Recruit global talent: How to obtain a sponsor license

20 February 2020 | Jonathan Martin

UK organisations approved on the “Register of Sponsors” are permitted to recruit from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) giving them access to a much wider global talent pool.  Not only can they advertise their vacancies worldwide, but they can do this in place of, or at the same time as they advertise in the UK, speeding up their recruitment process.

Applying for a place on the Register requires careful planning and consideration.

Here we outline how to obtain a sponsor license, including the main considerations you need to address and the duties you must comply with once you have.

Sponsorship: the basics

If your organisation wishes to employ someone from outside the EEA who does not currently have the right to work in the UK, then you will need to obtain a Tier 2 or Tier 5 Sponsor License.

The sponsorship plays two main roles, it:

  1. Provides evidence that the migrant will fill a genuine vacancy that cannot be filled with a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker; and,
  2. Involves an undertaking from your organisation that it will abide by all the necessary legal duties involved in sponsoring the migrant.

A “settled” worker is defined as someone who is a national of the EEA or is legally settled in the United Kingdom with permission to work here.

Approval criteria

When the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department considers a licence application, it is looking to establish four things about you.

That you:

  1. Are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK;
  2. Are honest, dependable and reliable;
  3. Are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties (which is assessed by looking at your current human resources and recruitment practices); and
  4. That you offer genuine employment that meets the skill level and appropriate rates of pay set out in UKVI’s guidance.

Fees and operating principles

The fee for a sponsor licence depends on the size and turnover of your organisation.  The licence is valid for four years, after which it expires and must be reapplied for.

If your application for a licence is granted, your organisation is then able to assign certificates of sponsorship (CoS) to migrants who wish to work for you.  UKVI determine how many CoS you will be allowed to assign, however you need to estimate the number you will need in your first year in your original application.  CoS under Tier 2 are allocated by financial year with the exception of your first year as a sponsor.

Application process

Applications for a licence can only be made and paid for online.  However, to be valid they must be accompanied in paper form by:

  1. The original and complete submission sheet (not a certified copy), signed and dated by the authorising officer; and,
  2. All the required mandatory documents (originals or certified copies).  The documentation required involves you proving the veracity of your organisation.

Applications will be decided within 8 weeks but are often processed more quickly than this.  You should be aware that UKVI may visit you during the application process.

Any missing or incorrect documentation will invalidate your application.  There is no right of appeal if your license is refused and it may mean that you are unable to apply again for up to 5 years in some circumstances.  So it is very important that your application is complete and correct.

When helping clients with the application process we advise drafting a covering letter to accompany the hard copy application which outlines why you need the license and why your application should be granted.

Your obligations as a license holder

As a licensed sponsor you must meet certain duties to ensure that your license is not revoked. These include:

  • Reporting: for example, informing UKVI if migrants do not turn up for work or are absent without permission for a significant period;
  • Record keeping: maintaining records on the migrants you sponsor, including up-to-date contact details and a copy of their biometric residence permit (BRP);
  • Compliance: continuing to abide by all other applicable laws such as employment and tax laws;
  • Genuine vacancies: ensuring that all roles sponsored meet the requirements of the tier and category and that you do not overstate a job description to manipulate it to meet the requirements; and,
  • Co-operation: you must co-operate with UKVI officials who may visit you to check whether you are complying with your duties.

Available immigration routes for workers

As a prospective sponsor your business can apply for a licence to employ migrants under the following routes:

1. Tier 2: skilled workers with a job offer

There are four categories within Tier 2 for skilled, sponsored workers. They are:

  • General: this is for skilled workers who have received a graduate level job offer from a UK employer;
  • Intra-Company Transfer (ICT): this is for multi-national organisations that need to transfer employees to the UK, and within this there are four sub-categories:
  1. Long Term Staff
  2. Short Term Staff
  3. Graduate Trainee
  4. Skills Transfer
  • Minister of Religion; and
  • Sportsperson.

2. Tier 5: temporary workers

There are five categories within Tier 5 for sponsored temporary workers.  They are:

  • Creative and Sporting;
  • Religious Workers;
  • Charity Workers;
  • Government Authorised Exchange; and
  • International Agreement.

Sponsor Management System (SMS)

This is the online platform that must be used once you are a sponsor license holder.  It is used to manage your license, carry out day-to-day activities such as assigning certificates of sponsorship (CoS) to migrants who wish to come to, or stay in the UK to work, to communicate changes and to fulfil your reporting duties within the required time limits.

Certificates of Sponsorship (COS)

For each migrant you wish to sponsor the CoS records all their personal data and details of their employment, and is the document they must use to apply for their visa.

What are the considerations if we have more than one UK location?

If your business has a number of different UK-based subsidiaries, entities or locations (UKVI refer to these as branches) there are a number of ways that you can register to which you should give careful consideration.  These include:

  1. Applying for a single licence that includes your head office and all branches in the UK;
  2. Each branch applying for a separate licence; or,
  3. Grouping a number of branches under a single licence (for example, registering all of your operations in a particular geography under a single licence).

The decision as to what is right for your business will depend on your organisational and management structure.

Key personnel

As a sponsor license holder you must assign certain responsibilities to members of your team.  These people are called “Key Personnel”.  The names of the people you propose to fulfil these roles must be set out in your application form.  The roles can be filled by the same person, or a combination of different people.

In order to be allocated as a member of Key Personnel an individual must:

  1. Be permanently based in the UK for the duration of the period that they fill the role you have appointed them to;
  2. Meet the requirements on criminal convictions; and,
  3. Be a paid member of your staff or engaged by you as an office holder (with some exceptions).

None of your Key Personnel can be:

  1. A representative who is not based in the UK;
  2. A contractor or consultant who is contracted for a specific project;
  3. Subject to a Bankruptcy Restriction Order, or Undertaking (an order made against an individual who has been declared bankrupt where the official receiver believes they have been dishonest or are to blame for their debts);
  4. Subject to a Debt Relief Restriction Order, or Undertaking (an individual who is already subject to a debt relief order and is considered to have acted dishonestly or to be blameworthy in some other way); or
  5. Legally prohibited from being a company director.

There are four roles for Key Personnel which are:

  1. Authorising officer: a senior person responsible for the recruitment of all migrant workers and ensuring that all of your sponsor duties are met.  They are also held responsible for the actions of all other Key Personnel.
  2. Key contact: the main point of contact between your company and UKVI in relation to queries about your sponsor licence application, the documents submitted or the payment.
  3. Level 1 user: someone who undertakes your day-to-day sponsorship activities using the sponsorship management system (SMS) and who can set up accounts for any level 2 users. They can also report migrant activity (such as if a migrant goes missing or is absent without leave).
  4. Level 2 user: these are not required, but if you choose to appoint them you must decide how many.  They have more limited access to the SMS than Level 1 users but can draft and assign CoS and report certain migrant activity.

You can choose to appoint a UK-based immigration representative such as Abbiss Cadres to fill any of your Key Personnel roles, with the exception of the Authorising Officer.

What happens if my organisation is involved in a merger, takeover or de-merger?

If there is a change in your organisation such as a merger, takeover, de-merger or other similar change, for example if you sell all or part of your business, or the controlling number of shares in your business, it will impact on your sponsor license as licences are not transferrable.  The rules around this area are particularly complex and you should seek advice.  We outline the main relevant scenarios in the table below.



Required Action

Change of ownership.

There is a change in ownership of your organisation or business e.g. it is sold as a going concern or a share sale results in the controlling number of shares being transferred to a new owner.

Your sponsor licence will be either revoked, or made dormant if sponsored migrants have transferred to another sponsor’s licence. If the new owners wish to continue employing any migrants that you were sponsoring they must apply for a new sponsor licence, unless they already have one.
Transfer of an undertaking (1).

If TUPE* is triggered or a similar arrangement exists and a sponsored worker moves to you and you already have a sponsor license under the necessary tier and category.

From the date of the move, you take full responsibility for the migrant as their new sponsor, and must meet all of the associated duties. No further action required.
Transfer of an undertaking (2).

Where migrants are being moved to you under TUPE* or similar arrangements, but you do not already have a sponsor licence under the tiers and categories needed to sponsor them.

You must make an application either for a sponsor licence, or to extend the scope of your existing sponsor licence. An application must be made within 20 working days of the move taking place.

*TUPE (transfer of undertakings and protected employment) are the rules that apply to companies of all sizes and protect the rights of employees when the organisation or service they work for is being transferred to a new employer.

Renewing your license

Your sponsor license will expire after 4 years and in order to continue sponsoring migrants you must apply for a renewal.  You should allow enough time to apply for your renewal (at least one month) and be aware that you may be asked to submit additional documentation.

What happens if a migrant’s contract of employment terminates early?

If a sponsored migrant’s employment is terminated earlier than shown on their certificate of sponsorship (CoS), for example, because they resign or are dismissed, you must inform UKVI of the name and address of any new employer that the migrant has moved to, if known.

How can we help?

Abbiss Cadres offers a unique blend of skills to enable businesses to tackle complex talent management issues such as immigration and global mobility.

Our expert team can help you:

  • Prepare and submit your sponsor license application;
  • Carry out your annual CoS assessment and planning; and,
  • Act as Level 2 Users for the Sponsorship Management System to help you deal with the administrative requirements.

We can also advise on the following:

  • How to comply with your obligations as a license holder;
  • Shortage occupations; and
  • What to do when your business undergoes a TUPE transfer, merger or share disposal.

Once you become a sponsor license holder we are able to advise you in relation to:

  • Which is the best entry route into the UK for the talent you wish to recruit; and
  • Market appropriate compensation and benefits packages and contractual terms.

As well as assisting with:

  • Visa applications; and
  • The physical move and relocation of your people to the UK (we can help find accommodation, schools, and manage the moving process as a whole to help ensure it runs as smoothly as possible).

Our unique service model incorporates all the expertise needed to help you manage the complexities of your employment and people issues.  As well as global mobility and immigration expertise our team includes employment, tax, compensation and benefits, pensions, operational HR, people consulting, and communication specialists.

If you have any questions, or to discuss how we can help you, speak to our team on +44(0)203 051 5711 or email us.


Content is for general information purposes only. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive and it does not constitute or contain legal or other advice. If you require assistance in relation to any issue please seek specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances. In particular, no responsibility shall be accepted by the authors or by Abbiss Cadres LLP for any losses occasioned by reliance on any content appearing on or accessible from this article. For further legal information click here.

Circular 230 disclosure

To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS and other taxing authorities, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this article (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.


Content is for general information purposes only. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive and it does not constitute or contain legal or other advice. If you require assistance in relation to any issue please seek specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances. In particular, no responsibility shall be accepted by the authors or by Abbiss Cadres LLP for any losses occasioned by reliance on any content appearing on or accessible from this article. For further legal information click here.

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