Guide to Applying for a Sponsor Licence for Organisations and Businesses

Welcome to the Employers’ Guide to Applying for a Sponsor Licence. Are you a business looking to hire talented individuals from overseas? This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the necessary information and step-by-step instructions on how to obtain a sponsor licence. From understanding the requirements to completing the application process successfully, this guide will ensure that you have a clear understanding of the responsibilities and procedures involved.


Do I need a sponsor licence and how do I apply?

If you have an organisation that may require workers or students who aren’t British or Irish, you may well be looking at joining the growing number of bodies that have sponsor licences since freedom of movement with the EU ended.

We assist with all stages of applying, renewing and maintaining your sponsor licence, whether you are an employer sponsoring people coming to work or an educational institution sponsoring people to study in the UK.

This brief overview will focus on how to apply for a sponsor licence to sponsor employees. To fill vacancies with overseas nationals who are not settled workers or do not have permission to work in the UK in another capacity, you may well need to resort to sponsorship. We discuss all the options below.

To talk about sponsoring people from abroad, compliance or any UK immigration matters in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly team of immigration experts. Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law is highly ranked in all top legal guides for business immigration. “The firm stands out not just for its technical knowledge but also its thought leadership. Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law seems ahead of the curve,” says Chambers UK 2024. “We cannot fault its knowledge and ability to handle the most complex of cases, whilst providing a service that is second to none.” According to The Legal 500 which ranks Vanessa in its Hall of Fame for business immigration, “boutique immigration firm Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law fields a strong team of incredibly knowledgeable lawyers, well-equipped to handle work ranging from sponsor licence applications and processing issues to global talent visa procurement and support on takeovers, mergers, and downsizings. Founder and managing partner Vanessa Ganguin advises on all aspects of corporate and personal immigration, with particular strength in advising clients in the finance, fintech, engineering, media and entertainment, and sport sectors.”

What do I need to hire someone on a sponsored work visa?

1. Sponsor licence

In the vast majority of cases, potential employees who are not settled in the UK will need to be sponsored. To use a sponsored immigration route to hire foreign employees a UK entity must first apply for a sponsor licence. There are different types of sponsor licence depending on the nature and duration of the roles you are looking to sponsor.  The main route – and one of the few leading to permanent residence – is the Skilled Worker route although we will look at others below too.

2. Certificate of Sponsorship

If you are planning to hire non-UK employees they will generally need a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) assigned to their role to obtain most work visas, or to switch from a different visa they are already in the UK on. This is a reference number to certify that the hire matches the requirements of the particular visa route.

With some sponsored immigration routes, employers can apply for CoS’s at the same time as the sponsor licence application to save time. You should submit evidence of why you will need the amount of CoS’s you have requested.

Employers using the Skilled Worker route may apply for what is called undefined CoS as described above, in order to sponsor potential hires in the UK on other visas already. However to bring foreign employees to the UK on a Skilled Worker visa, employers must wait until the sponsor licence is granted and then apply for defined CoS. Applications for defined CoS must include the specific job and salary details, as well as details of how it qualifies for the various requirements of the Skilled Worker visa.

3. Visa application

In most cases, once they have been signed a CoS new employees will need to make a visa application which must be approved before they begin work in the UK.

The only exception currently is for a Temporary Work – Creative Worker visa (see below) where if someone is a non-visa national (ie: they are a nationality that doesn’t need a visitor visa to visit the UK, for example USA, EU, Australia) coming to the UK for under three months, they can come to work on a project as soon as the CoS is assigned.

Which work visas do I need a sponsor licence for?

In most cases employing non-UK workers employers requires a sponsor licence. This includes voluntary unpaid work – for instance for a charity.

We can advise and work with you on the most suitable work visa, as well as the requirements, responsibilities and procedures should you need to apply for a sponsor licence. You can contact us here for a free initial consultation on what is the most efficient way to bring a prospective hire to the UK.

Since Brexit more firms have had to join the ever-increasing register of licensed sponsors as they can no longer rely on free movement for hires from EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Below are the categories of work visas that have a sponsor licence requirement.

Skilled Worker visa

The Skilled Worker visa is an increasing necessity for employing skilled staff and it is now by far and away the most used work visa route.  Those eligible to apply for a visa via the Skilled Worker route must have a job offer from a sponsoring UK employer and meet both the English language and salary requirements of the route. There must be a genuine vacancy and the job has to be a role on the Home Office’s list of eligible occupational codes and going rates of pay, or on the Shortage Occupation list. A dependent partner and dependent children can join a Skilled Worker on their immigration path which is a route to settlement in the UK. (More on the Skilled Worker route’s popularity here.)

Health and Care Worker visa

The Health and Care Worker visa is a type of Skilled Worker visa and with recent shortages of staff in these sectors we are dealing with increasing sponsorship applications.

T2 Minister of Religion

The T2 Minister of Religion Visa  is a route for eligible religious organisations to sponsor people in a role within their faith community such as minister of religion, missionary, or member of a religious order.

There are various requirements, such as financial and English language competence and the visa can be a route to settlement after five years.

International Sportsperson

This new immigration route for elite sportspersons and qualified coaches involves sponsorship by an employer and endorsement by a relevant sporting organisation. There is also a financial requirement and, if coming for longer than 12 months, a basic level of English must be attained.

You can apply for an International Sportsperson visa if all of the following apply:

  • you’re an elite sportsperson or qualified coach, who’s recognised by your sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of your profession internationally
  • your sport’s governing body is endorsing your application
  • your employment will develop your sport in the UK at the highest level
  • you meet the other eligibility requirements

We advise sports figures and teams and provide expert help with applications at all stages, including advising on the suitability of this route and other alternatives too. Contact us here to find out more.

sports visa

Scale-up worker

The UK’s much hyped flexible new immigration route it set to open on 22 August 2022 (our latest guide is here.) To qualify as a Scale-up, a sponsor will need to show annualised growth in either turnover or staffing of at least 20% for the previous three-year period and that they had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the period.

This new route provides flexibility, for instance, unlike other sponsored work visa routes, a sponsoring employer need only confirm that an applicant is expected to work for them for at least the first six months of their visa.

Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker

This route replaced the Intra-Company Transfer route from 11 April 2022. It’s a sponsored work visa for Senior or Specialist Workers meeting specific business needs. Unlike the other work visas above, time spent on this immigration route does not count towards a non-UK worker’s route to settlement in the UK. (You can find out more about the Global Business Mobility visa here.)

Temporary Workers

Sponsor licences for Temporary Work visa categories are generally cheaper because sponsors pay the lower rate for a smaller company, unlike the visas above. The Temporary Work visas below do not count towards settlement but sponsorship is still a requirement.

  • Temporary Work – Charity Worker visa
  • Temporary Work – Creative Worker visa
  • Temporary Work – Government Authorised Exchange visa
  • Temporary Work – International Agreement visa
  • Temporary Work – Religious Worker visa
  • Temporary Work – Seasonal Worker visa
  • Global Business Mobility visa – Graduate Trainee
  • Global Business Mobility visa – UK Expansion Worker (this replaced the unsponsored Sole Representative provisions of the Representative of an Overseas Business route from April 2022)
  • Global Business Mobility visa – Service Supplier (previously part of the International Agreement category)
  • Global Business Mobility visa – Secondment Worker

Which work visas do not require a sponsor licence?

We have a wealth of experience in identifying the most effective immigration route for a wide variety of clients. Some work visas do not have sponsorship by an employer as a requirement, such as the ones below:

  • UK Ancestry visa
  • Global Talent visa
  • High Potential Individual visa
  • Graduate visa
  • Youth Mobility Scheme visa
  • Frontier Worker Permit
  • Service Providers from Switzerland visa
  •  Overseas Domestic Worker visa

There are other unsponsored immigration routes too – for instance family, Start-up and Innovator visas. However, most employees on work visas come to the UK on sponsored routes – mainly the Skilled Worker visa.

What are the requirements to apply for a sponsor licence?

To obtain a sponsor licence an employer cannot have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering. Employers must not have had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requires employers to have appropriate people in place to manage sponsorship as well as systems in place to monitor sponsored employees. They will review applications and supporting documents, and may even visit your premises to ensure sponsors are capable of exercising sponsorship duties.

A sponsoring employer has to be a UK entity trading in the UK. The only exception is in a sponsor licence for Expansion Workers. A company applying for an Expansion Worker sponsor licence will be looking to have an entity in the UK but will not have started trading yet. Instead it needs a UK footprint (UK premises or registration with Companies House) together with a history of overseas trading.

We can ensure that you are equipped to demonstrate that you have suitable human resource processes in place and provide the required supporting documents to be approved as a sponsor.

How long does it take to apply for a sponsor licence?

First of all, always give yourself adequate time to compile the documentation that you may need to demonstrate that you are a genuine company trading in the UK. UKVI requires specific evidence which can vary in some cases, but common examples include evidence of a corporate bank account, VAT and PAYE registration, premises and employers’ liability insurance.  You should also give yourself enough time to review and amend your HR processes, systems and policies to ensure they are compliant with UKVI expectations.  We can assist at all stages to make this process speedy and ensure that you are compliant.

Most applications are processed by UKVI within eight weeks. Though UKVI may need to visit your business.

If you are prepared to pay £500, there is a priority service where UKVI aim to process within ten working days after being accepted by the priority service. However, this is very oversubscribed so we can get your application on the priority service stream, but it may take a few attempts and we cannot guarantee this. (Acceptance on the priority service also does not guarantee the application will be successful.)

How long does a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) take?

As noted above, when making the licence application, you can request an allocation of CoS to be available when the licence is approved, enabling you to start sponsoring people straight away.  However, as also mentioned above, sponsoring applicants outside the UK under the Skilled Worker route requires a defined CoS allocated on a case-by-case basis – such defined CoS requests are usually processed within a day or two (though this can at times take longer).

How long does a UK work visa take to process?

Applying for a Work Visa from abroad is now taking an average of four weeks to process. This had been six weeks due to added pressure on UKVI services from the war in Ukraine, leading to the suspension of all overseas priority processing services for work visas. Their target is to get this down to three weeks again. Applications from prospective employees already in the UK can take up to eight weeks, although there are priority services available.

How long does a sponsor licence last?

Sponsors have to renew their sponsor licence every four years. We advise sponsors to contact us about three to four months before their licence is due to be renewed to make sure everything is in place for their sponsor licence renewal. You should receive automated reminders from UKVI so it is important, for this and other reasons, that you ensure the licence details remain up to date.

If you are moving staff to the UK to set up a UK presence, do bear in mind that while Expansion Worker sponsor licences last four years, you have up to two years to set up a UK entity at which point your allocation of CoS to sponsor new staff will be set to zero. While staff already in the UK will still be able to stay until their visas expire, the Expansion Worker sponsor licence is meant to be a temporary route for setting up a UK branch and switching to more permanent immigration arrangements for your staff (such as the Skilled Worker route).

Sponsor compliance – what happens if I lose my sponsor licence?

UKVI may revoke, suspend or downgrade your sponsor licence if you fail to comply with sponsor duties. This could come about as a result of an inspection associated with an initial sponsor licence, an application to renew or, indeed at any point while you hold a licence to hire non-UK nationals. The Home Office department is becoming increasingly vigilant in its enforcement practices so it is worth keeping on top of your sponsor management and right to work practices.

Since pandemic measures have eased, there has been a marked increase in compliance visits by UKVI officers, as well as penalties and sanctions of employers.

As a sponsor you must keep on top of a host of compliance requirements to avoid enforcement action from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), civil penalties, reputational damage or costly illegal working sanctions.

Such sanctions can have serious implications for sponsors as well as sponsored staff who may find their leave to stay in the UK curtailed unless they can switch to a different sponsor or type of visa. They may also consider whether they have a case in employment law against an employer in such cases.
None of these are ideal situations to be in, but we can help employers negotiate all the above sanctions with the least disruption to business and employees.

Whether preparing an initial sponsor licence application, renewing a licence or auditing right to work procedures, we can align your processes with UKVI requirements, help HR departments with training and check your sponsor licence compliance. For the most common compliance issues sponsors face and how to deal with them click here.

Find out how we can help: call 0207 033 9527 or email

We advise on all types of sponsor licence applications and can help you choose the best option for your firm and candidates of choice. The friendly experts at Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law are highly regarded in all the major legal guides for their hand-holding boutique service helping firms through all stages of sponsoring the staff they need as efficiently as possible. The Times Best Law Firms features the firm, for instance, and says: “clients include global corporations looking for a British footprint, sponsorship advice or insights about transferring staff to the UK. The firm has established contacts among Home Office policymakers.” We are very experienced in identifying the speediest and most affordable routes and avoiding common immigration pitfalls. We are always happy to discuss reviewing processes and policies and working with you to ensure you are compliant for sponsoring migrants.

“Vanessa’s team puts everything into plain English so we don’t have to be concerned about the terminology and understand immediately the intent and context behind each question we are asked to provide information on. We feel like they are very focused on us as a client and we are not having to fight with other clients for time and attention.”

Legal 500 testimonial

“Vanessa is dynamic and wonderful to work with. She was incredibly thorough and supportive when we renewed our licence, handling some new and complex areas for us and she has helped us with our sponsorships ever since.”

Head of Talent, healthcare marketing consultancy, London

“We have had fantastic support from Vanessa and her team with our Tier 2 sponsorship work. A very safe pair of hands.”

HR Manager, tech company, Cambridge

“We have worked with Vanessa for more than four years during which she has assisted our clients with sponsor licence and Tier 2 work. Vanessa and her team deliver nothing but excellent service with efficiency and a personal touch.”

Boutique employment law firm, central London

“Vanessa Ganguin has a very specialised UK immigration practice, and is exceptionally knowledgeable in this field… Vanessa Ganguin and her team provide a boutique style legal service which is flexible to fit any size of organisation.”

Legal 500

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