We provide a complete ‘hand-holding’ service that offers peace of mind, assurance and a better chance of success in your application.
What is UK visa sponsorship?
Under the UK’s points-based immigration system, the main routes for non-UK residents working in the UK include the following sponsored work visas:
- Skilled Worker visa
- Global Business Mobility visas
- Health and Care Worker visa
- Temporary Worker visas
The UK visa sponsorship for employers scheme enables UK employers to recruit skilled workers from overseas to fill positions in the UK. To become a licenced sponsor, employers must demonstrate their capacity to comply with the programme’s rules and pay fees.
The costs in time and money of becoming a sponsor may be a big barrier to employers hiring migrant workers into eligible jobs. However, the end of free movement has brought about a significant change in international recruitment practices in the UK, and the number of firms who are now becoming licenced Visa sponsors has more than doubled since Brexit, and this increase shows no sign of levelling off.
UK Visa Sponsorship for employers can be quite complicated, and the process can take months. There’s a lot to be mindful of, but we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll go over:
- How to choose the right type of sponsorship licence?
- How to obtain a sponsorship licence
- Sponsorship licence application considerations
- Sponsorship licence application
- How to fast-track your sponsor licence application
- Sponsorship licence considerations for HR and Global Mobility teams
How to choose the right type of 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 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 take part in the conference to exchange experience.
Your sponsorship licence can allow you to invite foreign workers from one particular visa category or from both categories at once. As it was mentioned earlier, the employer must provide the invited workers with full assistance.
- Employers must pay a foreign employee a minimum level of salary for their position.
- Invited workers, in return, must demonstrate sufficient experience and qualifications that are necessary to work successfully.
- Employers must inform the Home Office how they found the employee who gets the certificate of sponsorship.
How to obtain a UK sponsorship licence
The process of obtaining a sponsor licence involves an application and a compliance assessment by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency. Once a sponsor licence is granted, the business or organisation will be assigned a unique sponsor licence number and will be placed on the register of sponsors. They are then able to sponsor foreign nationals and apply for certificates of sponsorship on their behalf. The certificate is then used by foreign workers to apply for a visa to come to the UK.
Sponsor licences are valid for up to four years before requiring renewal.
Sponsor licence application considerations
Before applying for a sponsor licence, there are four main considerations to be made.
1. Sponsor licence eligibility
Companies of all sizes and in all sectors can apply for a sponsor licence, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements set out by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency. To apply for a sponsor licence, your business must have:
- An established business presence in the UK with a fixed office address. This is evidenced by having an entity registered on UK Companies House, together with supporting documents submitted to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) in support of the application.
- The ability to offer ‘genuine employment’ that meets the skill and minimum salary requirements set by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency.
- Appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored workers, and people (authorising officer) to manage sponsorship in your business.
- No unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering.
2. Sponsor licence compliance requirements
Compliance is vital for employers participating in the sponsor licence scheme. Employers must demonstrate that they have made genuine efforts to recruit from the resident workforce and that they have a legitimate need for a skilled worker.
They must also comply with their sponsor licence obligations and adhere to the rules and regulations of the programme. Failure to remain compliant with these requirements can result in the revocation of a sponsor licence, fines, and other penalties.
3. Sponsor licence costs
The sponsor licence application fee varies according to the size and nature of a business. Medium or large sponsors must pay the ‘large’ fee which is £1,476. However, small or charitable sponsors are charged a ‘small’ fee at the reduced rate of £536.
You are eligible to pay the small fee if you:
- Are applying for a licence under the Temporary Worker route only
- Have charitable status
- Are subject to the small companies regime as set out in sections 381 to 384 of the Companies Act 2006, or
- Are a sole trader (not a company) and you employ fewer than 50 people.
You will need to pay the same fee if you apply to renew your licence when it expires after four years.
As well as the above, there are several other fees you will need to consider, including:
- The Immigration Skills Charge (ISC): The ISC must be paid for each sponsored worker you recruit unless an exemption applies. For small or charitable sponsors, the ISC is £364 for the first 12 months of employment, plus £182 for each additional 6-month period.
- Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) fees: You will need to pay a fee of £199 each time you assign a CoS to a worker. A lower CoS fee of £21 applies for Temporary Workers.
- Visa application fees: Although it is usually down to the visa applicant to pay the application fee for themselves and any accompanying dependents, some employers opt to cover this on behalf of their employees.
- Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS): Again, this fee is usually covered by the visa applicant at the point of application, but some employers will cover the IHS for their overseas recruits.
4. Sponsor licence category
The type of licence required depends on the type of workers you wish to hire. The majority of licences are for Skilled Workers (usually for new hires to the business). The next largest category is Global Business Mobility licences, used by multinational companies to transfer established employees to the UK.
Other visa sponsor licences are for Ministers of Religion, International Sportspersons, and a range of Temporary Worker licences.
Sponsor Licence Application
The sponsor licence application consists of two parts:
- draft and submission of an online application; and
- supporting documents sent to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency.
The online application must be submitted with the relevant application fee being paid at the time of filing. All supporting documentation must then be sent to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency within five working days of the application being made online.
From submission, the standard consideration time is eight weeks.
How to fast-track your sponsor licence application
Most applications for sponsor licences are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. However, if your business requires a sponsor licence urgently, you may be able to pay for a faster decision.
The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency pre-licence priority service allows applicants to pay an extra £500 to get a decision within 10 working days. This service is limited to a small number of applications every working day. Faster decisions are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, in the order that requests arrive.
Centuro Global can submit a request to the priority service on your behalf if you wish to expedite the approval process. We recommend employers utilise the service where the need to hire skilled workers is time critical.
Applying for a Sponsor licence: What do HR and Global Mobility teams need to know?
For HR teams and global mobility professionals, it helps to stay on top of immigration laws and regulations. The UK immigration system is in constant motion with new rules added at a whim, and regulations tightened or relaxed at intervals.
If you are uncertain about your responsibilities as a sponsor or have any concerns about your sponsorship arrangements, we advise you to seek professional advice as issues can usually be dealt with easily and quickly. Centuro Global can help answer any questions you may have about, visit our website to learn more about how we can help.
Here are major factors to consider when becoming a licenced visa sponsor:
i) Compliance visits
UKVI conducts regular compliance visits to licence holders to ensure they fulfil their duties. such as keeping accurate records of sponsored employees. This information must be readily available for inspection by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) officials. It is also the responsibility of the sponsor licence employer to monitor the compliance of their sponsored employees, including ensuring they are working by the terms of their visa and that their contact details are up to date.
Sponsor licence holders must notify UKVI of certain events and changes, such as if a sponsored employee is no longer employed or if their contact details change. Political pressure following record numbers of visas issued last year will mean that sponsor compliance visits remain a priority, so licence holders can expect a high level of scrutiny. For this reason, it is worth taking time to check that your certificate, paperwork, and details are up-to-date and in order.
ii) Employee Benefits
There has been a trend reported in some recent compliance visits in which officers have been asking about workplace pension schemes, which is something to bear in mind for new licence holders.
Employment contracts may be scrutinised to see that they match current pension rules, while compliance officers might ask to see a clause regarding the workplace pension scheme and, if there is no clause, this might lead to a negative report. This is unlikely to be a problem for larger companies with generally robust HR procedures but may be an issue for smaller employers. Companies that do not have a workplace pension scheme, such as sole traders newly registered for a licence, might struggle with this line of questioning.
The key is to be aware of your sponsorship duties and your duties as an employer.
iii) Company size
The majority of sponsor licence holders are large corporations. This is because the costs of becoming a licensed sponsor are fixed, independent of how many migrants are likely to be hired; large firms likely to hire more migrants can spread the sponsor licence over more workers, reducing the cost per migrant.
However, A survey conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses indicated the number of small businesses looking at sponsorship as an option to tackle skills shortages in 2023 is doubling. Small businesses benefit from lower fees compared to larger sponsors, and the lower skill and salary thresholds under the Skilled Worker route mean more roles are now eligible for sponsorship compared to the previous Tier 2 (General) route. Sponsoring workers from overseas could therefore be more affordable than you think.
The percentage of all workers employed by a company holding a visa sponsor licence is highest in Central London. London has also historically been an appealing destination for skilled migrants due to established migrant networks and awareness amongst prospective migrants of job opportunities. Hence, London employers have had more experience sponsoring overseas workers.
Employers who are more familiar with the visa system may be less deterred by the financial and administrative burden of sponsorship. High-paid jobs in London, where median gross weekly earnings are around £165 higher than the rest of the nation are more likely to be eligible for Skilled Worker visa sponsorship.
But London has not had the biggest percentage increase in the number of licensed sponsors; the percentage increase has been larger in Scotland, the North West, and Northern Ireland.
Don’t underestimate the red tape behind applying for a Sponsor Licence
A report published by Personnel Today claims that just 3% of UK employers have a sponsor licence that enables them to recruit EU and non-EU workers. Following an analysis of the UK government’s current list of sponsors, only 50,000 employers reportedly hold a licence out of an estimated 1.4 million private sector employers in Britain.
The Personnel Today report attributes the low number of sponsor licence holders to employer concerns over the cost and complexity of getting a licence. Many employers often delay the process because of the perceived amount of red tape involved and the expense – especially at a time when Britain is in the grip of a cost of living crisis.
Before applying for a licence, we recommend employers read the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency guidance for sponsors to familiarise themselves with the requirements.
We can help you too.
We are committed to not only assisting you in your application for a sponsor licence but also to achieving long-standing compliance with all application requirements. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency is incredibly strict with regard to sponsors remaining compliant, and we have developed a comprehensive compliance pack, as well as providing our clients with a ‘mock’ compliance audit to put them in a great position should the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) agency ever request a visit.
We provide a complete ‘hand-holding’ service that offers peace of mind, assurance and a better chance of success in your application. Our service extends to all aspects of sponsorship.
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. Please contact us today.