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Sponsorship licence in the UK: how to get and what is it for?

British immigration rules don’t allow work immigrants and foreign students to get visas and enter the UK without having already found a place of work or studies. To regulate the process of hiring foreign nationals permanently or temporarily and accepting foreign students for studies, special documents were introduced, namely sponsorship licences.

If a UK-registered company wants to employ foreign nationals, this article will explain how to do it right.

It is important to keep in mind that according to the Brexit deal, since 1 January 2021 the term “foreign” also includes EEA and Swiss nationals. So, now the British companies need a sponsor licence to hire French and German employees, as they have always needed for Russian or Chinese nationals, for example.

Why are the sponsors in the UK licenced?

British sponsorship system guarantees that the receiving party is ready to take responsibility for a foreign employee and assist them in preparing the necessary documents for visa application since it issues a certificate of sponsorship. British employer also has to provide a living for a foreign employee by paying them at least the minimum level of salary prescribed by law.

However, sponsorship licence in itself and certificate of sponsorship issued to a foreign national are not a guarantee that a foreign worker or student will be granted a visa and allowed to enter the UK.

Лицензия спонсора для работодателя

Sponsorship licence for an employer

No matter how long you plan to employ a foreign national for, first of all, you have to obtain a sponsor licence. You may need such a licence even if you invite a foreign volunteer, for example, to work in the charity fund.

Sponsorship licences in the UK are issued by the British immigration service, commonly known as the Home Office. Before registering and applying for a sponsor licence, you have to keep in mind at least two important things:

  1. You should hire an experienced immigration advisor who will provide consultations and will serve as your legal representative before the Home Office
  2. You should ensure that your company meets all the requirements:
    • your company is registered and operates in the UK;
    • your company will be a reliable sponsor for a foreign worker;
    • your company has clean immigration and criminal records and has never been accused of fraud or money laundering;
    • your company has never lost a sponsorship licence before because of the violation of the immigration requirements.

How to choose the right type of a sponsorship licence?

The type of a sponsor licence depends on the category of foreign workers that you plan to employ. In other words, the type of licence is determined by the documents that foreign nationals will need to enter the UK.

  • Long-term work visas are issued to qualified foreign workers who come to the UK for a permanent job. This category also includes employees on Skilled Worker visas for intra-company transfer, sports people and ministers of religion.
  • Temporary visas allow to invite a qualified foreign worker to the UK for a certain period of time, for example, for a seasonal work or internship. Such visas are granted to those who work for charity, arrive in the UK on a tour or for a competition, come to deliver a sermon or to take part in the conference to exchange experience.

Your sponsorship licence can allow to invite foreign workers from one particular visa category or from both categories at once. As it was mentioned earlier, employer must provide the invited workers with full assistance.

  1. Employer must pay a foreign employee a minimum level of salary for their position.
  2. Invited worker, in return, must demonstrate sufficient experience and qualifications that are necessary to work successfully.
  3. Employer must inform the Home Office how they found the employee who gets the certificate of sponsorship.

Какой тип спонсорской лицензии в Англии вам нужен

Sponsorship management system

For your application to be approved in the UK, you must have people in your business taking required management roles.

To manage the sponsorship system, the following specialists are required:

  1. Authorising officer – is responsible for the work of personnel, key contact and representatives.
  2. Key contact – is an employee of the company who liaises with the Home Office.
  3. Level 1 user – manages the issued licence directly. They can grant or withdraw sponsorship certificates. If necessary, the company can have several level 1 users. There can also be level 2 users who have a restricted access to the sponsorship management system.

All the functions listed above can be performed by different employees or by the same person. But the company must have at least one level 1 user.

On request, Imperial & Legal can help with training your employees or filling some positions temporarily with its ownspecialists. The only exception constitutes an authorising officer position.

Home Office requires all the employees managing the sponsorship system to be suitable for their positions. They must spend most of the year in the UK, have relevant knowledge, have no criminal or immigration offences, have no tax debts, and they can’t be majority shareholders of the company whose sponsorship licence was revoked in the last12 months.

Application, supporting evidence and review by the Home Office

Imperial & Legal can assist you in preparing all the necessary documents, confirming that your business really operates in the UK.

At least 4 pieces of supporting evidence must be submitted with the application:

  • corporate bank account statement for the last six months;
  • long-term lease or purchase and sale agreement for an office space;
  • registration with the HMRC;
  • audited financial accounts for the last year.

Home Office officials may not be satisfied only with the documents you submit. They may visit your business to confirm that you are a reliable sponsor.

Commercial organisations that want to become sponsors must pay a licence fee that depending on the category of foreign workers and the size of the company ranges from £536 to 1,476.

In most cases, it takes the Home Office up to 8 weeks to review and approve the application. Sponsorship licence in the UK remains valid for 4 years. Before it expires, employer can renew it. It is also possible to pay a fast-track fee and get sponsor licence in 2 weeks.

Система рейтингов спонсорских лицензий в Великобритании

Rating system of sponsorship licences in the UK

If everything is done correctly, all the necessary documents are submitted in time and your business is confirmed to be reliable, you get an A-rated licence and are included in the register of sponsors. An A-rated licence allows to issue certificates of sponsorship and, if all other requirements are met, employ foreign nationals.

However, if your company fails to fulfil one or more duties as a sponsor, for example, if you fail to pay your foreign employee the amount of salary prescribed by law, you may be downgraded to B-rating. With a B-rated licence, you cannot issue new certificates of sponsorship but can renew the already issued work visas.

If you fail to fulfil your duties, you will not only be downgraded. After getting a B-rated licence, you must contact the Home Office within 10 days to obtain the so-called plan of action that will give you instructions how to upgrade to an A-rating. If you fail to contact the Home Office, it will revoke your licence. In a 4-year period, you cannot be downgraded more than 2 times. If this limit is exceeded, your sponsor licence will be void.

If your licence is revoked, it will be difficult to obtain another one. Even if you lost your licence for objective reasons and the Home Office admits it, you will be able to apply for a new sponsorship licence only in 12 months. That’s why, it pays to ask for help an experienced advisor.

Получите спонсорскую лицензию в Великобритании за 1 месяц

It will be easier for a British company to get a sponsorship licence if it gets assistance from qualified advisors from the very beginning and fulfils the requirements of the Home Office.

A prospective sponsor must prove that they are suitable for a sponsor status. The company must:

  • Be real and operate mainly in the UK;
  • Have authorised employees who are permanent British residents to manage the licence.

Home Office officials also pay a lot of attention to whether the company can meet certain requirements:

  • How realistic is the offered job for a foreign employee and what professional skills does it require?
  • How does the company employ workers and how does it control their work?
  • Is the prospective sponsor ready to fulfil their duties as a sponsor?

British companies and international companies that expand their business in the UK must be able to give full answers to these questions. Imperial & Legal, on its part, will provide reliable legal support that will allow to obtain a sponsor licence in less than 1 month.

After years of fruitful work, our qualified specialists have earned the reputation of reliable partners who can provide effective legal support for any business process in the UK – from registering a UK company and opening a bank account  to business management and tax optimisation. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Imperial & Legal specialists.

FAQ about sponsorship licence in the UK

What types of sponsor licences are there in the UK?

Depending on the services that you need to get from a foreign worker, there are the following types of sponsorship licences:

  • For employing workers permanently;
  • For employing workers temporarily;
  • Combined type – for employing workers permanently and temporarily.

What’s more, depending on the sponsor’s reliability, the licence can be A-rated or B-rated (downgraded with limited possibilities). The rating of the licence is determined by the Home Office. The sponsors themselves are divided into large, medium and small-sized. Small-sized sponsors include the companies:

  • whose annual turnover is less than £10,200,000;
  • whose assets cost less than £5,100,000;
  • whose personnel consists of less than 50 employees.

If at least two of these characteristics are applicable to your company, you are a small-sized sponsor.

Whom can a sponsor invite with a sponsorship licence for employing workers temporarily?

Our experts have compiled a table that includes all the possible categories of workers who can be employed temporarily and the maximum time they can spend in the UK.

Employee’s categoryStay in the UK
Professional sports peopleup to 1 year
Artistsup to 2 years
Charity workers (volunteers)up to 1 year
Ministers of religionup to 2 years
Specialists who come to the UK to exchange experience as part of a government programmeup to 1 year
Specialists who come to the UK to exchange experience in the R&D fieldup to 2 years
Seasonal workersup to 6 month

Is it possible for sponsors with a licence for employing workers temporarily to obtain a licence for employing workers permanently?

Yes, it is possible if the company requires a permanent foreign worker, for example, worker on a Skilled Worker visa.

If you are a small-sized sponsor and have a licence for employing workers temporarily, you can obtain licence for employing workers permanently free of charge. Medium and large-sized sponsors will have to pay an additional fee amounting to £940.

What must be done if the sponsorship licence was downgraded?

If the Home Office officials detect serious offences and the sponsor licence is downgraded to B-rating, you must contact the Home Office within 10 days. For an additional fee, you will obtain the so-called plan of action that will give you instructions how to upgrade to an A-rating.

If you fail to contact the Home Office, it will revoke your licence. Besides, B-rated licences offer only limited opportunities. For example, you won’t be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship till you are upgraded again.

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