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You might need a sponsor licence to employ someone from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to work for you in the UK.
This includes unpaid work, like running a charity.
Sponsoring someone doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be allowed to come to or stay in the UK.
How to get a sponsor licence
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may visit your business to check it’s suitable.
After you apply
You’ll be given a licence rating if your application is successful.
You’ll be able to issue certificates of sponsorship if you have jobs that are suitable for sponsorship.
Your licence will be valid for 4 years. You may lose your licence if you don’t meet your responsibilities as a sponsor.
To get a licence, you can’t have:
You’ll need appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your application form and supporting documents. They may visit your business to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.
The licence you need depends on whether the workers you want to fill your jobs are:
You can apply for a licence covering either tier or both.
Tier 2 is for skilled workers who you want to employ long-term or permanently. It’s split into:
Tier 5 is for skilled workers you want to employ on a temporary basis. It’s split into:
You need to appoint people within your business to manage the sponsorship process when you apply for a licence.
The main tool they’ll use is the sponsorship management system (SMS).
The roles are:
These roles can be filled by the same person or different people.
You can also appoint an optional level 2 user once you have your licence. This is an SMS user with more restricted access than a level 1 user, for example they can’t withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.
You and your staff will be checked to make sure you’re suitable for these roles. You may not get your licence if anyone involved in sponsorship has:
You and your allocated staff must also:
Your allocated staff must usually be paid members of staff, or office holders.
Read the full guidance on appointing ‘key personnel’.
HR contractors and agency staff
You must have at least one level 1 user who is your employee. You can have other level 1 or level 2 users employed by third-party organisations contracted to provide you with HR services. Your level 2 user can be a temporary member of staff supplied by an agency.
UK-based legal representatives
You can allocate any of the roles to a UK-based legal representative, apart from the authorising officer role. Your representative must be qualified to give immigration advice or services.
Apply online for your licence.
Print out the submission sheet at the end of the application - you need to post it to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) with the correct supporting documents.Sponsor casework operations
Most applications (8 out of 10) are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. UKVI may need to visit your business.
You need to send the correct supporting documents to prove that you’re a genuine business. Your application could be refused if you don’t.
You need to provide at least 4 documents - unless:
The documents must be the originals or certified copies.
Check whether you’re a public body and what documents you need to provide before you apply.
Certify a copy of a document
A copy of a document can be certified by either:
The certifier must provide a statement confirming that the document is an accurate copy of the original document and write their name, signature and the name of the organisation they represent on every page of the copy.
Printouts of documents sent as an email attachment can be certified if the person certifying them has seen the original email containing the file.
You need to pay a fee when you apply.
|Type of licence||Fee for small or charitable sponsors||Fee for medium or large sponsors|
|Tier 2 and Tier 5||£536||£1,476|
|Add a Tier 2 to an existing Tier 5||No fee||£940|
|Add a Tier 5 to an existing Tier 2||No fee||No fee|
You’re usually a small business if:
Contact the Business Helpdesk if you’re unsure which category your business fits into.
You can join the premium customer service scheme to get extra support from a licence manager - this costs at least £8,000 a year.
Applications refused because of a mistake
You can apply to correct a mistake with your application if you think it was refused because:
You can only do this if you applied on or after 1 April 2016.
You can’t apply just because you disagree with the decision.
Help and advice
Sponsors can get advice from the sponsorship, employer and education helpline:Sponsorship, employer and education helpline
UK businesses and Tier 1 (Investors) can get help from the Business Helpdesk:
You’ll get an A-rated licence if your application is approved.
A-rating - full sponsor licence
An A-rated licence lets you start assigning certificates of sponsorship.
Your business will be listed in the register of sponsors.
Downgrading to B-rating
Your A-rated licence may be downgraded to a B-rating at a later stage if you don’t continue to meet your sponsor duties.
If this happens, you won’t be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until you’ve made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating.
You’ll still be able to issue certificates to workers you already employ who want to extend, or who are switching from a Work Permit.
Upgrade to an A-rating
You need to follow an ‘action plan’ provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to upgrade your licence.
You have to pay £1,476 for an action plan.
You must pay the fee within 10 working days of the date UKVI tells you about the downgrade. If you don’t, you’ll lose your licence.
At the end of the action plan
You’ll be upgraded to an A-rating if you complete all the steps and there’s nothing else you need to improve.
You’ll lose your licence if you don’t complete all the steps.
If you need to make other improvements, you’ll be given another B-rating and will have to follow a new action plan. You’ll have to pay the fee again.
If you get a second B-rating
You can only have 2 B-ratings in the 4 years that your licence is valid.
You’ll lose your licence if you still need to make improvements after your second action plan.
How to reapply
You can’t appeal if your application is unsuccessful, but you can reapply. You may have to wait before reapplying - the time will depend on your circumstances.
You need to start a new application.
You have to wait up to 12 months before reapplying if you’ve been fined for employing illegal workers and you lost your licence.
You need a certificate of sponsorship for each foreign worker you employ. This is an electronic record, not a physical document. Each certificate has its own number which a worker can use to apply for a visa.
Certificates must be used within 3 months from when they’re issued.
When you apply for your licence you’ll be asked to estimate how many Tier 2 and Tier 5 certificates you’ll need. These are called unrestricted certificates because there’s no limit on how many you can get.
These are for:
You must apply for restricted certificates for these workers through the sponsorship management system (SMS). You’ll get access to this when you get your licence.
When you get the certificate
Applications are considered on the first working day after the 10th day of the month. This is called the ‘allocation date’. If you apply after the 5th day of the month then your application will be held until the next month’s allocation date.
Your application may also be held until the next month’s allocation date so that the details of your application can be checked.
Your restricted certificate will appear in your SMS account on the allocation date if your application has been approved. You can then assign a certificate to a worker.
You can apply again if your application isn’t approved.
A restricted certificate can be issued before the next allocation date in exceptional circumstances. This doesn’t include applications which have been delayed for reasons which you could have avoided.
Use your SMS account to make the application and then email Tier2Limits@ukba.gsi.gov.uk explaining why it’s urgent.
You need to pay for each certificate of sponsorship. Certificates are free for citizens of Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey.
|Type of certificate||Cost per certificate|
If you assign a certificate of sponsorship to a worker with a Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) visa, you might also need to pay the immigration skills charge.
You might have to pay an additional charge for each foreign worker you employ. This is called the ‘immigration skills charge’.
You must pay this if they’re applying for a visa to work in the UK for 6 months or more under either a:
If the worker has applied for their visa from within the UK, you must pay the charge even if they’re applying for less than 6 months.
When you don’t need to pay
You won’t pay the immigration skills charge if the worker you’re sponsoring:
You won’t need to pay the charge for any of the worker’s dependants, for example their partner or child.
How to pay
You pay the immigration skills charge when you assign a certificate of sponsorship to the worker.
How much it costs
The SMS will work out how much you need to pay based on:
|Period||Small or charitable sponsors||Medium or large sponsors|
|First 12 months||£364||£1,000|
|Each additional 6 months||£182||£500|
If the worker will be in the UK for longer than 6 months but less than a year, you must pay for at least 12 months.
You must pay the full charge in one go.
Contact the Business Helpdesk if you’re not sure which category your business fits into.
As the longest you can sponsor a worker for is 5 years, the most you have to pay will be:
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will contact you if you don’t pay the charge or pay the wrong amount. You’ll have 10 working days to pay the charge - the worker’s visa application will be refused if you don’t.
You’ll get a full refund if the worker’s visa application is:
You’ll get a partial refund if the worker:
You’ll get your refund automatically through the SMS.
How long it takes
You usually get a refund within 90 days of:
If the worker’s visa application is refused, they can ask for the decision to be reviewed. This is known as an ‘administrative review’.
If they don’t ask for an administrative review, you’ll get a refund within 90 days of the deadline for applying for one.
You’ll get a refund within 90 days of the administrative review being dismissed if the worker applied for one and were unsuccessful.
Contact UKVI if your refund isn’t paid within 90 days.
You can sponsor a worker if the job they’re going to do has a suitable rate of pay and skill level.
Offering a skilled job in Scotland
If you want to offer someone a skilled job, it must be Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 9 or above for both Tier 2 (General) and Intra-Company Transfer.
There are separate rates of pay and skill levels for:
Advertising the job
You may need to advertise the job you’re offering if it’s not on the shortage occupation list. This is known as carrying out the ‘resident labour market test’.
You must advertise any job you offer to a worker in the following categories:
You must place 2 adverts. Follow the rules in the ‘How to carry out the resident labour market test’ section of the guidance for sponsors.
<>How long to advertise the job for
Each advert must run in the UK for 28 days in most cases, either continuously or in 2 stages.
If you advertise in 2 stages, each advert still needs to run for a total of 28 days and neither stage can be less than 7 days.
You must be able to show that you didn’t find a suitable worker.
Your licence may be downgraded, suspended or withdrawn if you don’t meet them.
You must have HR systems in place that let you:
Changes to your business
You must report any significant changes in your own circumstances within 20 working days, for example if you:
You must also tell UKVI if you’re changing your details, like your address or allocated roles.
To register a change of circumstances use the sponsorship management system (SMS).
Requests can take up to 18 weeks. While you’re making your request you can choose to pay £200 to use the priority service which takes up to 5 working days.
You must make sure that foreign workers under 18 have suitable care arrangements for their:
You must also get a letter from their parents giving consent to the care arrangements.
You must get a Disclosure and Barring Service check on any of your workers who need it.
You’ll lose your licence if you don’t do this.
Children under 16
You must get a licence from the local education authority in the area where the child will work.
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