What is a Sponsorship Licence?

what is a sponsor licence


Recruiting a skilled workforce from overseas has become vital for employers across the UK economy.

If you are a UK employer and want to recruit foreign national workers under a sponsored work route, such as the Skilled Worker or Scale Up visas, your organisation is required to hold a valid sponsorship licence.

To obtain a sponsorship licence, you will have to make a formal application to the Home Office.

If your application is successful and you are granted a sponsor licence, you will be permitted to recruit and employ eligible overseas workers under the Points-Based visa system.

As a sponsor licence holder, your organisation will become subject to specific compliance duties. Breaching these duties can result in Home Office penalties including suspension or revocation of your licence.

Eligibility for a sponsorship licence

You can apply for a sponsorship licence regardless of the size of your organisation or the sector you operate in. There are however a number of prerequisites which must be met:

  • You are operating as a legal business in the UK.
  • Your organisation can offer positions suitable for the relevant visa, including meeting the relevant minimum salary requirements and skill levels.
  • The roles being recruited for must be genuine vacancies.
  • Pay the requisite fees for making an application and be able to meet the ongoing costs of a sponsor licence, such as the Immigration Skills Charge.

Which type of sponsor licence?

There are two categories of sponsor licences, each catering to different job categories:

1. Worker Sponsor Licence

This licence is suitable for roles requiring higher skill levels and longer-term employment, covering visas including Skilled Worker, Senior or Specialist Worker (Global Business Mobility), Minister of Religion, and International Sportsperson.

2. Temporary Worker Sponsor Licence

This licence is for roles requiring specific skills for a shorter duration under visas including Scale-up Worker, Creative Worker, Charity Worker, Religious Worker, Government Authorised Exchange Worker, International Agreement Worker, and Seasonal Worker.

Employers need to carefully assess their specific needs and the visa route their potential employee is applying under to choose the appropriate sponsorship licence. Both types play a crucial role in enabling businesses to access skilled foreign workers while ensuring a legal and compliant recruitment process.

Each licence type comes with specific conditions and obligations for the sponsoring employer.

How to apply for a sponsorship licence

To apply for a sponsorship licence you need to complete an online application form and submit comprehensive supporting documentation.

As well as providing information about your organisation and the role(s) in question, you will need to evidence in your application that your HR systems and infrastructure will enable you to meet your sponsorship compliance duties. This includes the requirement to appoint the following key personnel:

  • Authorising officer – a senior figure responsible for overseeing the Sponsor Licence Management System (SMS)
  • Key contact – a main point of contact for the UK Visas and Immigration service
  • Level 1 user – a person responsible for the day to day management of your SMS

Once your application has been submitted, it will be considered by a Home Office caseworker who may elect to visit your organisation on-site as part of the decision-making process.

During this site visit, the Home Office will primarily be looking to check your HR systems and documentation to ensure you will be able to meet the compliance requirements of the sponsor licence. They may also interview relevant personnel, such as your nominated key personnel.

If the Home Office approves your application you will be given a sponsorship rating – if you receive an A rating you will be added to the list of registered sponsors and will be able to proceed with recruiting sponsored workers immediately.

Compliance duties as a sponsor

As a sponsor licence holder, it is your responsibility to ensure you adhere to your compliance duties on a continued basis throughout the duration of your licence.

If you are found to be in breach of your sponsorship obligations your rating may be downgraded, or your licence suspended or even revoked. This will directly impact your ability to hire skilled points-based workers.

The Home Office requires that sponsors ensure compliance in the following areas:

  • Record Keeping – You must keep a sponsorship file for every sponsored worker that contains required documentation.
  • Compliance – You must continue to demonstrate that you comply with the eligibility criteria for a sponsor licence holder.
  • Reporting – You are responsible for reporting changes in organisational circumstances on the Sponsor Management System (SMS) (such as change of address, or a company merger) and reporting the activity of your workers to the Home Office within strict timeframes. For example, you must contact the Home Office if:
    • The employee does not turn up for their first day of work
    • If the worker is absent for more than 10 days
    • If you terminate their employment
    • Substantive changes are made to their employment status
    • If a worker is affected by TUPE or similar protection

The worker is also under duties to inform of certain changes in circumstances as part of their visa conditions.

Support for sponsorship licence applications

Once your application has been granted, continued legal advice and support can help your organisation efficiently navigate the ever-changing immigration legislation and policy, while remaining compliant so that when the time comes to apply to renew – your house is in order and ready for Home Office scrutiny.

Many organisations take the advice of immigration professionals prior to making their sponsor licence application to avoid issues, complications or delays. If you are unsuccessful with your initial application, they can also help you to appeal the decision.

Once the licence is live, failure to adhere to your responsibilities as a sponsor can lead to severe penalties, taking guidance from experts can ensure you are compliant and not at risk of your sponsorship licence being suspended or revoked.

Keeping up to date with changes to regulations and managing the duties and responsibilities of a sponsor is an involved process, but there are steps employers can take to ensure compliance that are not overly-onerous.

Legal disclaimer

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.


What is a Sponsorship Licence? 1

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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