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Sponsorship Licence

Employers must hold a Sponsorship Licence from the Home Office if they wish to recruit or retain the services of non-resident skilled workers.

A relaxation of the rules around sponsorship licences and the skilled worker route generally has made it possible to sponsor workers for jobs which previously would have fallen under the skills threshold provided an employer can establish that they have a “genuine vacancy”.

Holding a Sponsorship Licence enables an employer to issue Certificates of Sponsorship to suitably qualified or experienced workers for skilled jobs which are assessed as being equivalent to National Qualifications Framework Level 3 (NQF3) and which appear in a specified list. Jobs below this skill threshold only qualify for skilled worker permission in exceptional circumstances.

The Home Office considers the holding of a sponsorship licence to be a privilege and polices the operation of the sponsorship management system closely.

Failure to comply with the raft of immigration legislation and guidance can result in significant financial penalties for employers, including fines, public naming and shaming, revocation or the imposition of conditions on the Sponsorship Licence for the organisation.

There are different types of sponsorship licence available:

To obtain a Sponsorship Licence, an employer must complete an on-line application process and submit documents to the Home Office within a strict schedule to demonstrate the company is an active trading entity.

The documents to be provided depend on the type of licence applied for, the organisation applying, and the employees (or prospective employees) it would like to sponsor. Amongst other things, employers requesting a Global Business Mobility tier to their licence must prove the common ownership of the companies in question.

It normally takes around six weeks for a Sponsorship Licence to be issued. An expedited service is available via a restricted priority service. Those fortunate enough to be allocated a slot can, for an additional fee, sometimes reduce the processing time to as little as two weeks.

Once granted Sponsorship Licence's are now issued for 10 years.

We strongly recommend that any company planning on applying for a Sponsorship Licence or sponsoring an employee takes legal advice before doing so.

We are a boutique firm of specialist immigration solicitors based in central London. Our client base is global: we have assisted organisations ranging from small start-ups to multi-nationals across a broad range of industry sectors, including construction, hospitality, education, healthcare, IT, banking and sports. We will bring our extensive experience to your application for a Sponsorship Licence.

RLegal immigration solicitors can guide you through the complex evidential requirements and assist you with a Sponsorship Licence application and its operation. Our firm has been successfully assisting clients with their sponsorship matters for more than 20 years. We will lead you through the process and guide you at every stage to ensure that you are compliant with UK immigration regulations.

RLegal is a recommended immigration firm of solicitors by the Legal 500 in the immigration and business immigration categories, a measure of the high standard to which we operate.

For more information, please contact us on +44 (0) 20 7038 3980 where you can talk to one of our team, email us at or complete our online enquiry form.

Alternatively click on the links below for frequently asked questions.


In order to apply for a Sponsorship Licence, you will need to show:

  • your company is active and trading;
  • you have adequate human resource systems to ensure your non-resident worker* employees have immigration permission to work;
  • the company has not previously incurred civil penalties or criminal convictions for illegal immigration employment; and the company does not have a history of non-compliance.

* A resident worker is a British or a settled person or someone who holds appropriate work permission in another category, all others require permission to work.

In general, an employer must be satisfied there is a 'genuine vacancy' and available person settled in the UK who could otherwise fill the post.


The Home Office can audit an employer’s files at any time to ensure that the appropriate steps have been undertaken to comply with the Sponsorship Licence requirements. Similarly, an Entry Clearance or Immigration Officer can make additional checks when deciding whether to grant permission for an employee to enter or stay in the UK based on a Certificate of Sponsorship. A decision maker can refuse an application under the Skilled worker route where there are 'reasonable grounds to believe' that the job on offer;


  • is not genuine;
  • has been exaggerated to satisfy the skilled worker threshold threshold;
  • has been tailored to exclude resident workers; or
  • the applicant is not qualified to undertake the job.


Once issued a certificate by a Sponsorship Licence holding employer, an individual can then apply for leave to enter or remain in the UK (visa permission) as a Sponsored Skilled Worker.

Certificates of Sponsorship can be issued by a Sponsorship Licence holder to:


- Skilled Worker - Experienced hires and new entrants. The Home Office no longer requires UK employer to advertise the position in what used to be known as the resident labour market test. As described above, an employer must demonstrate that there is a genuine vacancy within the business which meets the skills threshold and the requisite minimum salary levels.  New hires from outside the UK are allocated a defined certificate of sponsorship. All other types of certificate are known as undefined.


- Global Business Mobility (senior, specialistgraduate worker and secondment) are intra-company transfers, i.e. used by multi-national organisations to transfer employees from an overseas office, subsidiary or sister company to fill a skilled post in the UK which cannot be filled by a locally recruited employee. Global Business Mobility visas can used to transfer employees for graduate training, skills transfer and short & long term purposes depending on the circumstances. Minimum salary thresholds and prior employment requirements can apply.


- Shortage occupations. Certain posts identified by the Home Office in conjunction with the Migration Advisory Committee are deemed to be recognised shortage areas, i.e. where there are insufficient suitably qualified resident workers available to meet the UK’s requirements. The shortage occupation list changes periodically depending upon the prevailing circumstances in the UK economy and since Brexit has become more so.


- Individuals that have either already been retained by the company whilst on other immigration permission or who have gone through a graduate recruitment process (for example, Students following the completion of a degree or Graduate visa holders).


The Home Office charges a fee to employers both for the initial Sponsorship Licence registration application, and thereafter, to issue Certificates of Sponsorship.

Premium sponsor scheme

Employers can register with the Home Office through a 'Premium sponsor scheme' which allows them to have visa applications processed through a 'priority postal service' route within 7 days for a Sponsorship Licence.

Premium sponsorship licence Skilled worker and Tier 5 (large sponsor) - £25000

Premium sponsorship licence Skilled Worker (small sponsor) - £8000

Premium sponsorship licence Student - £8000

Sponsor licence application immigration fees

Skilled worker large sponsorship licence - £1476

Skilled worker small sponsorship licence - £536

Student sponsorship licence - £536

Tier 5 sponsorship licence - £536

Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) fee

Skilled Worker CoS - £239

Once the Certificate of Sponsorship has been issued by the Sponsorship Licence holder, a skilled worker must then apply for a visa to enter the UK, or if already in the UK in a qualifying category, apply to the Home Office to change the basis of their stay in the UK.


Optional Super-priority Visa and Priority Visa services are available for most skilled worker immigration applications.


The Home Office can visit the employer’s premises to check documentation procedures as part of the Sponsorship Licence application process.


This is a key role for a licence holder. The employer must provide an Authorising Officer who will have ultimate responsibility for all Sponsorship Licence matters. This role cannot be outsourced to a solicitor or legal representative.


The Authorising Officer must then provide details of:


  • the primary contact for any queries regarding sponsorship;
  • a key contact; and 
  • Level 1 Users, i.e. those authorised to issue Certificates of Sponsorship on the employer’s behalf. 


Both the key contact and Level 1 User roles can be fulfilled by a solicitor or representative.


Once the sponsorship licence registration is approved, an employer will be supplied with details of how to issue Certificates of Sponsorship.

The shift of emphasis from the Home Office issuing work permits to employers issuing Certificates of Sponsorship through the Sponsorship Licence system placed an executive burden on an employer, it means employers are the gatekeepers of the UK’s immigration system; with the privilege of holding a sponsorship licence comes significant penalties if the system is abused, even if non-compliance was unintentional.

Employers are granted undefined Certificates of Sponsorship, which can be used to sponsor in-country application, through an annual limit based on the number of certificates granted in the previous year, although additional ones can be requested either as part of the annual allocation or by requesting an increase to the allocation. 

Please note when applying for additional increase for undefined Certificates of Sponsorship, the processing time for such requests is up to 18 weeks, although for an additional fee of £200 a licence holder can request to prioritise the request.

Employers can request 'Defined' Certificates of Sponsorship for out of country applicants. 

Employers must keep very detailed records and can be audited by the Home Office at any stage.

Moreover, there are circumstances in which employers and managers are under an obligation to notify the Home Office of any breach of the immigration rules by an employee. Currently fines of up to £10,000 or more can be levied against the corporate body and individual complicit managers for any breach of the immigration regulations.

- Comprehensive legal advice relating to the sponsorship licence.

- Ensuring your application meets the legal requirements.

- Assistance with compiling the evidence required for a sponsorship licence.

- Completion and submission of all forms.

- Ongoing liaison with the authorities where possible.

If you would like to discuss your Sponsorship Licence or other immigration related matters in more detail, please contact us on +44 (0)20 7038 3980, email us at or use our online enquiry form and one of our immigration lawyers will revert to you.


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