Any UK business or UK branch of a multinational entity wanting to employ non-European workers in the UK must be registered with the Home Office (the UK governmental body in charge of immigration) to obtain a sponsor licence.

To apply for a sponsor licence, a UK business must:

  • Not have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes (for example, fraud or money laundering).
  • Have appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored non-European workers.
  • Choose the type of licence it wants to apply for. This will depend on whether the positions the business wants to fill are:
    • Tier 2 – skilled workers with long term job offers. There are four sub categories of Tier 2 visas: General, Intra -Company Transfer, Ministers of Religion and Sportsperson.
    • Tier 5 – skilled temporary workers. There are five different sub-categories of Tier 5 visas: Creative and Sporting, Charity Worker, Religious Worker, Government Authorised Exchange and International Agreement.
  • Decide who it will need to appoint within its business to manage its sponsor licence duties (all nominated individuals will need to be checked to make sure they are suitable for these roles). The roles are:
    • Authorising Officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the Sponsor Management System (“SMS” for short).
    • Key Contact – a businesses main point of contact with the Home Office.
    • Level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of the business’ immigration licence using the SMS.
  • Submit the online application to the Home Office with the correct documentation to prove it is a genuine business.


What obligations does a sponsor licence impose on a UK business?
The Home Office may carry out a risk assessment of a business applying for a sponsor licence and conduct an on-site visit (‘audit’) before being issued with a sponsor licence.

If the application is approved, employers will be given an ‘A rating’ licence valid for 4 years. An A-rating licence will allow an employer to be given access to the SMS which is used for issuing work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship, or “COS” for short) to non-European nationals who qualify for sponsorship under Tier 2 and Tier 5. The certificate of sponsorship is an electronic record, not a physical document and each certificate has its own number which a sponsored non-European worker must use to apply for their work visa.

All employers (not just licensed sponsors) must make sure that their employees are entitled to work for them. However, employers with a sponsor licence have additional duties that they need to comply with in order to retain and renew their licence. In particular, sponsoring employers must:

  • Lawfully assign and issue a work permit (‘certificate of sponsorship’) to sponsored non-European workers.
  • Ensure that all mandatory documents relating to any sponsored non-European workers, their work permits and their recruitment are copied and held on file.
  • Inform the UK immigration authorities of any changes of circumstances relating to both the business and any sponsored non-European workers.

Failure to comply with these sponsor duties may lead to an employer’s A-rated licence being downgraded to a B-rating, or otherwise revoked. If downgraded to a B-rated licence, an employer will be prohibited from issuing any new work permits until it has followed an action plan provided by the Home Office and made improvements to upgrade the licence to an A-rating.


How we can assist
Our immigration lawyers assist businesses to navigate through the relevant legal obligations for proposed sponsors. We offer a personalised and responsive service and assist with the entire sponsor licence process: from preparing and submitting the application to assisting with any Home Office audits that are conducted. Once a business is licensed, we can assist with internal immigration audits, advising on applying for and issuing work permits, managing ongoing sponsorship duties and providing ongoing Sponsor Management System support.