UK Visa Sponsorship Guide for Employers

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 15th December 2023

Are you looking at sponsoring an employee to help them gain a UK work visa? Or have you wondered about how you might go about that in the future if the need arises? If so, you've come to the right place.


In this article, we will look at how, as an employer, you can get a sponsor licence, the requirements you need to meet to be accepted, why it is required and lots more.

We cover: 

  • The various types of sponsor licence

  • When employers must get a licence for an employee from overseas

  • When sponsor rules don’t apply

  • Who’s responsible for managing the process

  • Responsibilities of a sponsor

What is a sponsor licence?

An immigration sponsor licence allows employers to employ someone from outside of the UK. Since Brexit, under employment law, this includes people from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, that arrived in the UK after the deadline of 31st December 2020.

Unpaid and voluntary work, like working for a charity is also included within this.

It’s worth noting that sponsoring someone does not guaranteed that they will be granted a UK work visa.

Different types of licences

As an employer looking to employ someone from outside the UK, it’s essential that you understand the different types of sponsor licence to ensure you apply for the most suitable one. By understanding which licence you should be applying for, you can submit your application and supporting documentation correctly. 

Let's have a look at some of the different types of sponsor licence and work out which one is right for you:

Worker sponsor licence

The intention of a worker sponsor licence is to allow a business to employ skilled workers and long-term workers from overseas.

This licence is broken down into the following classifications:

  • Skilled worker visa – this gives skilled workers an option to work in the UK

  • Senior or specialist worker visa (Global Business Mobility) – this allows global companies to transfer workers from another business location to the UK

  • Minister of religion – as you might imagine, this visa gives religious organisations the opportunity to employ people from abroad to work for them

  • International sportsmen – this route is how your favourite sports star can work in UK, it also applies to elite coaches

Temporary Worker licence

As mentioned, the worker sponsor licence applies to skilled workers and those looking to work in the UK long-term. A temporary licence on the other hand is intended to give employers the right to employ workers from outside the UK on a short-term basis.

This licence is also divided into different categories:

  • Scale up worker – referring to fast growing businesses like startups, this form of visa is for businesses accelerating at pace

  • UK expansion worker (Global Business Mobility) – this route is for overseas business expansion into the UK, including new branches and subsidiaries

  • Government authorised exchange – for those coming to the UK for work experience

  • Graduate trainee (Global Business Mobility) – for employees on a graduate training scheme transferring to their businesses’ UK branch

When do you need a sponsor licence to employ someone from outside the UK?

Employers generally need a sponsor licence to employ someone from outside the UK if they are planning to hire workers through the Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visa routes.

If an employer intends to hire a skilled worker under the Tier 2 (General) category, they must hold a sponsor licence. This category is typically used for long-term skilled employment.

If an employer wants to transfer an employee from an overseas branch to work in the UK, they need a sponsor licence under the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) category. This category is specific to multinational companies with a presence in the UK.

When hiring a new employee from outside the UK, the employer must have a sponsor licence in place before they can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). The CoS is a virtual document containing information about the job and the sponsored worker.

Employers with a sponsor licence have certain responsibilities, including compliance with immigration rules, record-keeping, and reporting duties to the Home Office. They are also required to undertake the Resident Labour Market Test in certain cases to demonstrate that the job could not be filled by a settled worker in the UK.

When don’t you need a sponsor licence?

There are certain groups who don’t need a sponsor licence:

Eligibility criteria for sponsor licence

There are a few overarching eligibility criteria you must fulfil as an employer if you want to get a licence to sponsor employees from overseas. 

Some restrictions include:

Business suitability

Businesses must follow these criteria to be eligible for a work sponsor licence:

UK Visas and immigration review application forms and any supporting documents; they may also carry out an inspection at your business to ensure you have the right processes in place to manage sponsored employees.

Job suitability

You can sponsor an employee for a job in the UK if:

  • The job complies with the minimum wage and working time restrictions – your application could be refused, and you could permanently lose your sponsor licence if these conditions don’t apply to your job

  • The job meets all other criteria 

You can learn more about complying with minimum wage and working time restrictions in section S4 of the guidance for sponsoring a worker.

The following is taken from the page UK visa sponsorship for employers. 

For more support about job suitability, provides further guidance and information for the following cases:

Who is responsible for managing the sponsorship process?

As an employer, you are responsible for managing the sponsorship process. To start the sponsorship process, you must submit a sponsor licence application to the Home Office. The application involves providing information about your organisation, its operations, and its ability to comply with immigration rules.

Responsibilities of UK visa sponsor

Your responsibilities as a sponsor are wide and varied. You must: 

  • Check workers from overseas have the necessary skills, education and qualifications to do their jobs, with documentation to prove this

  • Only sponsor jobs that qualify for sponsorship

  • Inform UK Visas and Immigration if sponsors aren’t complying the conditions of their visa

  • Follow employment law for all sponsor roles

  • Monitor workers immigrations status

  • Keep relevant documents for each worker and evidence of carrying out right to work checks

  • Track sponsored workers attendance

  • Keep worker contracts up to date

  • Let UKVI know if your employee stops reporting for work

Learn more about the full responsibilities of sponsors and determine whether workers have the right to work in the UK.

Licence ratings

Approved applications have an A-rated licence. An A-rated licence means you have the ability to assign certificates of sponsorship.

To mark this, your business will be listed in the register of sponsors.

B ratings 

If you fail to keep up with your responsibilities as a sponsor, you may be downgraded to a B-rating. This will put a pause on your ability to issue sponsorships. You can get this permission back once you’ve made improvements to your processes and boosted your rating back to A.

However, for those you already employ you’ll still be able to offer new certificates to extend their permission to stay in the UK.

UK expansion workers

You’ll get a provisional rating when your authorising officer is based overseas. You can sponsor one person, and this has to be assigned to the authorising officer to allow them to enter the UK.

When your sponsor gets their visa, you can upgrade to an A-rating and request the ability to issue more sponsorship certificates using a Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

Certificates of sponsorship

A certificate of sponsorship is the official record for an overseas worker. You must have one for every worker that you’ve sponsored from outside the UK

It’s an electronic record with a unique reference number that a worker uses to apply for a visa.

The worker must:

  • Apply for a visa within 3 months of being certificated

  • Not apply 3 months before the start date of the job listed on the certificate

As an employer, you need to check whether the worker needs an Academic Technology Scheme (ATAS) certificate

There are two different types of certificate. You also need to consider whether the person from overseas that you’re looking to employ is currently living in the UK or is based abroad. This will help you determine whether you need a defined certificate of sponsorship or an undefined certificate.

Defined certificate of sponsorship – this is for someone applying for sponsorship from outside the UK. Employers need to apply for this type of sponsorship from an SMS. You can access the SMS when your sponsorship licence is granted.

Undefined certificate of sponsorship – this certification is for people applying for sponsorship from the UK. During the sponsorship application licence you will be asked to estimate how many undefined certificates you’ll need for workers and temporary workers in your first year of sponsorship.

Applications for certifications usually take one working day to be approved. It can take longer when UKVI need to carry out further checks to the information submitted within your application.

How much do certificates of sponsorship cost?

You need to pay a processing fee when assigning a certificate to a worker. The cost depends on the type of licence you have.

Here is an example of the associated costs involved:

  • Worker (excl. sportspeople) - £239

  • Temporary worker - £25

  • International sportsperson (issued for more than 12 months) - £239

  • International sportsperson (issued for less than 12 months) - £25

Immigration skills charge

Extra costs can apply when you assign a certificate to a worker on a Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker visa. This is known as the Immigration Skills Charge.

You’ll have to pay if your sponsor is applying for a visa from:

  • Outside the UK to work in the UK for 6 months or more

  • Inside the UK for any length of time

You won’t need to pay if they have a a qualifying job code.

Free case assessment

For help and advice on UK visa sponsorship and immigration law, get a free case assessment from our expert team along with a no-obligation quote for the help and guidance of our expert UK-based solicitors.

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