Certificate of Sponsorship

When looking at the UK visa application process, you’ll likely come across the term Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) plenty of times. This is a reference number, rather than a document, and is an essential part of the process of sponsoring foreign workers to come to the UK for work. 

Before an employer can employ a worker from abroad, they must obtain a sponsorship licence, and issue a Certificate of Sponsorship so the worker can apply for the relevant work visa. However, there are stringent conditions that need to be met, as well as two types of certificates, so each employer needs to be aware of which one they need for their work category and prospective workers’ visas. 

At Synergy Immigration Solutions, we’ve got the expertise to help. That’s why we’ve compiled everything you need to know about Certificates of Sponsorship in this guide.

About the Certificate of Sponsorship

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is awarded to eligible migrant workers from employers in the UK with relevant sponsorship licences who wish to sponsor workers to come to the UK to work. The certificate is not a physical document, but rather an electronic record containing relevant information on the prospective job and the personal information of the person being sponsored that the Home Office can access via a reference number when assessing the eligibility of the migrant worker for their relevant visa. 

The CoS must, therefore, be issued by the employer before the individual applies for their work visa, so the Home Office can accurately assess the candidate and their proposed role in the UK. To issue the certificate, the employer must ensure that each aspect of the proposed role meets the conditions of the necessary visa, including salary, working hours and skill level, as well as ensuring the candidate is appropriate for the role. 

The Certificate of Sponsorship is essential for many different work visa categories, including the Skilled Worker visa and UK Expansion Worker visa. 

As each CoS contains information about the candidate, each individual must receive a separate Certificate of Sponsorship created by their prospective sponsor. 

There are two types of Certificates of Sponsorship:

  • Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship
  • Defined Certificate of Sponsorship

The employer must know which type should be issued to the migrant worker, as they must complete an application to be allowed to issue Certificates of Sponsorship to migrant workers. There is no restriction on the number of certificates that can be issued by an organisation. 

CoS applications, known as allocation requests for the employing organisation, must include details of the proposed job, the migrant who has been chosen for the role and why they are suitable for the position to be granted permission to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship.

Types of Certificate of Sponsorship

It’s important to understand the difference between the two types of Certificate of Sponsorship so you know which one you need to apply for. In December 2020, as part of changes to the immigration process, the names of these certificates were changed. 

Defined Certificates of Sponsorship were formerly known as restricted certificates and are issued to Skilled Worker visa applicants who are applying from abroad. When the employer has chosen their candidate for their vacancy and had their sponsorship licence application approved, they can apply for a defined Certificate of Sponsorship through their Sponsorship Management System (SMS). Once approved, the defined Certificate of Sponsorship will be in the SMS so the employing organisation can assign the reference number to the chosen candidate for their visa application. 

Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship were formerly known as unrestricted certificates and can be issued to all other work visa applicants and Skilled Worker visa applicants who are already living in the UK. When applying for this certificate, employers must estimate how many certificates they wish to issue to migrant workers during the first year of having their sponsorship licence. 

Certificate of Sponsorship for UK Expansion Workers

The UK Expansion Worker visa is a temporary work visa for senior or specialist employees who work for a business overseas and wish to come to the UK to establish the British branch of the pre-existing company. For this visa, the organisation must first have a ‘UK footprint’ i.e. rent premises for the business or register their business with Companies House, so they can then apply for a sponsorship licence. 

They can only receive one Certificate of Sponsorship initially i.e. only sponsor one individual (the Authorising Officer) for their UK Expansion Worker visa to set up their business in the UK. However, once the Authorising Officer has their CoS and their visa and has arrived in the UK, they can apply to upgrade their sponsorship licence to an A-rating which will allow them to issue up to 4 more Certificates of Sponsorship to other foreign workers via their Sponsorship Management System.

Certificate of Sponsorship for Students

When foreign students wish to come to the UK to study, they must ensure they meet the eligibility criteria, including their chosen course, level of study, English comprehension skills, and available finances. When they are sure they are eligible, they will need to contact eligible sponsoring British educational institutions to be awarded a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) which is sometimes known as a Certificate of Sponsorship due to their similarities. 

Similar to those given to migrant workers, the CAS for students is a reference number that contains information on the course length, level of study (e.g. A-level, Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, Postgraduate degree) and the personal information of the applicant. This reference number is then used in the application for a Student visa, so the Home Office can ensure the appropriateness of the student for the course they wish to study. 

Who the Certificate of Sponsorship is for

Any individual who wishes to come to work in the UK under a sponsored route requires a Certificate of Sponsorship in order to apply for their work visa. 

Sponsored work visas include:

  • Skilled Worker visa
  • Global Business Mobility visas (including UK Expansion Worker visa)
  • Scale Up Worker visa
  • Seasonal Worker
  • Minister of Religion (T2) visa
  • International Sportsperson
  • Creative Worker visa
  • Religious Worker (Temporary Work) visa
  • Government Authorised Exchange (Temporary Work) visa
  • International Agreement (Temporary Work) visa

Students require a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) to come to study in the UK which is very similar in principle to the Certificate of Sponsorship. 

Once the worker has been offered a job (or a student has received an unconditional offer of a place on a course), the employer should issue their Certificate of Sponsorship as soon as possible. The certificate will also have the proposed start date of the employment or study, so the visa applicant should prepare their documents to apply for their visa. 

You must apply for your visa within 3 months of receiving your Certificate of Sponsorship; if you do not apply within 3 months, you will have to have another CoS issued. However, you also cannot apply for your visa more than 3 months before the proposed start date for your job (or course), so you need to time your application well. 

If you’re running out of time to submit your application, investing in the support of a visa agency like Synergy Immigration Solutions can help you get your supporting documents in order quickly so you can complete your visa application quickly. You also may be able to pay for a faster decision on your visa, rather than waiting for 3 to 8 weeks for a response from the Home Office.

How Much a Certificate of Sponsorship Costs

Migrant workers do not have to pay for their Certificate of Sponsorship, however, employers applying to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to migrant workers will have to pay a fee. How much they have to pay depends on the type of visa being applied for. 

In 2024, the following visas have these costs:

  • All full-time workers except international sportspeople: £239
  • Temporary workers: £25
  • International Sportsperson with over 12 months CoS: £239
  • International Sportsperson with under 12 months CoS: £25
  • CAS for Student and Child Student visas: £25

When issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship for Skilled Worker visa applicants, sponsors will also have to pay a fee known as the Immigration Skills Charge, unless the occupation is one of the specific exempted scientific roles

The Immigration Skills Charge is calculated according to the size of your organisation, whether it’s a charity or not, and how long the worker is sponsored for, according to their CoS. 

Medium and large sponsoring organisations will have to pay:

  • £1,000 for the first 12 months
  • £500 for each additional 6 months

Small or charitable sponsoring organisations will have to pay:

  • £364 for the first 12 months
  • £182 for each additional 6 months

Medium and large sponsors have at least two of the following:

  • An annual turnover of at least £10.2 million
  • Assets worth at least £5.1 million
  • 50 or more employees

If your organisation doesn’t meet these criteria, it will be classed as a small sponsor. 

Issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship

To be able to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to a migrant worker, your business must first have a sponsorship licence. To get a sponsorship licence, you’ll need at least three dedicated members of staff in your organisation to deal with the record-keeping, monitoring and reporting of migrant workers and dialogue with the Home Office, as well as a Sponsorship Management System (SMS). 

The three necessary personnel can be already existing staff, and are usually members of the HR team, but do not have to be. However, they must be:

  • An Authorising Officer
  • A Key Contact
  • A Level 1 User

The Level 1 User should submit the necessary information about the job role, including hours, salary and skill level, as well as the details of the candidate into the SMS to receive their CoS reference number. 

Each individual will need their own unique CoS reference number for their visa application. Certificates of Sponsorship cannot be transferred from one individual to another. 

You can create and assign your Certificate of Sponsorship to a candidate on your SMS, following the online form and entering all of the necessary details. You must ensure all details are correct before submitting, so double-check all of the information and make any necessary changes before completing your application for a CoS. You may then assign the Certificate of Sponsorship to a migrant worker. 

Once assigned, you will be required to pay the application fee and, if necessary, the Immigration Skills Charge. After this step, you will be able to see the unique CoS reference number that has been assigned to your candidate. 

Cancelling a Certificate of Sponsorship

If changes are made within your organisation, the candidate is no longer appropriate or interested in the position, or any other occurrence means the Certificate of Sponsorship is no longer needed for that candidate, you may cancel your Certificate of Sponsorship using the SMS.  

There will be a tab on your SMS called ‘Manage Live CoS’ under ‘Sponsorship Duties’, where you can input the relevant information of why you wish to cancel your Certificate of Sponsorship, before selecting the option to ‘Withdraw CoS’.

The Certificate of Sponsorship will then be cancelled for that individual. 

You may apply for another Certificate of Sponsorship at any time you wish using the SMS.

Certificate of Sponsorship

Who Can Issue a Certificate of Sponsorship

You may only issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to a foreign worker if your organisation has a sponsorship licence to do so. To be awarded your sponsorship licence, you need to meet the criteria, pay the application fee and - crucially - maintain compliance with the criteria for your sponsorship licence. 

If you do not maintain compliance, your organisation could face penalties ranging from fines to the complete withdrawal of your sponsorship licence. 

The two types of sponsorship licence are for:

  • Workers (for long-term work visas such as Skilled Worker visas)
  • Temporary Workers (for short-term work visas such as Scale Up Worker visas and UK Expansion Worker visas)

You can hold multiple licences to fill job vacancies in your organisation with suitable foreign candidates, depending on your business requirements. Once you have the appropriate licence to sponsor workers from abroad, you may apply for Certificates of Sponsorship for eligible candidates. It usually just takes one day to have your Undefined CoS application approved by the UKVI (part of the Home Office). Defined CoS applications usually take up to 18 weeks to be processed.

Getting a Sponsorship Licence

While obtaining the right to issue Certificates of Sponsorship may seem relatively easy, it’s important not to get ahead of yourself as the first step in employing migrant workers is getting the sponsorship licence

To be eligible to apply for a sponsorship licence, you need to be operating legally in the UK and necessitate foreign workers for certain highly skilled or sought-after jobs. As well as providing numerous details about your organisation and its day-to-day runnings in your application for a sponsorship licence, you also need to prove that you have a dedicated team ready to manage your migrant workers and ensure appropriate systems are in place to stay which adhere to your sponsorship duties.

Failure to comply with any regulations once you have your sponsorship licence can be very detrimental to your business, so it’s crucial you have staff responsible for the management of your migrant workers and answerable to the Home Office to ensure the legality of each worker’s role in the UK. 

You can complete your application for a sponsorship licence online, submit the necessary supporting documents and pay the application fee. The Home Office can then take several weeks to scrutinise your application and accept or reject your application. You will be told what the next steps are when you receive your response, so if your application has been rejected, you may be able to reapply with more detailed information or appeal the decision. 

If you would like help applying for a sponsorship licence for your business or need advice interpreting the response from the Home Office, contact Synergy Immigration Solutions for expert guidance and support.

Sponsorship Management Systems (SMS)

Once you have your sponsorship licence, the most important tool you’ll need to apply to grant Certificates of Sponsorship and manage your migrant workers is the Sponsor Management System (SMS). 

All sponsoring organisations gain access to the SMS, which is an online portal operated by the Home Office that enables organisations to update any changes to their migrant workers circumstances as well as changes within their business. To prevent illegal immigration, the SMS must be used continuously to keep records up-to-date and ensure the Home Office has access to all relevant information on the organisation and its employees. If your organisation is found to have withheld or misrepresented information on any migrant or licence, you will face severe penalties including fines, the downgrading of your licence and, in some cases, even criminal punishment. 

This is why a dedicated team is necessary to monitor and keep records on your licence and migrant workers, to ensure the appropriate attention is paid to the legality of your workers in the UK. 

These members of staff (the Authorising Officer, Key Contact and Level 1 User) are the only members of staff with authorisation to use the Sponsorship Management System. 

The Authorising Officer can grant limited access to the SMS to third parties such as specialist immigration services like Synergy Immigration Solutions who are help sponsors manage their migrant workers.

Need Help Getting a Certificate of Sponsorship?

There are many stages between searching for candidates to fill a certain position within your organisation and sponsoring a foreign national to come to the UK to work with you. If the process seems overwhelming or you need guidance or assistance with an aspect of getting a sponsorship licence, Certificate of Sponsorship or ensuring compliance with the criteria to maintain your licence, Synergy Immigration Solutions are here to help.

Synergy Immigration Solutions

With a team of experts in all things immigration, Synergy Immigration Solutions is here to help with each aspect of visa and sponsor licence applications, as well as maintenance,  renewals and appeals. 

If you need help with any part of the application process, or you simply want to find out more information about how we may be able to help you with our services, contact us today for more information.

Certificate of Sponsorship FAQs

There are plenty of queries about Certificates of Sponsorship, so here are the answers to some of the frequently asked questions on the subject. If you have a question that you can’t find the answer to, get in touch!

Do I Need a Certificate of Sponsorship?

If you are planning to come to the UK to work, you will most likely need a Certificate of Sponsorship. All sponsored work visas require a Certificate of Sponsorship, so check which visa category you’re eligible for to see if you need a CoS. 

The list of eligible occupations and codes for the Skilled Worker visa can change at little to no notice, so make sure your proposed job in the UK is still on the list before starting your application. 

Still unsure? Contact Synergy Immigration Solutions for guidance.

How Do You Get a Certificate of Sponsorship?

As a prospective employee, you’ll need a job offer from an approved sponsor in the UK to get your Certificate of Sponsorship. If your proposed job title, hours and salary all meet the terms, you’ll be issued your CoS. Your sponsor will provide you with the reference number that you can then use on your work visa application. 

The request for a Certificate of Sponsorship is made via your SMS. If you are looking to sponsor a migrant already based in the UK, you will need an undefined CoS. Migrants based overseas need to apply for a Defined CoS and the process takes up to 18 weeks, unless the Home Office ask for information pertaining to the role and the person you wish to sponsor. 

How Do I Give a Certificate of Sponsorship?

Sponsors can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to their candidate via the Sponsor Management System (SMS). This will issue the CoS reference number that can be used by the migrant worker on their work visa application.

When Can I Sponsor Someone?

Once you have ensured a candidate for a vacancy at your organisation is eligible for the role and the role itself is suitable for a Certificate of Sponsorship, you can submit your request to issue the CoS through your SMS. 

You must do this before the candidate has applied for a work visa as they’ll need the CoS reference number for their visa application. The proposed start date for their work contract should be within 3 months from the day you apply for the Certificate of Sponsorship, as the candidate has 3 months from receiving their CoS to apply for their work visa.

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