and record employees’ attendance
• keep employee contact details up to date
• report to UKVI if there is a problem, for example if your employee stops coming to work
Changes to your business
You must report any significant changes in your own circumstances within 20 working days, for example if you:
• stop trading or become insolvent
• substantially change the nature of your business
• are involved in a merger or take-over
You must also tell UKVI if you’re changing your details, like your address or allocated roles.
To register a change of circumstances use the sponsorship management system (SMS).
Requests can take up to 18 weeks. You can register a change within 5 working days instead if you use the priority service. It costs £200.
You must make sure that foreign workers under 18 have suitable care arrangements for their:
• travel to the UK
• arrival in the UK
• living arrangements in the UK
You must also get a letter from their parents giving consent to the care arrangements.
You must get a Disclosure and Barring Service check on any of your workers who need it.
You’ll lose your licence if you do not do this.
Children under 16
You must get a licence from the local education authority in the area where the child will work.