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UK Visa Sponsorship Requirements for Employers

Before you can consider the visa sponsorship of foreign nationals as a UK-based employer, you will need to apply for and be granted a UK sponsorship licence by the Home Office. Your business will also need a sponsor licence if you wish to recruit staff from the EU who arrived in the UK after 31st December 2020. Prior to this date, EU nationals could work in the UK under UK/EU free movement.

There are some exceptions that mean your business may not require a sponsor licence for UK visa sponsorship. Notably, Irish citizens, EU nationals who have settled in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme, and those with indefinite leave to remain (ILR) do not need a visa to work in the UK, hence sponsorship is not required.

UK sponsor licences are normally issued for up to 4 years, at which point it is possible to apply for renewal as long as you continue to meet the requirements. The application fee for a sponsor licence ranges from £536 for a ‘Worker’ licence for small or charitable companies to £1,476 for a medium or large company. Businesses considering UK visa sponsorship should also be aware that there are other fees, including the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) fee and the immigration skills charge fee.

For more information, please see our page, ‘How much does it cost a company to sponsor a visa in the UK?’.

UK visa sponsorship requirements

As a UK employer recruiting overseas workers, you will need to demonstrate to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) that you meet all of the sponsor licence criteria, including that you:

  • Meet the suitability requirements
  • Meet the job requirements
  • Have suitable necessary systems and processes
  • Have appointed suitable people to manage your sponsorship

Meet the suitability requirements

When processing your sponsor licence application, UKVI will check that you do not have any unspent criminal convictions. This includes immigration offences and other types of crime, such as fraud or money laundering. They will also check that you have not had a sponsor licence revoked in the past 12 months due to non-compliance.

Meet the job requirements

You must be able to offer genuine and eligible employment that meets the salary and skill level required. The exact requirements will depend on the type of UK visa scheme that your overseas workers will be using. For example, the Skilled Worker visa has a list of eligible occupations and minimum salary requirements which must be met before a visa can be issued.

Have suitable necessary systems and processes

Before you can be granted a sponsor licence, you must have in place the necessary HR systems and processes to meet your visa sponsorship duties and responsibilities. These include:

  • Carrying out the necessary right-to-work in UK checklist
  • Keeping records relating to sponsored workers – including the recruitment process, key documents (e.g. passports and qualifications) and up-to-date contact details
  • Monitoring – e.g. attendance and unauthorised absences
  • Reporting – keeping UKVI informed of important changes (e.g. if your business changes name or if a sponsored worker does not arrive for work on their first day)

It is essential that you can demonstrate that you have the necessary systems and processes in place before being granted a sponsor licence. You will also need to remain compliant with your visa sponsorship duties and responsibilities during the life of your sponsor licence. Failure to do so may result in your licence being downgraded, suspended or revoked.

Appoint suitable people to manage the sponsorship

You will also need to appoint suitable key personnel to maintain and manage your visa sponsorship systems and processes. There are 4 key personnel roles: Authorising Officer, Key Contact, Level 1 User, and Level 2 User. Each member of your key personnel must be based in the UK and not have any criminal convictions. If one of your key personnel leaves your employment, a replacement person will need to be allocated, and the details of that person provided to UKVI using the Home Office’s Sponsor Management System (SMS).

If your sponsor licence application is successful

Sponsor licence applications can take up to 8 weeks to process. Assuming that your visa sponsorship application is successful, you will receive a letter from UKVI confirming that your sponsor licence has been granted.

As a new sponsor, you will be granted an A-rating, meaning that you meet the compliance requirements, and you can now start to sponsor overseas workers.

You will also be given access to the SMS that will allow you to assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to sponsored workers.

If your sponsor licence application is refused

In the unfortunate event that your sponsor licence is refused, it may be possible to reverse the refusal in certain circumstances. Sponsor licence applications may be refused for a wide range of reasons, including if you do not meet the eligibility requirements, if you provided incorrect information or documents, if there is evidence of criminality, or if a mistake was made by UKVI.

If you have reason to believe that the UKVI caseworker who refused your application for a sponsor licence made a mistake or did not take into account the supporting documents you provided, you can request a review of the decision. This is done by completing and submitting a ‘Workers and Temporary Workers: pre-licence error correction form’. This will allow you to highlight the type of mistake made and why you believe the decision made was incorrect.

Alternatively, you may be able to prepare and submit a fresh sponsor licence application to UKVI. Depending on the reason for refusal, you may be able to reapply immediately, or you may need to wait for 6 – 12 months until a ‘cooling off’ period1 has been completed. If you have committed more serious crimes or breaches of the immigration rules, you may need to wait for up to 5 years before you can reapply for your sponsor licence.

For assistance with UK visa sponsorship for employers or any immigration compliance and audit matters, please speak to our experienced immigration lawyers on 020 3744 2797 or by email at


1 GOV.UK: Cooling off period

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