Whether entering the UK for a new role or looking to switch from another type of UK Visa from within the UK, such as a student Tier 4 visa, a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from a Tier 2 licensed sponsor is essential when applying for a Tier 2 Visa.

A certificate of sponsorship is needed for a non-EEA worker to apply to the Home Office for a UK Tier 2 visa. The CoS serves as formal evidence of an offer to the individual of a qualifying role with a qualifying UK-based employer. It acts as validation that an applicant’s job offer, their annual salary, and the role they will be filling all satisfy the Tier 2 visa route eligibility criteria. Without a certificate of sponsorship from a relevant employer, the applicant will be unable to apply to the Home Office for their Tier 2 visa.

The Certificate of Sponsorship is an electronic document confirming the personal information of the applicant and details of the job offered to them. Each CoS has a unique reference number for use in the applicant’s visa application.

Certificates of sponsorship can only be issued by an employer with a valid sponsorship licence. The Home Office’s register of sponsors, known as the Tier 2 Sponsors List, details all those organisations currently operating with a sponsor licence.

Given the importance of a certificate sponsorship for applicants seeking legal UK-based employment, it is essential that potential applicants understand what it is, how to obtain one, and how it fits into the Tier 2 visa application process.

Types of Certificate of Sponsorship

There are two types of certificate of sponsorship, restricted and unrestricted.

Restricted certificates

Restricted certificates of sponsorship are subject to an annual limit of 20,700 divided into monthly allocations.

Restricted certificates of sponsorship apply to Tier 2 employees that are currently working overseas and whose annual pay will be under £159600 or the dependant family members of Tier 4 Visa holders looking to switch to a Tier 2 Visa. Restricted certificate of sponsorship applications are also assessed using the governments’ points system to determine whether the applicant fills a gap in the UK jobs market.

Unrestricted certificates of sponsorship

Unrestricted certificates of sponsorship apply to non-EEA or Switzerland nationals seeking to be employed in the UK by a registered UK business at an annual salary of over £159600, or applicants that are currently in the UK on an alternative visa and looking to switch to a Tier 2 visa.

The company itself will need to be A-rated sponsor to issue unrestricted certificates.

When and how to get a certificate of sponsorship

Certificates of sponsorship can only be awarded by licensed sponsors.

Utilising their online Sponsor Management System account, your future employer will assign a unique certificate of sponsorship to you.

Certificates of sponsorship are not automatically delivered as a physical document, although you can request a printed version of the certificate from the SMS system. The most important aspect of your certificate of sponsorship is the unique reference number.
The certificate if sponsorship reference number must be submitted for a visa application within 3 months of being awarded and can only be used once.

Certificates of sponsorship can only be used by the original applicant and cannot be transferred to another candidate or used for another role.

If the original applicant declines or cannot take up the job offer, the certificate of sponsorship cannot be used. The applicant requires a new CoS if taking up employment with another employer.

It is not possible for the applicant to complete a Tier 2 visa application without the certificate of sponsorship. Tier 2 Visa applications normally take between 15 and 30 days to process. The employer and non-EEA or Swiss national should therefore work closely to ensure that the certificate of sponsorship is issued within 3 months of the date on which the applicant will need to apply for the visa.

How to use your Certificate of Sponsorship

Once you have received the CoS reference number you can apply to the Home Office for the Tier 2 Visa.

In addition to the CoS, Tier 2 visa applicants are required to submit additional supporting documentation such as:

  • Proof of meeting the English language requirement
  • Proof of ability to travel, for example a passport, along with evidence of 5 years’ travel history such as old passports and travel documents
  • A double blank page in the applicants’ passport
  • In cases where the sponsor is not A-Rated, bank or building society statements demonstrating sufficient personal savings (usually a minimum of £945)
  • A tuberculosis test where applicable

Why to seek legal advice

As it is not possible to obtain a Tier 2 visa without a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor, the first priority is in finding a qualifying position within one of the licensed companies.

Once a job offer has been made, take legal advice to assist you and your future employer on all Home Office requirements, for issuing the CoS and making the Tier 2 application.

As Editor of Lawble, Gill helps business and individuals become better informed about their legal rights. Gill is a content specialist in the fields of law, tax and human resources.