How to apply for a sponsor licence
Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU.
1.1 What kind of sponsor licence?
There are a number of possible sponsor licences that a non-educational organisation can apply for, reflecting the different types of sponsored work visas:
- Skilled worker
- Intra Company Transfer
- Ministers of Religion (T2)
- Temporary Worker – Religious (T5)
- Sportsperson (T2)
- Temporary Worker – Creative and Sporting (T5)
- Temporary Worker – Charity (T5)
- Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange (T5)
- Temporary Worker – International Agreement (T5)
- Temporary Worker – Seasonal Workers (T5)
Some of these licences can be applied for in conjunction with each other, using the same form and a similar bundle of supporting documents (for example, a Skilled worker and Intra Company Transfer licence). Others, such as the sporting categories, have their own separate application process with bespoke criteria.
We will focus on the process for applying for a Skilled worker licence.
1.2 What are the requirements to obtain a licence?
The Home Office’s guidance for sponsors, has the requirements for educators and employers.
See full guidance for how to apply for a skilled worker licence.
1.2.1 Eligibility criteria
All applications for a sponsor licence must meet the eligibility and suitability criteria.
The proposed sponsor must submit evidence to show that it is a genuine employer with a lawful trading presence in the UK.
If the sponsor has no operating or trading presence in the UK, the Home Office will refuse the application. If they discover that a sponsor has no operating or trading presence in the UK after granting a licence, they will revoke the licence.
1.2.2 Suitability criteria
The suitability criteria is a broader assessment. The Home Office will look at whether the organisation is capable of meeting the responsibilities that it expects from sponsors.
The suitability criteria will determine whether the Home Office grant or refuse an application, change the sponsor rating of an existing licence, or revoke an existing licence. It may also affect the limits they set for Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) that can be assigned.
They will check that the sponsor:
- Has the human resource and recruitment systems in place to meet the sponsor duties — the Home Office may visit the sponsor for an assessment before or after the licence is granted.
- Can receive a visit from the Home Office on an immediate, unannounced basis to ensure compliance with sponsor duties. (This includes checks at any physical addresses where the sponsored workers will work or be based. If access to a third party’s site is necessary, the Home Office would expect to see evidence of arrangements between the sponsor and the third party and receive full co-operation by that third party.)
- Can offer genuine employment which meets the skill level and salary requirements of the category of the visa and sponsor licence
- Has nominated appropriate key personnel, who have no immigration offences or criminal records.
- Does not have any previous non-compliance. The Home Office will also consider any other evidence in the public domain which may highlight behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good.
The Home Office wants to be reassured that sponsors can live up to the “significant trust” that is placed in them when the licence is granted.
1.3 What documents do I need to submit?
1.3.1 To meet the general eligibility criteria
The sponsor must provide at least four documents with the application.
Appendix A sets out all possible documents required.
The average private limited company will normally have at least four of the following documents:
- Evidence that the sponsor has coverage for employer’s liability insurance up to £5 million
- Certificate of VAT registration
- Evidence of registration as an employer with HM Revenue and Custom
- Recent bank statement or a letter from the bank setting out dealings with the organisation
- Proof of ownership or lease of the business premises
Until very recently, documents for a sponsor licence application had to be either originals or certified copies. The Home Office has relaxed this rule during the lockdown. We are not yet aware if this practice can continue post COVID19.
1.3.2 Specific evidence required for Skilled worker
The specific documents required for Skilled worker licence are at Appendix A.
In addition to some basic information about the organisation, the role they want to fill and the candidate for that role, the organisation must also tell the Home Office why they are applying for a licence. Quite often, the Home Office will expect some information about how the sponsor has tried to recruit for this role.
1.4 Key personnel for the licence
The Home Office requires the organisation to nominate key individuals to take on roles in respect of the sponsor licence. The people nominated must be primarily based in the UK. The main roles are:
- authorising officer – the most important of all the roles, this should be given to someone senior. Ideally it should be someone who has some involvement with recruitment and/or HR as they will be ultimately responsible for the licence and to ensure that the sponsor licence duties are met.
- key contact – this person is the main point of contact with the Home Office. A legal representative can undertake this role.
- level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of the licence via access to an online portal, called the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). At the application stage this must be an employee/director. Once the licence is secured, others, including representatives, can be set up as level 1 users, or level 2 users who are able to undertake certain limited tasks on the SMS. Sponsors must always have a level 1 user who is engaged by the company.
It is important to carefully consider whether anyone nominated has any criminal conduct or previous adverse involvement with the Home Office. Applications for sponsor licences can be refused due to the character and past behaviour of the key personnel. The Home Office can and will run its own checks on nominees.
1.5 What about the suitability criteria?
The Home Office will want to ensure the organisation and the key personnel are
Specifically, they will want to know that the organisation has the HR processes and recruitment systems in place to meet the sponsorship duties.
1.5.1 Sponsorship duties
Sponsorship duties include reporting certain information about sponsored workers via the SMS. The report must be made within ten working days of the event occurring. Reportable events include a delay in a start date or change in work location for a Skilled worker.
They also include keeping detailed records on sponsored workers, such as contracts of employment, payment details and most importantly evidence (where applicable) of running the Resident Labour Market Test before hiring the candidate.
A sponsor will need to be advised on the specific duties, what they entail and the consequences if they fail to adhere to them.
1.5.2 Compliance visits
Sponsors should be aware that the Home Office can visit them as part of the sponsor licence application process to check their systems are robust enough. This is the principal method by which the Home Office can assess the suitability criteria.
These compliance visits were pretty common a few years ago, particularly for start-ups, but have become rarer particularly with lockdown. They will usually occur if the application is deemed high risk in some way.
Even if a sponsor avoids a visit during the application process, a sponsor can be inspected by the Home Office at any point while they remain a sponsor licence holder.
During a visit the inspector will want to check the sponsor’s HR systems and speak to the authorising officer. They can also request to interview Skilled worker employees to ensure that the vacancy they have filled is a genuine one.
If the Home Office finds evidence that the employer is not meeting their duties, their licence can be suspended or even revoked, which means their sponsored workers will have their visas curtailed.
1.6 How do I submit the application?
The form is prepared and submitted online.
We as your legal representative can assist with the preparation but the application form must ultimately be submitted by the nominated authorising officer.
Once the online form is submitted, the fee is paid depending on the size of the organisation: £536 for a small/charity and £1,476 for a medium/large company.
A submission sheet is generated which previously had to be printed off and signed by the authorising officer. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Home Office will now accept copies with a digital signature.
The submission sheet together with supporting evidence must be sent within five working days from the online submission by email.
1.7 When do I get a decision?
Decisions take around eight weeks. The sponsor will be emailed with the result of the application. (Priority services are now available for an additional fee of £500 but are limited to 10 slots per day.)
If successful the sponsor will be granted a licence valid for four years from the date of decision. This will usually be an A-rated licence. They will be granted access to the sponsor management system via login details for the nominated level 1 user. The organisation will then have the ability to sponsor skilled workers.
If an application is refused, there is no right of appeal against this decision and a six-month cooling off period will kick in preventing the sponsor from making another application during this time period.
Please note that applying for a sponsor licence can appear straight forward. If the licence is refused, you will be unable to apply again for 6 months.
If you want to get it right first time, please contact the immigration team to assist with your application.