How to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence
A record number of UK organisations now have sponsor licences, especially Skilled Worker licences – up by over 56% just in the past year.
Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law specialises in all aspects of commercial immigration including helping firms navigate sponsor licences and the UK’s points-based immigration system with minimum fuss.
Below you can find answers to many of your questions on the UK’s most used work immigration route – the Skilled Worker visa and what firms need in place to be able to sponsor the talent they need. If you think you could benefit from a Skilled Worker sponsor licence or have any questions about compliance, please feel free to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free initial consultation.
Our friendly experts are highly regarded in major legal guides such as Best Lawyers for helping firms through all stages of sponsoring the staff they need as efficiently as possible.
The firm is ranked highly in The Legal 500 which says: “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. Senior Counsel Philip Trott brings a wealth of experience acting for clients including entrepreneurs, start-ups, and charities.”
The Times Best Law Firms 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.”
Why apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence
To fill vacancies in a range of specified skilled categories with non-British or Irish workers, employers can apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence awarded by UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI).
A Skilled Worker sponsor licence allows a company to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) for eligible prospective employees to apply for Skilled Worker visas to fill roles. Employees sponsored as Skilled Workers may then be able to apply to stay permanently in the UK after a qualifying period working in the UK on this visa if further requirements are met. Their dependant family members can join them too.
Who can be sponsored on a Skilled Worker visa?
Overseas nationals who are not settled workers or do not have permission to work in the UK in another capacity may be sponsored on the Skilled Worker route if they meet requirements. Irish citizens, people who have been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme and those with indefinite or some types of limited leave to enter or remain in the UK are already able to work in the UK and do not require sponsorship.
Applications for Skilled Worker visas can be made from abroad or from within the UK (depending on the permission someone has to be in the UK.)
What job roles are eligible to be filled with Skilled Workers?
Only vacancies for job roles on this table of eligible jobs can be filled by applicants on a Skilled Worker visa. They will usually need to be paid at least £26,200 per year or £10.75 per hour, whichever is higher. If the “going rate” of pay according to UKVI for the role is higher than both of these, the going rate will need to be met too. There are different salary rules for healthcare or education jobs, where the salary must be at least £20,960, or the job’s going rate – whichever is higher.
Where the role is a recognised shortage occupation, or where the applicant has a relevant PhD or is considered a “new entrant” to the labour market, these may also qualify for lower salary thresholds.
What are the requirements to be sponsored as a Skilled Worker?
To be sponsored as a Skilled Worker and obtain a Skilled Worker visa, an individual must meet a series of requirements. This includes:
- Being aged at least 18 on the date of application
- What is termed the “points requirement” of the Skilled Worker visa: having a valid Certificate of Sponsorship from their employer for a role at the appropriate skill level and salary, with the applicant having English language skills at level B1 or higher in speaking, listening, reading, writing.
- A genuineness requirement (meaning they would be filling a genuine role in the organisation)
- A financial requirement (they have enough funds to support themselves and any family members in the UK)
- If they are studying in the UK on a sponsored study visa, their planned work start date should be after they have completed their course of studies (or at least 24 months into a course of full-time study leading to a PhD)
- A criminal record certificate requirement for certain jobs
- If in the UK, they should be on a visa which permits switching to this route.
- If applying from certain countries, they should be free from infectious TB.
This is not the full list of requirements, more details can be found here.
Who is eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence?
To be eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, you must be a genuine employer with a lawful trading presence in the UK and would have to submit specific evidence of this. You also need to be able to offer skilled work at the appropriate skill level and rates of pay for genuine vacancies that are not carrying out an ongoing or routine role for a third party.
What are the requirements for obtaining a Skilled Worker sponsor licence?
Obtaining a Skilled Worker sponsor licence requires the sponsor to have people within the UK business to manage the sponsorship process when applying for the licence. The roles needed are what is called an “authorising officer”, “key contact” and “level 1 user”.
- The authorising officer should be a “senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives” who use UKVI’s sponsorship management system (‘SMS’).
- The key contact would be the main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration.
- The level 1 user would be responsible for general management of the licence using the SMS.
These roles can be filled by the same or different people. However, you and your staff would be subject to suitability checks to ensure that you are suitable for these roles. Nominated staff must usually be paid members of staff or office holders, such as directors or partners, and based in the UK.
Becoming a sponsor licence holder means taking on a significant number of compliance responsibilities on behalf of UKVI, including record keeping, monitoring and reporting duties. If UKVI does not believe that you are able to meet these responsibilities, they will not approve a sponsor licence application. UKVI may conduct a compliance review before deciding the licence application or at any time during the lifetime of the licence, potentially taking punitive action including suspension, downgrading or revocation if they believe you are not meeting your compliance duties.
How do I submit a Skilled Worker sponsor licence application?
In order to show that you are a genuine, UK-based company, you are required to provide specific documents as evidence. It is a good idea to prepare all necessary documents before applying the for licence, as some documents may take a long time to find. The application also requires the nominees for the roles mentioned above (authorising officer, key contact and level 1 user) to be filled.
It is also a good idea to ensure that you are fully prepared for the full range of compliance duties that being a sponsor entails, as UKVI may conduct an inspection before deciding the application and does not always give advance notice.
Once the documents are prepared and you are ready for your compliance responsibilities, it is possible to fill in the online application.
Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law offers a tailor-made service to help organisations of all sizes and sectors to ensure that they have everything in place to be granted a sponsor licence. We can also advice on compliance, carry out audits and assist if you are facing compliance visits or other sanctions from UKVI.
Please contact us as soon as possible if you need assistance with any of this.
What are the Home Office fees for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence application?
The Home Office fees for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence application for small or charitable sponsors cost £536 and £1476 for medium or large sponsors. You are usually a small sponsor if at least two apply from:
- your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less
- your total assets are worth £5.1 million or less
- you have 50 employees or fewer
You may automatically count as a medium or large sponsor regardless of actual size if you, or part of your corporate group, meets certain requirements or operate in a certain business sector.
How long does it take to obtain a UK Skilled Worker sponsor licence?
Most applications have a decision made in less than eight weeks, though there may be delays if UKVI decides to conduct an inspection (in person or remotely) to review your HR compliance and record-keeping/reporting processes.
You should allow plenty of time to first prepare evidence and documentation and then to fill out the application.
Can I fast track a Skilled Worker sponsor licence application?
It is possible to pay an extra £500 to obtain a decision within ten working days, but this service is subject to a small daily limit and is oversubscribed so while we have a good record of obtaining fast track applications for clients, it may take more than one attempt and we cannot guarantee availability.
Can I reapply if my Sponsor Licence application is rejected?
It is possible to request a review of an application where you believe a mistake has been made refusing a sponsor licence, or if supporting documents were not considered.
If your sponsor licence application is rejected because your supporting documents did not meet UKVI requirements, you should be able to re-apply with the required evidence.
However, if your application is refused (for example, because UKVI did not believe you could meet your compliance obligations) you must wait six months before reapplying. You will not be able to appeal the decision of the application simply because you disagree with the decision.
What are the responsibilities of a Skilled Worker sponsor licence holder?
The Home Office places great stress on the responsibility of Skilled Worker sponsor licence holders. In addition to general record keeping, monitoring and reporting duties around sponsored employees, sponsors must “play their part in ensuring the immigration system is not abused”, “comply with wider UK law” and “not behave in a manner that is not conducive to the public good”.
What are the consequences of non-compliance with UK Skilled Worker sponsor licence responsibilities?
UKVI will refuse a licence application if they are not satisfied you can fulfil your obligations. If you already have a licence, consequences of non-compliance can range anywhere from temporary suspension to the downgrading of an organisation’s Skilled Worker sponsor licence, or even revoking the licence entirely (along with any currently sponsored visas), leading to a 12-month cooling period which prevents reapplications.
Any firms found to have been employing workers who did not have the right to work in the UK could be liable for civil penalties of up to £20,000 per illegal worker. The fine for repeated breaches is set to increase from £20,000 to up to £60,000 in 2024. Employers found to be illegally employing people also face potential revocation of their sponsor licence and not being able to re-apply for up to five years if issued with more than one civil penalty.
Knowingly employing an illegal worker (or having reasonable cause to believe they did not have the right to work) may result in criminal prosecution and up to five years of prison and / or an unlimited fine.
How long does a Skilled Worker sponsor licence last?
The sponsor licence is valid for four years and during this time you can sponsor any number of Skilled Workers. You do this by assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship, which the individual can use to support their visa application.
You can sponsor Skilled Workers for up to five years at a time and during this time the visa holder will only be permitted to work for you (or in limited supplementary work), unless they make an application to change employers or visas. They may be able to apply to settle permanently after five years in the UK on this visa category.
Sponsoring Health and Care Workers
Companies with a Skilled Worker sponsor licence are also eligible to sponsor Health and Care workers who fall under certain occupation codes. The Health and Care work visa is a subcategory of the Skilled Worker visa, enabling qualified doctors, nurses, carers and other professionals to work in eligible health and social care occupations. Workers and their dependants in the UK under this category are not subject to the Immigration Health Surcharge and pay reduced application fees.
What are the other types of UK sponsor licences?
There are other types of sponsor licence that may be more suitable for you depending on the nature of the employment role and person employed. Our clients often register more than one type of sponsor licence allowing them to access the full array of talent they need to staff their business.
The Home Office divides sponsor licences into Temporary Worker sponsor licences and Worker sponsor licences for more long-term roles for employees who will in some cases be able to later make settlement applications or switching into routes to settlement, all of which we can advise on too.
Worker sponsor licences
This is an immigration route for elite sportspersons or qualified coaches recognised by their sport’s governing body. After five years sponsored on this visa they can settle in the UK along with their dependants.
Minister of Religion
A Minister of Religion sponsor licence allows places of worship and faith groups to sponsor those satisfying the eligibility requirements on this five-year route to settlement in the UK.
Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
This sponsor licence allows multinational companies to transfer established employees an annual salary of at least £45,800 to work temporarily in the UK. Visas can be extended up to five years in any six-year period for those paid less than £73,900 a year and up to nine years in any ten-year period for those paid £73,900 a year or more. This is not a route to settlement. To be eligible for settlement, Senior or Specialist Workers would need to switch to a different visa such as the Skilled Worker that allows applications for indefinite leave to remain for those eligible.
Temporary Worker sponsor licences
Scale Up Worker
The Scale Up sponsor licence was introduced in August 2022 as a fast-track sponsor licence for UK firms that qualify as Scale Ups to access the international talent they need to keep growing. Though the Home Office classes this as a Temporary Worker sponsor licence, Scale Up workers that meet the criteria can apply for settlement after five years.
You can sponsor entertainers, performers, creative artists, fashion models to work and perform in the UK for up to 12 months. They may be able to bring their crew or entourage. In addition to the standard sponsor licence application, you should demonstrate that you are operating or intend to operate in the creative sector, eg: an arts body, producer or event organiser.
Creative Workers who continue to work for the same sponsor after the initial 12-month period have the option to extend their visa until granted a maximum of 24 months in total.
This allows recognised charitable institutions to sponsor unpaid voluntary workers over 18 for up to a year.
Faith organisations sponsoring staff other than the Minister of Religion they can sponsor on the more long-term sponsor licence (above), can apply for this Temporary Worker licence to sponsor staff for up to two years.
This allows sponsors to bring seasonal staff to work in horticulture for up to six months or poultry production from 18 October to 31 December each year. In 2023 the quota for workers in these sectors has been 45,000 and 2,000 respectively but quotas are subject to change by the Home Office.
Graduate Trainee (Global Business Mobility)
This allows international employers to transfer staff on a minimum salary of up to £24,220 to their UK branch on a graduate training programme. Graduate Trainees cannot extend this visa past the maximum period of 12 months, but they can apply for another Graduate Trainee visa from outside the UK.
Secondment Worker (Global Business Mobility)
UK companies with an eligible “high value” investment or contract with an overseas firm worth at least £10 million per year and at least £50 million overall can use this licence to have workers come to the UK to temporarily undertake assignments connected to the contract.
Service Supplier (Global Business Mobility)
This allows UK businesses with contracts with overseas bodies which are covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements to sponsor the overseas contractor’s workers to provide services for up to six or 12 months depending on the type of trade agreement they are providing services under.
UK Expansion Worker (Global Business Mobility)
Established overseas firms not yet trading in the UK can use a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence to send staff to establish a British branch or wholly-owned subsidiary. Visas can only be granted for one year at a time, for a maximum of two years in total, after which sponsors will be expected to have established a UK presence and be able to use another sponsor licence, such as the Skilled Worker licence to sponsor staff.
Government Authorised Exchange
Licensed sponsors can sponsor people to commented to the UK under a government-approved exchange scheme for work experience (one year) or for research projects or training, for example practical medical or scientific training (two years). The licence is generally held by government-approved scheme operators, to which employers/individuals can apply directly for sponsorship.
This is for sponsoring those contracted to do work covered by international law or treaty in the UK. This includes temporarily working for overseas governments, a recognised international organisation, or as a private servant in a diplomatic household.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss how we can help you sponsor the staff you need to grow your business please contact our friendly UK immigration experts on 0207 033 9527 or email@example.com.
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