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bring employees to the UK by becoming a visa sponsor

The ultimate guide to UK visa sponsorship for employers

Every year, the number of non-UK nationals migrating to the UK for work increases. With a well-developed economy, good working conditions and plenty of available jobs, it isn’t any wonder why the UK is an attractive option for those looking to work abroad. If UK-based organisations are open to hiring from outside the UK, they will find plenty of highly-skilled talent. 

All they need is the correct visa – and in the UK, that can be a very complex process, especially for companies. As it stands, any migrant employee will need to be sponsored by your company before starting work unless they are in the UK already on another type of visa that allows them to work e.g. spouse of British national 

UK Visa Sponsorship for employers can be quite complicated, and if you don’t already hold a Sponsorship Licence, then the process can take months. There’s a lot to be mindful of, but we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll go over:

  • What it means to sponsor your employee’s visa
  • How to obtain a sponsorship licence 
  • Assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship 
  • The validity of your sponsorship licence

What is UK visa sponsorship?

To employ anyone outside the UK (including those from the EU), you’ll need to sponsor them – and only if they meet certain role and salary requirements. In some countries, this is as simple as writing a detailed letter about why you need them at your company (like in Germany). In the UK, the process isn’t so simple. 

In addition to paying the relevant fees to sponsor foreign workers, you’ll also need to fulfill several ongoing legal requirements. You must ensure each non-UK national meets a minimum of 70 points in the UK’s new points system, which takes into account: 

  • minimum salary requirements (dependent on the occupation)
  • whether or not the job is in a shortage occupation (i.e., health services, sciences, engineering and tech)
  • if the foreign worker speaks English at a required level
  • their level of education 

Once you’re sure your foreign employee satisfies the requirements, you can assign them a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), allowing them to apply for a Tier 2 Visa (now called Skilled Worker Visa). It can take up to a month before your new employee has an approved visa in their hands!

This alone seems straightforward enough; however, to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship, your company will need to possess a Sponsorship Licence.

How to obtain a Sponsorship Licence

Obtaining a Sponsorship Licence is a worthwhile investment for UK employers as it opens up the world for recruitment. The process of applying for a Sponsorship Licence includes:

  • Choosing the type of visa you want to be licensed under.
  • Showing evidence that your company meets the eligibility criteria.
  • Submitting the application and related documents.
  • Potentially welcoming the Home Office to your organization to assess your genuineness. 

1. Choosing which tiers you wish to be licensed under

Skilled Worker Visa (formerly Tier 2) is for skilled workers who want to stay in the UK for an extended period of time. Multinational companies can also transfer existing employees to the UK under an Intra-Company Transfer visa which exists under the Skilled Worker route .

Temporary Worker Visas is for foreign workers who want to work in the UK temporarily, including creative, charity or religious workers. Normally those who can be sponsored under the Skilled Worker visa cannot be sponsored under the Temporary Worker routes. 

2. Showing evidence that your company meets all the eligibility criteria

To apply for a sponsorship licence, you will need to prove that:

  • You are a genuine organization operating lawfully in the UK.
  • The representatives named on the application are dependable.
  • You have the HR and recruitment systems in place to handle sponsor responsibilities
  • You offer genuine employment that meets the requirements
  • You don’t represent a threat to immigration controls with no evidence of previous non-compliance
  • You have no criminal convictions for immigration offences or other certain crimes, like fraud or money laundering
  • Have not had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months

3. Completing and submitting your application (and paying the fee)

Fill out and submit an online application and documents can be sent by post or email. 

To apply for the sponsorship licence, you’ll be charged for your initial application: 

There are also subsequent costs to consider, such as the Certificate of Sponsorship, the Immigration Skills Charge, and the cost of renewing your licence.

4. Welcoming the UKVI to your business to assess whether or not you meet the sponsorship requirements

Once you’ve made your application and sent your supporting documents, the Home Office may want to inspect your organization to assess whether or not to grant you the licence. 

These visits can be daunting and require a lot of preparation, although the Home Office is mainly looking to ascertain whether or not what you’ve submitted in your application is genuine. You can potentially avoid a Home Office visit by submitting a comprehensive application with as many valid supporting documents as possible (although the minimum is four).

When assessing the genuineness of your application, the UKVI will also consider:

  • Does the role actually exist?
  • Has the description been exaggerated?
  • Has the role been created primarily to enable an overseas national to come to, or stay in, the UK?
  • Has the role been advertised, are the requirements listed inappropriate or incompatible with the business? Have they been tailored to exclude resident workers?

They may request evidence, so be sure to keep records of adverts you placed, the number of people who applied and who were shortlisted, and some information regarding the process you used to identify the successful candidate. 

The Home Office typically processes sponsor licences within 2-3 months. If your application is successful, you’ll receive an A-rating, which is the highest rating and is valid for four years. You may be downgraded to a B-rating at any time (or lose your licence altogether) if the UKVI finds you aren’t complying with your responsibilities, which include:

  • You have access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS) that allows you to carry out any responsibilities as a licensed sponsor. The UKVI also has access to this, so it’s essential to keep all sponsorship information updated on the system.. 
  • Appointing sponsorship management roles to some members of your staff. The UKVI will check your chosen staff members to ensure they’re suitable for using the SMS. 

How to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship 

Once the UKVI grants your licence, you can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to any migrant worker by sending a request through your SMS. You’ll need to include information such as:

  • Identification information
  • Relevant work and home addresses
  • Employment information

If granted by the Home Office, you will be able to send your foreign employee a unique reference number which they will include on their visa application. 

While judged on a case-by-case basis, the Home Office usually decides within a day whether or not they will grant the CoS. Approved certificates will appear in your SMS account which you can then assign.  

You’ll also be required to pay a one-time fee for every Certificate of Sponsorship you assign, depending on whichCoS your migrant worker is employed under:

  • Skilled Worker/Intra Company CoS – £199
  • Temporary Worker CoS – £21

Additionally, you’ll also need to pay the Immigration Skills Charge when issuing a Tier 2 (Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer) CoS. The charge is essentially a tax imposed on an organization that employs foreign workers. You need to pay the charge if your new employee is applying for a visa from outside the UK to work for six months or more, or has been in the UK for any length of time. 

For small businesses, the charge is:

  • £364 for the first year
  • £182 for each additional six months

For larger businesses, the charge is:

  • £1,000 for the first year
  • £500 for each additional six months

You won’t need to pay the charge at all if you’re sponsoring someone who is filling a role on the Shortage Occupation List. There is also no limit to how many Skilled Workers visas you can sponsor; however you will need to pay a fee for every CoS you assign. 

Validity of your Sponsorship Licence

To maintain your sponsorship licence, you are required to fulfil a range of compliance duties, and the Home Office will conduct announced site visits to verify.  

Ensure you have appointed at least one local employee to manage the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). The three main roles to cover within it are:

  • Authorising officer – the leading representative using the SMS
  • Key contact – manage communications between the company and UKVI
  • Level 1 user – responsible for daily management of the licence through the SMS 

The UKVI relies on the information within the SMS to communicate with all licence holders across the UK, and organizations that fail to comply receive penalties.

The person responsible for the SMS should be honest, dependable, so it might be necessary to conduct background checks to ensure who you appoint meets that criteria.  

If the Home Office finds any discrepancies, you can have your sponsorship licence downgraded (with a time-limited action plan to regain an A-rating) or revoked, so it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Overall, your sponsorship licence is valid for four years. If you want to extend it, you can apply to do so in your SMS at least three months before its expiry. If you don’t renew it in time and you still have foreign workers at your organization, they will lose the right to work in the UK. 

The bottom line

Currently, the UK experiences many occupational shortages. This means there's been no better time for companies to invest in obtaining a Sponsorship Licence, and doing so allows companies to find the best talent to help their organizations succeed. 

However, the complexities of UK visa sponsorship for employers can be overwhelming, and trying to understand every intricacy requires valuable time and resources. This is why global mobility service providers like Localyze exist; to do the heavy lifting when it comes to relocation so you can focus on finding the best employees for your organization. 

Need help relocating an international employee to the UK? Book a call with us. We’d be happy to assist you in finding a solution.

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