If you are an employer seeking to employ an overseas national who is not a settled worker and who does not otherwise have immigration permission to work for you in the UK, you will need to apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence.
The type of sponsor licence application you will need to make will depend on the immigration route that the overseas worker is seeking to be sponsored to work on. Each licence type has its own specific requirements. Employers should note that most EU, EEA and Swiss nationals arriving in the UK since 31 December 2020 now need to be sponsored in order to work in the UK.
A sponsor licence grants permission to a UK business to employ workers from outside the UK to work for them, in their business.
You will need a sponsor licence in order to employ most overseas workers, including Skilled Workers and UK Expansion Workers. This includes both non-EU nationals and also most citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020.
You will not need a sponsor licence to employ an Irish citizen, a person with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, a person with indefinite leave to remain in the UK or a foreign national who otherwise has permission to work in the UK.
In order to secure a sponsorship licence you will need to submit an application to the Home Office and pay an application fee.
Businesses of all sizes, operating in all sectors, can apply for a sponsor licence, providing they are able to satisfy the business eligibility and job suitability requirements for the category of sponsor licence they are applying for.
In order to successfully apply for a sponsor licence, you will need to satisfy various general and route-specific requirements.
As part of your sponsor licence application you will need to satisfy the Home Office that:
In order to establish that you are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, you will need to submit a number of company-related documents. The exact documents you will need to provide will vary depending on the type of organisation and the route(s) you wish to sponsor migrants on.
When assessing whether you are honest, dependable, reliable and are not engaging and have not engaged in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good, the Home Office will look at the history and background of your business, the backgrounds of the Key Personnel named in your application and also the backgrounds of any people involved in the day-to-day running of your business.
In order to assess whether you are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties and evidencing your compliance in a timeframe and manner set out in sponsor guidance, the Home Office will look at your current human resources and recruitment procedures to make sure that you will be able to fulfil your sponsor duties.
As an employer seeking to apply for a licence to sponsor an overseas national, you will also need to satisfy various additional requirements that are specific to the immigration route that the overseas national is seeking to be sponsored on.
For example, if you wish apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence to sponsor a worker on the Skilled Worker visa route you will need to satisfy the Home Office that:
Alternatively, if you wish to apply for a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence to sponsor a worker on the Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker visa route you will need to satisfy the Home Office that:
The UK offers a range of other Worker and Temporary Worker immigration routes, including the Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker, Scale-up, International Sportsperson, Minister of Religion and Creative Worker routes. The route-specific requirements for a licence to sponsor an overseas national on any of these (or alternative) immigration routes will vary depending on the route.
If your application does not satisfy the sponsor licence requirements then your sponsorship licence application will be refused.
You will need to provide at least four mandatory documents as set out in Appendix A of the Home Office sponsor guidance. The exact documents you will need to provide will vary depending on the circumstances of your application.
In addition to information about your organisation, the proposed job role, and the candidate in mind, you will also need to explain to the Home Office why you are applying for a sponsor licence.
Before you apply for a sponsor licence, you will need to appoint an Authorising Officer to manage your sponsorship licence, a Key Contact to act as the main contact between your business and the Home Office and nominate at least one Level 1 User to carry out day-to-day sponsorship activities using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
These key personnel will need to be in place when you apply for your sponsor licence. The roles can be filled by the same person or a combination of different people.
Unless applying for a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence, for which different rules apply, each of your Key Personnel must be based in the UK for the period they will fill the role you have appointed them to, not have any unspent criminal convictions, civil penalties or other adverse history (including adverse immigration history) and be a paid member of your staff or engaged by you as an ‘office holder’ (unless an exception applies).
You will apply for your Sponsor Licence by completing an online application form, paying an application fee and submitting all relevant supporting documents within 5 working days of submitting your sponsor licence application.
You will also have to give information about the key personnel you are appointing, as well as the documents and evidence you are providing to meet the eligibility and suitability criteria.
A legal representative can help you complete the sponsor licence application form, advise on required and recommended supporting documents and draft submissions in support of a sponsor licence application, but the sponsor licence application form must be submitted by the sponsor themselves.
The fee for submitting a sponsor licence application will vary depending on the size of your organisation. A small company or charity will be charged £536.00, and a medium or large sized company will be charged £1,476.00.
Sponsor licence applications typically take up to 8 weeks to be decided by the Home Office. There is a priority service which costs £500.00, and will return a decision within 10 working days.
If your sponsor licence application is successful, your licence will be valid for 4 years. If you wish to continue to sponsor workers after the end of the 4 year period you will need to apply to renew your sponsor licence before it expires.
It is not possible to renew a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence because you will normally be expected to have established a UK trading presence within 2 years from the date when the licence was granted. However, once you have established a UK trading presence, you will be able to apply to add other routes to your licence (for example, Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker). Your sponsored workers can then apply to switch to these routes if they meet the relevant requirements.
It is important that your sponsor licence application is prepared carefully, as there will be no right of appeal if your sponsor licence application is refused and there will be a six-month cooling off period.
If your sponsor licence application is approved, you will usually be rated ‘A’ on the published register of licensed sponsors. UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence applicants may be given a ‘Provisional’ rating instead if their Authorising Officer (and Level 1 User) is an employee of the overseas business.
Once you have been granted a sponsor licence you will be able to start assigning Certificates of Sponsorship to migrants who wish to work for you.
You will be given access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS). This is an online portal where you can manage your sponsor licence. You must also use the system to report certain events, such as if a migrant fails to report to work.
If you fail to meet your sponsorship licence duties, including conducting appropriate right to work checks, you could lose your licence.
If you are an employer considering applying to be authorised by the Home Office to sponsor a non-settled worker on either the Skilled Worker or UK Expansion Worker route then please visit the following pages for further and more detailed guidance as to the main general and route-specific requirements you will need to satisfy in order to successfully apply for a sponsor licence:
Our business immigration solicitors assist UK employers to obtain the right sponsor licence, maintain their licence at the highest rating and comply with their sponsor duties.
Whether you require advice on the correct company-related documentation to provide in support of a sponsor licence application, assistance with drafting a compelling business case that will satisfy UKVI that you need a sponsor licence in order to fill a genuine role or guidance on running a compliant recruitment process, our immigration barristers can manage the sponsor licence application process on your behalf.
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