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 Sponsor Licence Application UK


Applying for a UK sponsorship licence is a complex and time-consuming process but is essential for businesses who wish to employ non-British workers, either already in the UK under a different category of visa or overseas, to work for their organisation in the UK.

Attention Employers: Starting 4 April 2024 the minimum salary requirement for Skilled Workers will increase from £26,200 to £38,700. 

Our experienced UK immigration lawyers are available to offer high quality bespoke practical and prompt advice to both UK and international businesses. We can consult on your sponsor licence application queries and guide you through the convoluted process.

To obtain a UK sponsorship licence, the following steps need to be taken:

1. Eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence

Ensuring that your company is eligible to apply for a sponsorship licence. This includes ensuring that the applying entity is registered in the UK, has a legitimate trading presence, and can meet the sponsor requirements.

2. Types of Sponsor Licence

There are two licence categories:

  1. ‘Worker’ – for skilled or long-term employment
  2. ‘Temporary worker’ – for specific types of temporary employment

3. Appointing Key Personnel

Your business must appoint ‘Key Personnel’ to specific roles as part of your sponsor licence application. This includes:

  • Authorising Officer – most senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the online Sponsorship Management System (SMS)
  • Key Contact – main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
  • Level 1 User – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence via the SMS

4. Sponsorship Licence Application

Your sponsorship licence application must be completed online and you must include detailed information about your company and the roles you intend to sponsor. It is crucial to include the mandatory information and documents so that your sponsorship licence is awarded with an A-rating, which is required to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a migrant worker.

5. How much does a Sponsorship Licence cost

There is a fee associated with applying for a sponsorship licence which varies depending on the type of licence and the size of your organisation. Before the application can be processed, this fee must be paid.

6. Sponsorship duties

If your application is successful, your business will be granted with a sponsorship licence, normally valid for a period of 4 years. It is important to ensure that your licence is kept up-to-date and that you comply with the various sponsor reporting and record-keeping duties, as failure to do so may result in your licence being suspended or revoked.

“The team makes it very easy to ask questions and understand the advice given.” 

Legal 500

FAQs – Sponsoring skilled migrant workers

It is important to understand that not all migrant workers need to be sponsored to work in the UK. This is because they may be lawfully in the UK under another immigration category which allows them to work. This could include, for example, as the spouse of a British citizen, an ancestry visa or even the dependent of a migrant who is sponsored.

However, for most migrant workers, who want to come to the UK for work, they must be sponsored. This means that they should have a job offer from a company which has a sponsor licence.

A sponsor licence is in effect an approval from the UK Home Office for an organisation to sponsor migrant workers. Organisations that can sponsor are included in a register of sponsors which is updated daily.

The UK government views its relationship with sponsors as one of trust. It allows companies to act as de facto gatekeepers to the UK work immigration route.

This licence (or relationship of trust) requires initial and ongoing validation. The initial validation comes through an application for sponsorship, and thereafter the UK Home Office may conduct occasional checks to ensure that the sponsoring company continues to abide by its sponsoring obligations.

The sponsor licence application is made online through the UK Home Office website. However, applying organisations should not make this application until they are satisfied that they have all the relevant documents.

The documents required for a sponsor licence vary depending on the type of organisation. For example, a start-up may need to show a lesser number of documents but may end up with more scrutiny at an initial and post-licence stage.

In addition to the prescriptive list provided by the Home Office, organisations intending on applying for a licence must also demonstrate that they fulfil the following criteria:

  1. Whether the organisation is genuine and operating lawfully in the UK, which can be demonstrated by providing documents listed in the relevant Appendices of the sponsor guidance.
  2. Have a Human Resources (HR) & recruitment system to meet their sponsor duties – the Home Office may conduct a compliance visit to check this
  3. Whether the organisation and its key personnel, are honest, dependable and reliable – the Home Office is likely to conduct background checks on the organisation and any of the key individuals to determine this.
  4. Whether you can offer genuine employment under the eligible roles of your intended sponsor category. It is important to note that not all employment roles are eligible for sponsorship.

Once you have taken the necessary steps and have the relevant documents, you should then complete the online application. You will have to pay the sponsor licence fee, which will vary depending on the size of your organisation.

Following the online submission, a submission sheet will be generated. This must be signed by the proposed Authorising Officer – the individual who is ultimately responsible for the management of the licence.

The standard period for a sponsor licence to be processed is 8 weeks. In our experience, most applications are decided sooner than this. If the Home Office sponsorship team need to make a compliance visit before they issue the licence, processing times may be longer. There is a Pre-Licence Priority service (an additional £500) which may be applied for which expedites the processing time to 10 working days. It is important to note that this service is highly sought for following the end of EU Settlement Scheme in June 2021, and with the service being limited to 10 requests per day, applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis on each working day starting at 9am.

The approval letter is sent via email to either the Authorising Officer or Key Contact with the Level 1 User’s ID access the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

Following a successful application, a sponsor licence is granted for a period of 4 years, with the application for renewal opening 3 months prior to the licence end date. To view the licence end date, a Level 1 User must log on to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) and view the Licence Summary page.

Sponsor licence numbers are not made publicly available on the UK government’s Register of licensed sponsors, and there are a limited number of ways for employers and their sponsored workers to check the sponsor licence number, including:

  1. UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) decision letter – once a sponsor licence application is granted, the Sponsor Casework Operations team should provide you with a decision letter detailing the conditions of your sponsor licence. This letter contains your sponsor licence number which is unique to every employer.
  2. SMS – once the licence application is granted, the nominated Level 1 User will be given access to the SMS, where the sponsor licence number will be stated on the Licence Summary page.
  3. Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) – Sponsored workers can view the sponsor licence number on their CoS, which can be requested from their sponsor, if not already provided.

All sponsors (with the exception of a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence where the Authorising Officer is based outside the UK) are given an A-rating following a successful licence application, which essentially means that the Home Office has identified no compliance concerns.

UKVI can downgrade an A-rated sponsor licence to a B-rating if it is found that a sponsor has failed to adhere to the various sponsor record-keeping and reporting duties. With a B-rated sponsor licence, CoS’ can only be assigned to existing sponsored workers who are applying to extend their permission to stay, losing the ability to sponsor migrant workers who do not already work for their organisation.

If downgraded to a B-rating, UKVI will issue a mandatory ‘action plan’ at a cost of £1,476 (payable no later than 10 working days from the date of the downgrade), which if not paid and the prescribed steps not followed, will lead to UKVI revoking the sponsor licence. Once revoked in these circumstances, a sponsor will have to wait 12 months before reapplying for a sponsor licence and migrant workers currently sponsored will lose their permission to work for the organisation.

As a general rule, businesses applying for a sponsor licence must be registered in the UK and have an established trading presence, except for the UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence, which is for workers being sent to the UK to set up a branch of an overseas business. Organisations with a virtual working model may still apply for a sponsor licence provided they are lawfully registered and trading in the UK and can evidence their ability to comply with the various sponsor duties and obligations.

If you fail to comply with your sponsor duties, UKVI may take action against you, including but not limited to:

  • Reducing your CoS allocation or setting it to zero
  • Downgrading your licence rating
  • Suspending your licence to carry out investigations
  • Revoking your licence with a mandatory 12-month cooling-off period
  • Reporting you to the police or other relevant authorities, which can lead to a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal worker – if you are found to be employing an illegal worker without carrying out the lawfully prescribed right to work checks prior to the first day of employment

Currently, there are two categories of sponsor licence, namely:

  1. ‘Worker’ sponsor licence – for the skilled and/or long-term employment of migrant workers, covering the Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker), Minister of Religion, and International Sportsperson visa routes
  2. ‘Temporary Worker’ sponsor licence – for specific types of temporary employment

An organisation may apply for both categories in their licence application, depending on the needs of their business.

Yes, under limited circumstances. To be eligible for a sponsor licence an employer and its Key Personnel named on the licence, must not have:

  • Unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences
  • Unspent criminal convictions for other crimes; including, but not limited to, offences of dishonesty, such as theft, corruption, deception, fraud, as well as bribery and money laundering
  • Had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months

Under the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, criminal convictions can be cleared after a certain amount of time. There is no requirement to notify the Home Office of a cleared conviction, however, it is always best practice to be transparent and disclose the matter.

If you are unsure whether or not you are eligible for a sponsor licence, please get in touch with us and we will be able to assess your matter.

Every sponsor must comply with its duties and responsibilities. These can be divided into 2 different categories:


Your responsibilities as a licensed sponsor include:

  • Checking that your sponsored 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 (CoS) to a worker 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 visas


Your duties as a licensed sponsor include:

  • Reporting – You must report certain changes that affect your sponsored workers or your organisation within the time limits set out below, examples of which include:
    • Changes to a sponsored worker’s circumstances – within 10 working days of the relevant event occurring
    • Changes to your organisation – within 20 working days of the relevant event occurring
  • Record-Keeping – You must keep certain documents for each worker you sponsor. The documents can be kept in paper or electronic form. If asked, you must give the Home Office any documents relating to your sponsored workers or the running of your organisation so the Home Office may assess your compliance as a sponsor.
  • Complying with Immigration laws – this includes but is not limited to:
    • Keeping a copy of any registration document, certificate or reference confirming that a sponsored worker meets the requirements of their job
    • Not sponsoring workers where they do not have the experience, qualifications or immigration permission to do the job in question, and stop sponsoring workers who, for any reason, are no longer entitled to do the job stated on their CoS
    • Not assigning a CoS where there is no genuine vacancy or role which meets the Worker or Temporary Worker criteria
    • Only assigning a CoS to a worker if you are satisfied they intend to, and are able to, fill the role you are recruiting for
  • Complying with wider UK law – in addition to UK immigration law, sponsors must comply with UK wider law, such as UK employment law (e.g., National Minimum Wage, the Working Time Regulations, etc.), right-to-rent legislation, registration with the relevant food authority (if you are a food business), etc.
  • Not engaging in behaviour or actions which are not conducive to the public good – The Home Office will not license organisations whose actions and behaviour are non-conducive to the public good. Such actions and behaviour include but are not limited to:
    • Fostering hatred or inter-community division
    • Encouraging, justifying or glorifying terrorism
    • Rejecting the rights of, or discriminating against, other groups or individuals on the basis of their sex, age, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marital or civil partnership status, race, or religion or belief (including lack of belief)

A sponsor licence is granted for four years and will automatically expire at the end of this period unless it is successfully renewed. Renewal applications open 3 months prior to the licence expiry date stated on the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) and must be submitted prior to the licence end date. A decision on the renewal application should be made within 8 weeks from the submission date.

A sponsor licence application can be refused if:

  • False documents have been submitted;
  • There are not sufficient processes in place to comply with your sponsor duties;
  • You and/or a key person on the licence has an unspent criminal conviction which was not disclosed;
  • The organisation has no trading presence in the UK;
  • You failed to meet the criteria to be a sponsor under the category which you applied;
  • You received a civil penalty for employing illegal workers

The implications of a sponsor licence application refusal are considerable in that:

  • The fee of the application will not be refunded
  • A ‘cooling off’ period will be imposed (the length of the period will depend on the reason for refusal) and your organisation will not be able to make another application until the end of this period

If your application was refused due to a civil penalty received for employing illegal workers, you will have to wait a minimum period of twelve months after the date the penalty became payable, before reapplying.

The SMS is an online tool created by the Home Office to facilitate the sponsorship of migrant workers, compliance with sponsor reporting duties and communication between the Home Office and licensed sponsors.

You must use the SMS to:

  • Manage or renew your organisation’s licence or services
  • Create and assign certificates of sponsorship to prospective employees (Worker or Temporary Worker)
  • Report changes of circumstances of your sponsored employees, including withdrawal of sponsorship
  • Report changes to your own circumstances, for example a change of owner or a new location

The SMS is a very intricate system which if used incorrectly, can be detrimental. If you need guidance on how to manage your SMS, please get in touch with us and we will be able to address your matter.

Key contacts

Monica Atwal

Managing Partner

View profile

+44 118 960 4605

Rebecca Hone

Senior Associate

View profile

+44 20 7539 8019

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