Skilled Worker sponsor licence
To employ migrant workers on work permits in the UK, employers must first obtain an authorisation from the Home Office called ‘Sponsor licence’ and be on the Home Office Register of Licensed Sponsors: Workers. To get the sponsor licence, organisations need to apply to the Home Office by completing an online application form and submitting the required specified information and documents.
Types of sponsor licence
Skilled Worker sponsor licence is by far the most commonly used type of licence by UK employers. Other common sponsor licence category is the ‘Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker’ (it used to be called Intra Company Transfer (ICT), however, the GMB- SSW (former ICT) licence can only be obtained by multinational companies to transfer staff to the UK from their overseas companies linked by common ownership or control with the UK business.
Furthermore, the newly introduced Global Business Mobility – Expansion Worker sponsor licence and Expansion Worker visa replaced the Sole Representative visa. The huge difference is that the Expansion Worker visa does not lead to settlement/Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.
If your organization/business meets the Home Office requirements for more than one licence category, you can apply for all of the licence categories that your organization qualifies at the same time in one application form. Multinational businesses usually apply for the Skilled Worker and Global Business Mobility (former Intra Company Transfer (ICT)) licence in the same application. This way they save the time and money and kill two birds with one stone. Your organization may also decide to add a new licence category to the already existing licence at a later date, but you would need to make a further application and incur additional costs.
In addition to the Skilled Worker and GMB (ICT) licence categories, there are also other types of sponsor licence and we explain those in more detail on this page. If you are unsure which type of sponsor licence your business requires, please check this page first.
Top tips for sponsor licence applications
Many of our top tips for sponsor licence applications are similar to what we recommend for other immigration applications. We list our tips further below for your reference.
Sponsor licence applicant employers need to make careful consideration of the rationale for the application and reasoning why a specific job role(s) is required by your organisation. This is where an experienced immigration lawyer is particularly useful and can make a difference. Experienced sponsor licence lawyers will guide you through the licence application process with confidence, to secure your licence the first time and within shortest possible time.
Points to note when preparing sponsor licence application:
- Pay attention to exactly what the Home Office requires.
- Have clear and logical rationale for the licence application and for the specific job you intend to employ a migrant worker(s).
- Provide everything the Home Office is asking for in their rules and guidance and not something else.
- Many applicants preparing applications on their own try to submit some different documents and/or fail to provide some mandatory information or documents, and unfortunately this normally leads to a refusal.
Organisation applying for sponsor licence licence must:
Organisations and businesses applying for sponsor licence may have different legal forms, for example can be a limited company, sole trader, partnership, overseas branch, unincorporated entity, charitable organisation, school etc.
Key requirements organisations have to meet when applying for sponsor licence:
- Already have trading presence and operate lawfully in the UK. There is no specific duration the business has to operate before applying for the sponsor licence and we successfully assisted start up businesses with obtaining a licence. However, the business must bear in mind the ‘genuine vacancy‘ requirement which we explain further below.
- Have HR systems and procedures in place (we will guide you on this).
- Be honest, dependable and reliable (e.g. have HMRC/tax, company affairs in good order and the office holders and Key Personnel must not have criminal offences and/or immigration offences on their record).
- Have at least one employee or Director who is ‘settled’ in the UK to fill the Key Personnel roles (please see further below for more details on Key Personnel)
- Be able to offer skilled jobs at the NQF Level 3 or above (the job must be skilled to at least level 3 NQF) Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations – Immigration Rules – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
- What is important and useful to note, is that there is no longer a strict requirement to conduct the prescribed job advertising process before recruiting a migrant worker. You may still decide to do the advertising but the procedure is no longer strictly prescribed. You may read more about it in our article ‘labour market test no longer required‘.
- Be able to pay the minimum salary required for the Skilled Worker visa (the minimum is normally not less than £26,200 gross per year but it may be higher or lower depending on the specific job and/or the specific migrant chosen for the role) More about minimum salary. The minimum salary is due to increase from 11th April 2024 to £38,700 per year. This is a significant change to the salary requirement.
- The job(s) offered to migrants must be genuinely required by the business (this is the ‘genuine vacancy test‘ and in a nutshell it means that the business needs those jobs for its operations and the jobs are not created just to facilitate migrant’s entry to the UK). It is easier to obtain sponsor licence when the job is listed on shortage occupation list.
Key Personnel for sponsor licence
Organisation applying for a sponsor licence needs to appoint three key personnel positions for the licence. One suitable person can fill all three positions. The most important position is the Authorising Officer as this will be the person with overall responsibility for immigration compliance and if there is any Home Office visit, they will ask to speak to the Authorising Officer. The individual(s) who will fill the Key Personnel roles must be either a registered Director or an employee in the business applying for the licence, must be resident in the UK and must not have criminal offences or immigration offences on their record.
- Authorising Officer – has overall responsibility for the immigration compliance and if the Home Office visits your organisation they will speak with the Authorising Officer
- Key Contact – the Home Office may contact them instead of the Authorising Officer with some updates
- Level 1 user – will have access to your online Sponsor Management System (SMS) account and will issue the Certificates of Sponsorship (COS)
Sponsor licence Application process
Sponsor licence application is submitted online via gov.uk website. There is an application fee of £536 for small sponsors and charities and £1,476 for larger sponsors. Your organisation normally qualifies as a small sponsor if you fall under the ‘small company’ regime as defined in the UK Companies Act Companies Act 2006 (legislation.gov.uk).
To find out more about the fees for Sponsor Licence visit our fees calculator for sponsnor licence page.
After making the payment online, there is a 3-page Submission Sheet document generated automatically. Your Authorising Officer (see above the ‘key personnel’) must sign and date it, and email it to the Home Office together with all your other supporting documents within 5 working day from the online submission. The relevant required documents depend on the type of business and the duration your organisation is trading. Some of the documents can be mandatory, for example if your organisation is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or Care Quality Commission, you would have to provide evidence of the registration and/or regulator’s report.
Similarly, if your organisation is an education institution and is supervised by Ofsted, you would need to provide evidence of your registration and most recent report. In the same way, if your organisation is a Charity, you would need to provide evidence of your registration.
Examples of supporting documents for sponsor licence:
- business bank statement,
- Employer’s Liability Insurance certificate,
- VAT registration certificate,
- HMRC payroll registration,
- Lease/licence agreement for business premises
- Evidence of registration with regulatory body (if required to legally trade in the UK)
- Evidence of registration with Food Authority (if food business)
- Specified information.
Sponsor licence application processing time
The Home Office processing time for sponsor licence applications is normally between 7 to 9 weeks but it may take longer if the Home Office requires more time to assess your application, or if they decide to visit/audit the sponsor’s business before decision is made. Home Office unfortunately never guarantees their timelines, although normally they try to provide decisions within their standard processing times. There is an expedited processing service available for an extra Home Office fee of £500, when processing time is stipulated as 10 working days from receipt of the payment and all the supporting documents. However, only 30 applications are accepted per day on the first come firsts served basis.
The initial licence is granted for 4 years and can be extended for further 4 years periods. The Home Office has recently announced that they will automatically be renewing the licence without the need for a new application.
Home Office visit (audit) before licence
Prior to making their decision on a sponsor licence application or at any time during the period of the sponsor licence validity, the Home Office officers may come to visit the sponsor to conduct an audit. The purpose of this visit is to assess if an organisation is able to comply with the sponsorship duties (pre-licence) or whether it complied with the sponsorship duties (post-licence audit).
During their visit the Home Office will speak to your Authorising Officer and review the sponsor’s relevant HR procedures and records. They may also speak to Skilled Worker migrants to establish if their job duties are in fact in line with the information recorded on their work permits issued to them. Most common issues during the visit are lack of HR processes and procedures, Authorising Officer not having the knowledge of sponsorship duties and obligations, the job role is not found to be genuine.
Depending on the result of the visit, the Home Office may grant or refuse a sponsor licence application OR suspend or revoke an already existing licence.
Compliance with sponsorship duties and obligations
It is crucial that sponsor employers understand and comply with the sponsorship duties and obligations. Depending on the result of the visit, licence application can be refused or granted. For licence holders it can result in suspension or revocation of the licence.
After licence is granted – guidance
We find that after the sponsor licence is granted, many sponsor employers not always pay enough attention to their sponsor duties. For example sponsor employers:
- fail to update the Home Office when the job of their migrant worker changes;
- fail to update the Home Office of changes to their organisation, e.g. when their office address changes or if their ownership and/or corporate structure changes.
Points to note:
- It is important to pay attention to the changes and consider any implications for the migrant and your organisation before making those changes.
- To illustrate the above point, if your migrant worker is promoted and his/her job changes so significantly that their new one is under a different Soc Code (Soc Codes are job types listed by the Home Office) the migrant needs to apply for a new Skilled Worker visa before starting the new job. Another example is when sponsor licence holder organisation changes its ownership, the licence is normally lost and the organisation needs to apply for a new licence.