A Tier 2 sponsorship licence will allow you, as an employer, to sponsor skilled foreign workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to work for you in the UK. Below we set out a guide to making a Tier 2 sponsorship licence application, although reference should also be made to the Home Office guidance ‘Tiers 2 and 5: guidance for sponsors’.

What is a sponsorship licence?

Tier 2 of the points-based system is the primary immigration route for employing skilled non-EEA migrants in the UK. A Tier 2 sponsorship licence is the permission granted to an organisation to sponsor Tier 2 skilled workers.

In order to apply to come to, or remain in the UK for work, a migrant must have a sponsor.

A sponsorship licence is necessary to show:

  • that the migrant will fill a genuine vacancy that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker.
  • that the sponsor agrees to meet all of the duties and obligations associated with sponsoring a migrant.

Sponsorship licence categories

There are four categories under the Tier 2 sponsorship licence route:

  • Tier 2 (General) – to enable employers to recruit non-EEA nationals to fill jobs that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker. This includes workers coming to the UK to fill shortage occupations, ie; where there are not enough skilled workers in the domestic labour market to meet demand.
  • Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer (ICT)) – to enable employers to transfer existing employees who are non-EEA nationals to a UK branch.
  • Tier 2 (Sportsperson): to enable elite athletes and coaches who are internationally established to be based in the UK.
  • Tier 2 (Minister of Religion): to enable religious workers to undertake employment within a faith community in the UK.

When making a sponsorship licence application, there are specific pre-requisites for each category, eg, to sponsor migrants under the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) you must show a direct link by common ownership or control with the overseas entities from which you will bring migrants to the UK.

The eligibility & suitability criteria for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence

An application for a sponsorship licence must meet certain eligibility criteria. To confirm that you are eligible for a licence, you must provide verifiable documentary evidence to demonstrate that you are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK.

An application for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence must also meet certain suitability criteria. In assessing suitability, the Home Office will look at whether:

  • your organisation can offer a genuine vacancy that meets the Tier 2 skill level and minimum appropriate rates of pay. Under Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa, the job will usually need to be Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 or above.
  • your organisation has human resource systems in place to meet your Tier 2 sponsorship duties and obligations. You may receive a site visit from the Home Office to assess your HR systems before or after your licence is granted.
  • the key personnel named on your Tier 2 sponsorship licence application are honest, dependable and reliable. Here the Home Office will consider any history of immigration violations or any unspent criminal convictions for a relevant offence.

The application process for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence

To obtain a Tier 2 sponsorship licence you must submit your application online via the government web portal. Any supporting documentation required to validate your application will need to be submitted within five working days of the initial application.

The necessary supporting documents are listed in the Home Office guidance entitled ‘Appendix A: supporting documents for sponsor licence application’ – although additional documentation may be requested.

You will need to provide at least four supporting documents, including evidence that you have a current, corporate bank account with a bank registered by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. Other mandatory documents may be Tier 2 specific, eg, for Tier 2 (ICT) you must send Head Office’s audited accounts or annual report clearly showing the link between the two entities.

In the event that it is possible for some of these documents to be verified online, then you will need to send a covering letter to the Home Office with the website address where the information can be found. Any hardcopy documents in support of an application must be original or certified copies.

Notification of decision in a sponsorship licence application

The Home Office will write to you to inform you as to whether your application for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence has been approved or, giving reasons where your application has been refused.

If your application is refused and you believe that the refusal decision is either the result of caseworker error or, alternatively, the result of supporting evidence sent as part of your application not being considered, you can send an ‘Error correction request form’. The request must be sent within 14 calendar days from the date of the refusal decision letter. This correction process does not, however, offer a full reconsideration of a decision to refuse a licence application – and no additional evidence will be considered.

In the event that any refusal of your Tier 2 sponsorship licence application is upheld, you will need to wait a further six months before re-applying (an extended cooling-off period may apply if a refusal decision is based upon previous immigration violations).

The cost of applying for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence

The fee for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence depends on the size of your organisation – you may be eligible to pay the small sponsor licence fee. The fee for medium or large sponsors is currently £1,476 (as of 2018), whilst the fee for small or charitable sponsors is £536. Any fee is non-refundable, even if your application for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence is refused.

Under the Immigration Skills Charge Regulations 2017 you may also be liable to pay an additional charge, ie; the Immigration Skills Charge, each time you sponsor a non-EEA migrant worker. This charge applies to a Tier 2 worker assigned a certificate of sponsorship on or after the 6 April 2017 under the ‘General’ or ‘ICT’ routes. The skills charge is currently set at £1,000 per employee per year (as of 2018), reduced to £364 for small or charitable organisations.

For how long is a sponsorship licence valid?

A Tier 2 sponsorship licence is valid for four years, after which it will expire. The only exceptions are if it is revoked or surrendered before it expires – this may happen if you fail to fulfil your duties as a Tier 2 sponsor. You must renew your licence in the event that you continue to employ Tier 2 migrant workers.

Should I seek legal advice when applying for a sponsorship licence?

The provisions relating to Tier 2 sponsorship licence applications are not only complicated, but periodically subject to change. If you are intending to apply for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence, you must remain well informed of the regular changes made to the immigration rules and other relevant legislation.

It is often best to seek expert legal advice from an immigration law specialist to ensure that you satisfy the eligibility and suitability criteria to enhance your prospects of a successful application. Your legal adviser can also assist with:

  • the drafting of the sponsorship licence application
  • the collation of supporting documentation to support the Tier 2 sponsorship licence application
  • legal compliance with your obligations and duties imposed on you under a sponsorship licence.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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.