From 1 January 2021 if you want to hire someone to work from you in the UK who is from outside the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, then you may need a UK visa sponsor licence.

This is because the UK is introducing a new points-based immigration system, which will replace current rules. The fees, salary threshold and skills requirements are also changing.

See our guide to hiring staff from outside the UK  or read the full gov guidance here.

Check whether your business is eligible

In order to qualify for a UK visa sponsor licence, you must not have:

  • Any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or other crimes like fraud / money laundering.
  • Any history of failing to carry out previous sponsorship duties.

The guidance suggests you will need systems in place to monitor sponsored employees. These include:

  • checking that foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditations to do their jobs, and keep copies of documents showing this
  • only assigning certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship
  • informing UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa.

Choose the type of licence you want apply for

There are two types of licence, and these depend on your job requirement. You can apply for a licence which covers either, or both.

  • Tier 2 – skilled workers with long-term job offers.
  • Tier 5 – temporary skilled workers

Tier 2

These are workers that you would employ long-term or permanently and is split into:

  • General – the role must need the job suitability requirements
  • Intra-company transfer – for multinational companies needing to transfer employees to the UK
  • Minister of Religion – for those coming to work for a religious organisation (for up to 3 years)
  • Sportsperson – elite sportspeople and coaches based in the UK.

Tier 5

These are workers you want to employ only on a temporary basis.

  • Creative and sporting – to work as a sportsperson (up to 1 year) or artist (up to 2 years).
  • Charity worker – for unpaid workers (up to 1 year)
  • Religious worker – preaching, pastoral or non-pastoral work (2 years)
  • Government Authorised Exchange – work experience of 1 year, research projects or training, for example practical medical or scientific training (2 years) to enable a short-term exchange of knowledge.
  • International agreement – where the worker is coming to do a job covered by international law.

 Sponsorship roles within your business

You need to appoint staff within your organisation to manage the process of applying for a licence. They will have to use the government sponsorship management system. The same person can be responsible for all three roles, or they can be allocated out to different people. The staff may be required to undergo suitability checks to ensure they are suitable to carry out these roles.

The gov requires the following roles to be allocated:

  • Authorising officer – this should be a senior person who is responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS system.
  • Key contact – who is the main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
  • Level 1 user – who is responsible for all day to day management of the licence using SMS.

You can outsource these roles to consultants like us, but you must have at least one level 1 user who is an employee.

Applying for your UK visa sponsor licence 

You apply online here and will need to send the full supporting documents – which you can find here. It should take between 8 – 10 weeks for a decision although you can pay to fast-track your application.

The current fees to apply are:

Type of licence Fee for small or charitable sponsors Fee for medium or large sponsors
Tier 2 £536 £1,476
Tier 5 £536 £536
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

*small business is classed as having an annual turnover of £10.2million or less and or 50 employees or fewer.

One approved you will receive an A-rated licence, which is a full sponsor licence. Your business will also be listed on the register of sponsors. However, if you fail to meet your sponsor duties your licence could be downgraded to a B.

Assign certificates of sponsorship

Each foreign worker you employee must receive a certificate of sponsorship. This is an electronic record with its own number which the worker uses to apply for a visa. They must be used within 3 months of being issued.

When you apply for your licence you will be asked how many Tier 2 and 5 certificates you need (this can be an estimate). These will be classed as unrestricted so that you can get as many as you need. However, you will be required to provide evidence for how many you need.

Restricted certificates are for Tier 2 workers who are currently abroad and will be paid less than £159,600 a year and are not in an inward investment post. They are also for family members of Tier 4 migrants who are switching to Tier 2 visas.

Immigration skills charge

Additional charges can include paying for each foreign worker you employ. This means you must pay if you’re applying for a visa to work in the UK for 6 months or more under either Tier 2 (general) or Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer).

You won’t need to pay the skills charge if the worker has a Tier 4 (student) visa and is switching to a Tier 2 (general) visa. Has a Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) graduate trainee visa or will do a job with a PhD level standard occupational classification code.

Costs are calculated by the SMS based on the size of your business and how long the worker will work for you.

Period Small or charitable sponsors Medium or large sponsors
First 12 months £364 £1,000
Each additional 6 months £182 £500

Roles, job suitability and advertising

In order to sponsor a worker, the job must have a suitable rate of pay and skill level. See the full codes of practice.  Some creative jobs such as dancers have separate rates of pay and skills levels.

If the role is not on the shortage occupation list then you may need to advertise it. You are required to advertise any job you offer which fall into the following categories:

  • Tier 2 (General)
  • Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) or Tier 5 (Religious Workers) unless it’s a non-essential position or involves living within a religious order (such as a monk or nun)
  • Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) in the creative and entertainment sector, unless you can explain why the job cannot be done by a settled worker

You must place at least 2 adverts. Follow the rules in the ‘How to carry out the resident labour market test’ section of the guidance for sponsors.

The adverts make sure that there are no suitable workers already living permanently in the UK. It must be a genuine vacancy.

The job must also be advertised in the UK for at least 28 days (continuously or in two stages).

Your responsibilities as an employer

You will be required to monitor employees, which means that you must have HR systems in place to:

  • Monitor employees’ immigration status
  • Keep copies of relevant documents for each employee, including passport and right to work information
  • Track and record employee’s attendance
  • Keep employee contact details up to date
  • Report to UKVI if there is a problem, for example if your employee stops coming to work.

You are also required to report any significant changes to your own circumstances within 20 working days. These include:

  • Stopping trading or becoming insolvent
  • The nature of the business changing substantially
  • Involved in a merger or take over

You must also tell UKVI if you’re changing your details, like your address or allocated roles. You will need to use the SMS system to inform of these changes.

Sponsoring under-18s

If you’re sponsoring anyone under the age of 18 you need to make sure they have suitable care arrangements for their:

  • travel to the UK
  • arrival in the UK
  • living arrangements in the UK

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. If you fail to do this, you could lose your licence.

For further details visit the full gov guidance.