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What is A-rated Sponsor Licence in the UK?

What is A-rated Sponsor Licence in the UK?

An A-rated sponsor licence means that as far as UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are concerned, you are meeting your duties and obligations as a licenced sponsor. By default, new sponsors are issued with an ‘A’ rating and added to the list of Home Office registered sponsors1. Most importantly, as an A-rated sponsor, you are free to issue Certificates of Sponsorship, allowing foreign nationals to apply for a work visa (e.g. Skilled Worker visa). Once they have secured a work visa, they can come to the UK and start working for your organisation.

However, under the UK’s sponsor licence system, sponsor licences can also be given a ‘B’ rating. If UKVI has evidence that your business is not meeting its sponsor duties and obligations, it may decide to downgrade you from an A-rated sponsor to a B-rated sponsor. If you are downgraded to a ‘B’ rating, you will not be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship until you have made improvements to your sponsorship management processes.

How to get an A-rated sponsor licence

You will be given an A-rated sponsorship licence when you first apply if you have the necessary HR systems in place to effectively manage your sponsored employees. This means that you will need to demonstrate to UKVI that you can effectively:

  • Meet your reporting duties
  • Record-keeping duties
  • Comply with the UK’s immigration law

Meeting your reporting duties

As a licenced sponsor, you are required to report certain events to UKVI within a set deadline. For example, if a sponsored worker does not start working with you as planned or if they have a long absence from work without permission, you must let UKVI know within 10 days. Likewise, if you make changes to your organisation (e.g. you change the name of your business), you have a duty to report such an event to UKVI within 20 days.

Record-keeping duties

As a licenced sponsor, you must keep certain records regarding your sponsored workers, and these must be available for inspection in the event of a UKVI compliance visit. Some of the records you need to keep include a copy of each worker’s passport/visa, details of the recruitment process, the salary of sponsored workers, qualifications, professional accreditations, contact details, absences, and details of any UK right-to-work checks you have carried out.

Comply with the UK’s immigration law

A key part of your sponsorship duties is ensuring that you adhere to the UK’s immigration and wider laws (e.g. health and safety law and workplace legislation). This means that you must only sponsor suitably qualified foreign nationals with the necessary experience to fill genuine eligible vacancies. It is essential that you have a robust reminder system in place to check the employment rights of your workers (i.e. that they do not continue working for you once their work visa expires).

Once you have your sponsor licence, it is important to be ready for a compliance visit from a UKVI compliance officer at all times. These visits may be announced or unannounced. Sponsor licence compliance visits are designed to check whether your business is continuing to meet its sponsorship duties and obligations. Where there are concerns regarding the compliance of your business, your licence may be downgraded to a B-rating.

What can downgrade your business to B-rating?

Your sponsor licence may be downgraded from an A-rating to a B-rating if UKVI has evidence that you are not meeting your duties as a sponsor.

A sponsor licence is normally only downgraded for minor breaches of sponsor duties. In some cases, UKVI may decide to immediately revoke your licence before downgrading to a B-rating. Your licence may be downgraded to a B-rating if you:

  • Fail to keep the required records
  • Fail to inform UKVI of important events relating to your sponsored workers or business
  • Fail to monitor the compliance of your sponsored workers
  • Do not have HR systems/processes in place to meet your sponsor duties
  • Are issued with two or more civil penalties
  • Employ a worker who does not have the necessary permission
  • Do not comply with requests during a compliance visit
  • Provided false information on your application for a sponsor licence
  • Keep up-to-date information on your ‘key personnel’
  • Pay sponsored workers in cash

Being downgraded to a B-rating means that you will not be able to issue new Certificates of Sponsorship until your A-rating has been restored. You will still, however, be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship to existing sponsored workers if they renew their work visas.

How to regain an A-rated sponsor licence

In most cases, to regain your A-rating, you will need to fix any problems that have been identified by UKVI. UKVI will provide an ‘action plan’ which outlines all of the changes that must be made. Before you receive your UKVI action plan, you will need to pay a fee of £1,476 within 10 days of the decision to downgrade your licence. For example, your action plan may require you to put in place a proper system to keep up-to-date contact details of your workers or a system for managing workplace absences. You will have 3-months from when the action plan is issued to resolve any matters, at which point another compliance visit will be carried out.

As UKVI states, they may revoke a sponsor licence altogether if all of the steps on the action plan are not completed satisfactorily. In some cases, they may give you another B-rating and allow you further time to resolve any issues – but having a second chance should not be relied upon. It is also important to note that you can only have a maximum of 2 B-ratings in the 4-year period of your licence. If you cannot resolve the issues after the second B-rating, your licence will be revoked.

Where possible, it is advisable to engage the services of a specialist in immigration law who can advise on the changes needed. They will also check that any changes made will meet the UKVI’s standards before the next compliance visit is carried out, giving you peace of mind that you have the best chance of being upgraded to an A-rating.

If you need help regaining your sponsorship licence, please speak to our immigration lawyers for a free telephone consultation on 020 3744 2797 or by email at


1GOV.UK: Register of licensed sponsors

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