In most cases, UK-based employers will need to hold a valid sponsor licence in order to employ overseas workers.
Foreign nationals are generally subject to UK immigration control, unless the individual has UK settled status, for example under the EU settlement scheme or holds valid UK indefinite leave to remain.
Those that require permission to enter and work in the UK have to make an application to the Home Office either under the UK points-based system, requiring a minimum number of points for an individual to qualify for a visa, or under other routes such as an unsponsored work visa or family visa.
The UK offers a broad range of work visas, the most commonly used being the Skilled Worker visa.
In this guide we explain what is involved for UK employers to hire and sponsor under the Skilled Worker visa route.
What is a sponsor licence?
If you want to hire an individual who is not a settled worker and who does not have valid permission to work in the UK, you will need Home Office approval in the form of a ‘sponsor licence’. A sponsor licence is essentially the authorisation required for UK-based firms to hire overseas workers in the UK.
Employers will first need to determine which type of sponsor licence they will apply for, either a Worker or Temporary Worker licence, or both. The Worker routes are for long-term skilled workers, while the Temporary Worker routes are intended to attract migrants in a range of short-term positions, such as charity workers, artistic and sporting employees, religious workers, and seasonal workers.
You will need your licence to be granted before you can sponsor workers and issue them Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). The CoS is a unique reference number that the worker must present to the Home Office when applying for their visa.
How to apply for a sponsor licence
To apply, you will need to register your organisation with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and complete an online application form.
The online form requires you to nominate your key personnel and request an estimate of the number of CoS you anticipate assigning in your first year. You may have to justify the number of requests to the Home Office, so it is advisable to be as considered as possible when arriving at this number.
You will also need to compile supporting documentation, as stipulated in the Home Office guidance under Appendix A.
In an email or letter accompanying your submission sheet, you must additionally inform UKVI if you, your key personnel, or anybody involved in the day-to-day operations of your business: have been removed or suspended from any sponsor registration over the last five years; have any current criminal prosecutions; or are aware that a previous employer has failed to pay VAT or any other kind of excise duty.
Your application will be denied if you do not submit the relevant documentation for the applicable route(s) or if these documents are erroneous. If there are any documents missing from your application that are not required, or if UKVI requires any more documents or information, you will be notified by email.
Eligibility requirements for a sponsor licence
To be eligible to apply for a sponsorship licence, an employer must prove that:
- they are a genuine organisation with the right to operate in the UK;
- their key personnel who are named on the application are reliable, honest and dependable, with no unspent criminal convictions;
- they are aware of all of their sponsor duties and are capable of carrying these out in relation to any workers they employ;
- they can offer genuine employment of the correct skill level for the route, with appropriate rates of pay;
- they do not have a history of failure to carry out sponsorship duties for their workers;
- they have all the systems in place that are deemed necessary to monitor sponsored employees.
The Home Office must be convinced that you are a legitimate organisation functioning legitimately in the United Kingdom. To demonstrate this, you must produce specific evidence to show that your firm is bona fide and has an operating or trading presence in the United Kingdom.
In addition, to be granted a sponsor licence, the Home Office must be satisfied that you are ‘honest, dependable and trustworthy’, and that you do not engage in and have not engaged in conduct that is not conducive to the public good. To determine this, the Home Office will review your history and background, including any criminal convictions, civil penalties, or evidence of previous non-compliance.
In addition, they will evaluate the individuals involved in the daily operations of your organisation and the key personnel included in your application. Key personnel are the individuals who will manage your licence for your company.
The Home Office will also look for evidence that you are capable of performing your sponsor duties by examining your HR systems and practices, and in some circumsatnces, may attend your premises to carry out a pre-licence compliance visit before your licence is granted.
You will also be assessed to detemine if you meet the specific requirements of the immigration route(s) for which you’re applying to be licenced, for instance, you can offer genuine employment that meets the skill level and salary requirements under the Skilled Worker route.
The Home Office may refuse your application if either you, or your key personnel, or anyone involved in the day-to-day operations of your business, has an outstanding conviction relating to immigration offences or certain other crimes, including fraud or money laundering.
Your application may also be denied if you have been convicted of a crime that affects your ability to fulfil your sponsor responsibilities. If you have been awarded a civil penalty or charge for noncompliance with your sponsor obligations in the past, you may be subject to a cooling-off period between 12 months and 5 years, provided the penalty has been paid in full.
If the application is approved, you will be awarded an A-rated licence and be added to the Home Office register of sponsors. You can also assign a CoS for the worker to make their visa application.
When you make your application for a sponsorship licence, you must state the individuals who will be responsible for the sponsor management duties. These individuals must work for the employer.
The roles you will need to assign are:
- Authorising officer: This should be a senior member of staff who will be responsible for any staff and representatives who use the sponsor management system.
- Key contact: This is the main contact person for communications with UK Visas and Immigration.
- Level 1 user: This person carries out all day-to-day management of the sponsor management system.
The above roles may be fulfilled by one person or more, as is appropriate for the employer. Anyone nominated for these roles, however, must undergo suitability checks.
How long does a sponsor licence take?
After submitting your application and paying the licence application cost, the regular processing period is around 8 weeks. This may be extended if UKVI conducts a sponsor visit to confirm that you are trustworthy and capable of performing your sponsor duties.
Under the priority processing service, first-time licence applicants can pay an additional £500 to receive a decision within 10 working days. There are 30 priority slots available per working day. Priority slots can be requested by emailing a completed Pre-Licence priority service application to: PreLicencePriorityService@homeoffice.gov.uk between 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays.
What does it cost to sponsor someone?
When sponsoring a migrant worker, several expenses are incurred. These costs include:
- Sponsor licence application fee – which depends on the type of organisation you are and the type(s) of licence you’re applying for (see below table).
- CoS allocation fee of £199 per skilled worker, or £21 per temporary worker.
- Immigration Skills Charge – £364 per sponsored worker per year for charities and small to medium sized firms; £1000 for larger employers per sponsored worker per year.
- Any additional premium or priority services you use.
Sponsor licence application fees
Type of licence
Fee for small or charitable sponsors
Fee for medium or large sponsors
|Worker and Temporary Worker||£536||£ 1,476|
|Add a Worker licence to an existing Temporary Worker licence||No fee||£940|
|Add a Temporary Worker licence to an existing Worker licence||No fee||No fee|
Ongoing sponsor compliance duties
If your application for a sponsorship licence is accepted, you will be allowed to sponsor migrant workers by issuing them a CoS. Your sponsor licence is valid for four years, but you are at risk of losing your licence if you fail to meet your ongoing obligations as a sponsor, which include:
- Retaining copies of relevant documents for each sponsored worker
- Ensuring contact details for each sponsored worker are up-to-date
- Monitoring and recording attendance for each sponsored worker
- Notifying UKVI if sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa
Your licence may be downgraded, suspended, or even revoked if you fail to fulfil any of your reporting and recordkeeping obligations. If there is proof that you may have employed people unlawfully, UKVI may also refer instances for civil penalty action or possibly prosecution.
Renewing your licence
A sponsorship licence is granted for four years. To continue to hold permission to employ sponsored workers, the employer will need to apply to renew their licence.
Employers should be prepared for this to be a more involved process than the initial application. The Home Office take renewals as an opportunity to vet sponsor licence holders and their compliance.
Once the application and supporting documents have been received, the employer may be subject to a compliance visit from the UK Visas and Immigration to assess whether the licence should be granted.
One of the main reasons that these visits take place is to ensure that there are actual employment opportunities available in relation to your sponsor licence, of the correct skill level and with appropriate rates of pay.
Eligibility to work
All workers in the UK, regardless of their nationality, must provide employers and prospective employers with documentary proof that they are eligible to work in the UK. This means showing they either hold an indefinite right to work, such as holding British citizenship or UK settlement, or that they have permission to work under a valid visa or specific immigration route.
Likewise, all employers are under a duty to obtain, check and maintain records to prove they have verified all employees’ right to carry out their role. Failure to comply with the prevention of illegal working legislation can result in fines of up to £20,000 per illegal worker. Employers should have effective right to work processes, using either manual, digital or online checks, to ensure compliance and avoid falling foul of unwanted Home Office scrutiny and penalties.
How legal advice can help
UK immigration rules are set to undergo significant change in the near future. For employers, this means understanding how their legal duties in relation to hiring non-UK workers will be affected.
Failure to meet your duties in respect of immigration compliance can leave your organisation at risk of Home Office penalties.
Taking professional legal advice can ensure you remain compliant and meet your immigration duties while ensuring your recruitment needs are satisfied.
Employing overseas workers in the UK FAQs
Can I employ someone from abroad in UK?
You can hire workers overseas, provided you are complying with the relebant immigration rules. In most cases this means ,having a sponsor licence to sponsor the non0-UK resident workers and the worker having a valid UK work visa.
Can I employ foreign workers in UK after Brexit?
Yes, the UK immigration rules offer a number of routes for foreign nationals to apply under to work in the UK.
What is required for an employer to hire a foreign national?
Depending on the type of visa the worker is eligible for, the employer may have to be granted a sponsorship licence to be able to employ the worker under a sponsored work visa.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.