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Sponsorship License To hire non-UK resident workers, your organization must hold a valid sponsorship licence. Sponsorship licence? A sponsor licence (formerly known as Tier 2 sponsor licence) allows UK-based companies to employ skilled workers who are based overseas or within the UK (applicants can “switch” into the Skilled Worker visa from most other visa types, for example Tier 4 Student and Tier 2 visas). Once the licence is approved, it will be valid for a period of four years with the option for renewal. UK employers have to be granted a sponsorship licence by the Home Office before they can employ non-UK resident workers under the new points-based visa system and routes such as the Skilled Worker visa. Employers who do not hold a valid sponsorship licence will be unable to hire migrant workers coming to the UK after 1 January 2021, or extend visas for current sponsored employees. All sponsors have to be fully aware of their immigration duties and have processes and systems in place to both meet these requirements and to maintain records as evidence of their compliance. If applying for your first licence, your application will need to show you can meet these duties from day one. If the Home Office has concerns about your ability to comply, your application could be refused and you may lose your application fee. Licence holders can be subject to Home Office investigation at any time. Where there are allegations of compliance breaches, the Home Office has powers to downgrade, suspend or revoke sponsor licences, impacting your ability to hire skilled migrant workers and impacting your sponsored workers’ permission to stay and work in the UK. Applying for a sponsorship licence To be eligible to apply for a sponsor licence, employers must prove they are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK. You have to show you are aware of and capable of carrying out your visa sponsorship duties, with the appropriate HR and recruitment systems and practices in place. Your key personnel as named on your sponsor application must be honest, dependable and reliable. The Home Office will conduct background checks on all nominated individuals to verify their eligibility for the roles. The sponsor licence application process is complex and requires the employer to provide detailed information on their organisation. Under the UK’s new immigration system, sponsors are no longer required to conduct a Resident Labour Market test but the Home Office may still expect the employer to provide sufficient evidence to prove that the employment of the foreign worker is necessary. An employer can complete a sponsor licence application to sponsor either regular workers or temporary workers. The licence which the employer needs depends on the nature of work the employee will be doing. If the employer’s sponsor licence application is accepted, the employer must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to each foreign worker. Companies will also be required to comply with the illegal working requirements which states that employees are required to provide documentation that proves their right to work before being employed by a UK company and copies of this information must also be retained by the employer If you are applying for a skilled worker sponsorship licence you will also have to show you are offering genuine employment that meets the required skill level and appropriate rates of pay. Sponsorship licence applications typically take 8 weeks to process, or around 12 weeks if a pre-license compliance visit is made. Sponsorship licence compliance & management If you are successful in your application, focus will need to shift to managing the sponsor licence. It is an ongoing demand to ensure all of the compliance duties are met and you are not at risk of breaching the rules and of Home Office penalties. Key duties will include record keeping, both in relation to the organisation and to all sponsored workers. Across all visa types, a licence holder must keep a photocopy or electronic copy of the relevant pages of the sponsored migrant’s passport, including those pages which contain personal identity details, leave stamps, immigration status and the period of leave to remain; a record of the employee’s absences; and the employee’s biometric residence permit, contract of employment, National Insurance number, current and historic contact details and any other document required for the visa type. In addition to record keeping, sponsors are also under a positive duty to act and notify the Home Office of certain changes in circumstances. In most cases this means updating the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) within specified timeframes. The SMS is the Home Office’s primary source of information relating to your licence, and as such it is expected that the SMS is kept up to date to provide a real-time snap shot of the organisation’s licence and all of its sponsored workers. For example, employers must update the SMS within 10 working days if a sponsored employee does not turn up to work on their first day, a sponsored employee’s contract is terminated early, a sponsored employee is absent from work for 10 of more days, without permission or there are significant changes in a sponsored contract of employment. Changes to an organisation’s circumstances must be reported within 20 days, including where a business becomes insolvent, changes the nature of their operations or following a reorganisation or merger. Any changes to a business address or key personnel must also be reported. How we can help Push Legal Services immigration specialists can support your organisation with all aspects of the UK sponsorship license. Wherever you are in the life cycle of the sponsor licence – whether you are looking to apply for your first sponsor licence, wanting to renew an existing licence, have been refused a licence application or are looking for ongoing support with managing your compliance duties, we can help. What are Certificates of sponsorship? A Certificate of sponsorship (CoS) is an electronic document generated on the Sponsor Management System (SMS) after a licence is granted. In order to sponsor a migrant worker, the company must first request a Certificate of sponsorship from the Home Office through the SMS. Once this is granted, the company will need to assign it to the migrant worker they intend to sponsor to generate a unique reference number for the candidate to submit during their visa application. Under new sponsor licence rules, the Home Office has re branded its previous two types of CoS depending on the immigration status of the migrant worker: Defined CoS These certificates are required for those who are based outside the UK and making an entry clearance application as a Skilled Worker. Once you have identified a person you want to sponsor, you can apply for this on the SMS, and the Home Office usually aims to decide within one working day unless additional information is required. This is judged on a case-by-case basis. Previously, sponsors were required to submit their request for a restricted CoS (now defined CoS) by the 5th of each month to receive a decision by the 11th of the same month. The overall cap on the number of defined CoS the Home Office can grant annually has also now been abolished. Note: Those who are in the UK as visitors will not be able to apply for a Skilled Worker visa within the UK and will need to return to their country of residence for submission. Therefore, they will require a defined CoS. Undefined CoS The annual allocation of undefined CoS runs from 6 April to 5 April each year. A sponsor can request multiple undefined CoS before the deadline on 5 April if they foresee a need to extend the leave of an existing employee or have identified someone they wish to sponsor who requires an undefined CoS (for example, someone “switching” visa category). If a sponsor is able to justify the need for the request, then the CoS will be granted from 6 April. If you missed the deadline for renewal or require additional undefined CoS during the year, you may request an increase of allocation on the SMS. Again, you will be required to prove you genuinely need the CoS requested. The processing time for an increase of allocation is 18 weeks, however, priority service is available at an additional cost of £200. The advantages of a sponsor licence (formerly Tier 2 sponsor licence) Once an organisation acquires a sponsor licence, they become registered with the Home Office as a sponsor and can begin to issue Certificates of sponsorship (CoS) to skilled non-UK staff subject to meeting the requirements. For many companies, being able to hire overseas skilled talent is essential to the successful operation and growth of their business. This is particularly so with the end of freedom of movement following the UK’s departure from the EU, meaning that a significant portion of the UK workforce would require sponsorship from January 2021 if they failed to secure their status in the UK before the deadline. What can I do if my application for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence is refused? Unless there was an error in the Home Office’s assessment of the application, a six-month cooling-off period would be triggered from the date of the refusal, meaning that another licence application cannot be submitted until the end of that period. In some cases, if we believe there has been a mistake in the decision to refuse your application, we may submit a pre-licence error correction on your behalf. However, if the decision was not overturned after the pre-licence error correction, the only other option to challenge the decision would be to lodge a judicial review. Our team can expertly advise and represent you in challenging a decision of sponsor licence refusal. What is the ‘cooling off’ period following an application refusal? There are some circumstances where you may be prevented from applying or re-applying for a sponsor licence for a certain period of time, known as a ‘cooling off’ period. Whether or not this applies will depend on the reasons for refusal and the length of a cooling off period will vary depending on the circumstances. For example, if your application was refused because you were unable to submit requested information or documentation within a specified timeline (for reasons out of your control) you may be able to reapply without waiting. In most cases, if a sponsor licence application you have submitted is refused, a six-month cooling off period will apply. There are some circumstances where it may be longer. For example, if you have been issued with a civil penalty for employing an illegal worker, it would be 12 months from the date you paid the penalty in full. If you tried to reapply during this time, your application would automatically be refused. Even if you have never applied for a sponsor licence before, it is very important to check if your business may be subject to a cooling off period before submitting an application for a sponsor licence. How can I get a sponsor licence? To obtain a sponsor licence, UK employers need to follow the below steps: Check your business is eligible, i.e. can you provide the specified documents to show your company is genuine and actively trading in the UK? Choose the type of licence you need. Decide who will manage sponsorship within your business. This person is also known as the Authorizing Officer. Usually, this person is the most senior person responsible for recruitment within the company, which can be a company director or an HR manager. Upon the grant of the licence, the Authorizing Officer will be responsible for overseeing the SMS and ensuring the sponsorship duties are complied with. You will also need to appoint a level 1 user. This is the person with access to the SMS (sponsor management system) and does not necessarily need to be the Authorizing Officer. This person will be responsible for reporting any changes within your organisation as well as requesting and assigning CoS to migrant workers on the SMS. The first level 1 user must be an employee or an office holder of the organisation. However, once the licence is granted, the level 1 user will be able to request for additional level 1 users such as legal representatives to be added. Apply online and pay the fee. The application fees differ depending on the size of your organisation as defined under the Companies Act 2006. If you are a charitable or small organisation, the sponsor licence application fee is £536. If you are a medium or large organisation, the fee is £1476. How long will my sponsor licence be valid? It will be valid for four years with the option for renewal at the end of the fourth year. However, if the Home Office has any reason to believe that you did not comply with your sponsorship duties, your licence may be suspended or revoked. What is the processing time for a sponsor licence application? The standard processing time for applications is 8 weeks. During the processing time, the Home Office may conduct a compliance visit at your office to ensure you are complying with your sponsorship duties. Your application may be refused if you failed to demonstrate all sponsorship duties are complied with during the visit. Before the submission of your application, our team may conduct a compliance audit for your HR system to ensure these duties are complied with and advise on any adjustments if needed. Why was my sponsor licence application refused? Your application can be refused by the Home Office for a number of reasons. Some of the most common are: Failure to pass the Home Office’s Compliance Audit The business does not have appropriate policy and procedure in place to meet its sponsorship duties The business does not pass its ‘genuineness test’ Failure to retain sufficient documentation on migrant workers The business has not responded to Home Office inquiries on time This is not an exhaustive list. If your licence application was refused for reasons not listed above, we would require a copy of your decision letter to advise whether it is a challenged decision. What happens if I employ migrant workers without a sponsorship licence? Unless the person has another form of visa that allows them to work, such as those with a PBS dependant visa or a spouse visa, you are not permitted to the employ a non-settled worker without a sponsorship licence. If you employ any illegal worker, you may face potential civil penalties as well as criminal convictions. How do I get my sponsor licence number? Each licensed company receives a unique sponsor licence number which can be found on the decision letter confirming the grant of the licence. This number can also be found on the licence summary page on the SMS. Sponsoring a skilled worker: Guidance for sponsors The granting of a licence requires sponsors to act in accordance with immigration rules and the UK legal system. A sponsor should keep in mind that sponsorship is a privilege, not a right. The Home Office will never license organizations whose actions and behaviors tend to obstruct the public good. The Home Office will take appropriate compliance actions if the existing sponsor is found engaging with behaviors non-conducive to the public good. The compliance action will depend on the gravity of actions or behaviour. Our sponsorship licence services include:
Assisting with initial considerations as to the most appropriate type of sponsorship application and suitable key personnel
Drafting your online sponsor licence application
Helping you to collate the appropriate supporting documentation
Auditing your HR and recruitment systems and procedures in preparation for a UKVI visit
Briefing or training staff on their compliance duties and responsibilities
Advising on the UKVI ‘genuineness’ test and assessing whether a prospective employee satisfies the points criteria before the sponsor issues a certificate of sponsorship
Guidance on sponsorship-related fees, both for the application and ongoing
Advice on assigning Certificates of Sponsorship to skilled visa workers
Advising on the alternatives available to you if you decide not to make a sponsor licence application
Licence renewal applications
Dealing with sponsor licence suspensions and revocations
Sponsorship licence FAQs
What is a sponsorship licence?
A skilled worker sponsor licence grants permission to a UK organisation by the Home Office to lawfully employ non-UK resident workers in skilled roles. The organisation must make an application and if granted, will assume a number of compliance duties in respect of managing the licence and monitoring its sponsored workers.
What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?
A Certificate of Sponsorship is a reference number assigned to a non-EEA national from their UK sponsor, enabling them to make an application for their visa to work in Britain.
How do I apply for a sponsor licence?
To apply for sponsor a licence you will need to submit an application form with supporting documents to the Home Office. The application will be assessed against the licence eligibility criteria and whether the organisation has shown it can meet the ongoing sponsor licence compliance duties.
What can I do if my application for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence is refused?
Unless there was an error in the Home Office’s assessment of the application, a six-month cooling-off period would be triggered from the date of the refusal, meaning that another licence application cannot be submitted until the end of that period.
In some cases, if we believe there has been a mistake in the decision to refuse your application, we may submit a pre-license error correction on your behalf. However, if the decision was not overturned after the pre-license error correction, the only other option to challenge the decision would be to lodge a judicial review.
Push Legal Services can expertly advise and represent you in challenging a decision of sponsor licence refusal or complex application.