What is a sponsor licence?

If your business or organisation wants to hire somebody based outside of the UK, you will need a sponsor licence. Any form of UK-based work is considered under this licence, including unpaid activities that are due to be carried out by anyone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. The government introduced the UK sponsorship licence in 2021 to regulate visa applications post leaving the EU. The structure means they can better manage requests in a more timely manner while ensuring that only approved companies are eligible to be used as part of various forms of visa applications for UK business immigration purposes.

What are the requirements of a sponsor licence?

A commonly asked question amongst individuals looking to acquire a sponsorship licence is, how difficult is it to obtain a sponsorship licence.

There are various requirements for becoming a sponsor licence for a visa, with the two ones outlined by the government being that you cannot have the following:

Both commercial and non-profit employers will need to apply for this licence if they plan on offering work or study to anyone outside of the UK. Whilst there are no restrictions on the company size or sector, several eligibility factors need to be satisfied to be approved as a sponsor. As The Home Office determines, these criteria ensure that all applicants for the licence have the right motives and legitimate business setups to support the additional new employees.

The licence holder will also need to demonstrate that suitable structures are in place to monitor candidates in line with safety and wellbeing laws. These responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring that all visa application requests for a sponsor are genuine, meaning that the applicants meet the needs of the job or course of study. This also covers ensuring that only vacancies suitable for overseas workers are used for the scheme. 
  • For employers, there is also a need to ensure that strict HR procedures are in place which monitors the current immigration status of all employees. As the licenced sponsor, your business will be responsible if a compliance date is missed. At Synergy Immigration Solutions, we can work directly with both employers and employees to ensure that all visa needs are up to date.  

All these responsibilities are also supported by the need to report to UKVI if any of the terms of the visa agreement has been violated as soon as possible

How can a business become sponsored licence approved?

You must apply to become a licence holder before bringing in talent from overseas. Our expert team can guide you with this, as the best way to ensure a fast, successful result is to have a strong application case. 

The sponsorship licence is made online and we would manage the end-to-end process for you. Depending on the status of your application and the type of organisation that you are applying on behalf of, you may also need to provide a series of supporting documents which may include:

  • Company accounts.
  • Proof of VAT registration.
  • A letter from your corporate banking provider setting out the dealings it has had with you, including the nature and duration of those dealings.
  • Proof of inspections and outcomes for relevant industries such as agriculture and healthcare.
  • Business ownership and directorship proof.
  • Evidence of trading locations.
  • Proof that you are based in the UK.
  • Proof that you are operating and trading lawfully in the UK.

This will differ for each business industry, length of company establishment, and links to international trading activity, so it is important to understand what your business may need to provide. 

You will also need to pay a fee upon application which ranges from £536 to £1476 based on the type of licence you are looking to secure. Decisions can take around two months to receive, and we can keep a close eye on your application to ensure that it is processing as expected. You can pay an additional fee of £500 to expedite the application in 10 working days.

What are the different forms of UK visa sponsorship?

Sponsor licence holders can use their accreditation to hire both full-time and temporary workers. With job vacancies reaching an eye-watering 1.3 million as of May 2022, it is clear that the UK leaving the EU has left a huge gap in UK employment. 

If you are looking to hire a skilled worker, minister of religion, sportsperson, or senior specialist worker, you will need to be eligible for worker licences. The UK Shortage Occupation List should also support this, as all jobs featured within these highlighted sectors are the ones that are relevant for skilled visa applications to be made. The UK’s points-based system means that without a link to one of these sectors or industries, the criteria will not be met for a successful visa application, and entry to the UK will be refused.

If you plan on hiring someone for temporary work, volunteering, or job-shadowing, you will need to ensure your licence is approved to cover temporary workers. If your application to become a sponsor is approved, you can support any form of these visas. 

According to the government, this licence is split into the following categories, which covers most industries within the UK:

  • Scale-up Worker – This is suitable for UK-founded companies who are looking to grow their operations quickly and therefore need many skilled workers to support them. You will need to prove that your company is legally registered and trading in the UK if it is less than 18 months old, but this is something that we can fully support you with.
  • Creative Worker.
  • Charity Worker (up to one year).
  • Religious Worker (up to two years).
  • Government Authorised Exchange – This includes paid and unpaid work experience of up to one year and research projects, including scientific training for up to two years. 
  • International Agreement.
  • Graduate Trainee (Global Business Mobility) – Only approved establishments must conduct this, and proof must be made that the reason for being sponsored by a UK licence holder is to continue working in line with existing studies.
  • Service Supplier (up to one year).
  • Secondment Worker.
  • Seasonal Workers.

What do I need to know if plan on sponsoring skilled workers?

To secure a skilled worker visa, an applicant must have a secure job offer from a Home Office-approved company. As part of your own application to become a sponsor, we will be able to advise you on the legal documentation that you will need to use for future purposes, such as supporting a prospective employee.

As well as holding an approved sponsor licence, you will also need to complete each of the below criteria to employ a skilled worker successfully:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the legal needs that must be complied with.
  • Ensure that any prospective employee meets the skilled visa application processes needs and that your vacancy complies with the salary needs outlined by the government.
  • That any employee is appropriately qualified and experienced for the position that they are applying for.
  • You will need to assign a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to your potential employee. This may also mean paying the fee requirements to complete the visa process successfully.
  • Be able to demonstrate a current HR and employee management process that can be applied to the candidate.

You will also need to ensure that your licence is up to date and not set to expire during the period of the application process. Our team will be able to provide you with full support on the procedures and advise you on the suitability of any candidates that you are looking to hire.

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)?

As a licenced sponsor, you are legally required to keep an electronic record of each of your employees via the form of a CoS. You will need to hold a defined certificate for workers you bring into the UK from overseas. This represents that the contract and needs are pre-determined via a formal job contract. If a worker is looking to switch their visa type and work in the UK, you will need to hold an undefined certificate on record.

These certificates form part of the visa application process for new employees, so it is essential that a CoS is always produced and logged correctly. If a copy is requested and you do not have one to provide, you risk your licence being downgraded and even revoked.

How long does a Sponsor Licence last?

So, how long does a sponsor licence last?

Once the Sponsor Licence has been granted, it is valid for 4 years.

If your application is successful, you will be awarded an A-rated licence. This means you can start assigning ‘Certificates of Sponsorships’ to foreign workers that you wish to hire.

If you do not meet the responsibilities incumbent upon you as a sponsor, then your licence may be downgraded to a B-rating.

Hence, you won’t be able to issue new Certificates of Sponsorship, until you have made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating.

You will be asked to follow an ‘action plan’ provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to upgrade your licence– this costs £1,476.    

How Long Does It Take to Get a Sponsorship Licence?

The usual processing time for sponsorship licence applications is around 8 weeks. This can be a gruelling wait for employers eager to hire recruits. It can take even longer in more complex cases, which isn’t ideal for fast-paced businesses.

Sponsor licence management & compliance

Becoming a sponsor licence is about more than having successful visa applications for skilled workers. 

The purpose of a sponsor is to assist the Home Office with ongoing visa compliance via responsibilities such as reporting and logging candidate admin. To achieve this, sponsor licence holders must choose their key personnel to manage the process. These individuals are responsible for ensuring ongoing compliance and maintaining communication lines between the hiring business and the skilled worker visa holder. The aim is not to overwhelm companies with increased admin, but instead make it possible for overseas talent to be recruited more often.

Sponsor licence holders have several duties expected of them, which include the following:

  • To ensure full compliance with the associated laws and regulations.
  • Reporting of all visa holder performance such as absence, compliance with their contract and changes to the hiring companies’ stability. 
  • Keep on top of employee records, including their full sponsor application details and any documentation with their contract. This information may be requested from the Home Office, so complete records should always be available.
  • Ensure the sponsored employee complies with broader UK general law and financial regulations.

To ensure the full conformity with the above list of duties, it is common for an authorising officer and key personnel to be nominated. These representatives have sole responsibility for managing the skilled working professional and have their details passed to the Home Office.

An authorising officer (ao) is a senior business member with access to all the data and information needed per the above outline. This individual should have a position of power within the business and be able to amend each element of the sponsor licence admin. The ao can be the same as the key personnel or a different person. If another person is nominated as the key personnel, they have more responsibility regarding people management. 

All individuals given a position of authority within the sponsor licence process should have a strong knowledge of the compliance standards they must be meeting. Sponsor licences can be revoked if the high standards are no longer being met.  

These areas of responsibility can also be defined as level 1 and 2 users which the following responsibilities:

Level 1 Users have direct access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS) to update administration daily.

Aspects such as attendance and contract updates must be recorded to meet compliance needs. 

Level 2 Users can be appointed by level 1 personnel to carry out the admin tasks without the management input that the higher-level individuals have. 

All personnel on these levels must meet the criteria of being sponsor licence personnel. Otherwise, an entire application could be null and void. If a sponsor licence is taken away, this could negatively impact the company's ability to recruit overseas talent. 

At Synergy Immigration Solutions, we can work with companies to get sponsor licence approval and bring in skilled workers and put the measures in place that help the continuous management of these professionals. Compliance in this field is an ongoing task but completely possible with an efficient management system in place. 

Which roles can be sponsored for a skilled worker visa?

The skilled worker licence was introduced in 2021 to better regulate UK working visa requests. As an update to the previous tier 2 general visa route, the new requirements were updated to include a list of skills, industries, and salaries. Each role is also assigned a SOC code that should be included within applications to show that the vacancy in question is eligible.

The full list of jobs that the skilled worker visa application can sponsor can be found here. The list details the industry and role along with associated job titles to ensure that it is clear which positions are eligible for skilled worker employees during the application process from overseas. 

Alongside applying for a role listed on the official database, employees must also meet the other criteria, including salary, background, financial status, education, and level of English speaking, to be eligible for an approved visa. 

These elements comprise the points-based side of the application in which all approved personnel reach the 70 points needed to enter the UK. Whilst the roles will not be up for negotiation, aspects such as the salary and experience level may be eligible for negotiation if points are available within other application areas. 

Minimum salary thresholds for skilled workers

A key requirement is meeting the minimum salary threshold for employees applying via a skilled worker visa. This is because the Home Office must be able to regulate the work overseas employees are hired for. Having minimum salary levels for the various available positions ensures that only fair and justified hires are carried out.  

There is not just one minimum salary to consider but, instead, many based on the vocation and industry in question. Created based on current UK salaries and taking industry requirements into account, these salaries represent the minimum threshold for successful sponsor visa applications. 

This salary must be above the legally defined ‘going rate’ or minimum threshold outlined for the job position. The minimum salary can be defined by whichever is the highest out of the following for the vacancy being hired for:

  • A salary of £26,200 per annum
  • An hourly rate of £10.75 per hour on standard working hours
  • The ‘going rate’ for the type of work being completed.

Companies should view the government's salary and going rates table to ascertain the salary requirements. 

If the minimum salary or ‘going rate’ is not met, the position is not eligible for skilled worker applications.

How to match a role to the correct SOC code

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) is a complete list of all professions eligible for application via the skilled worker visa. 

Highlighting the job positions that the UK highly need to fill in order to continue elevating business and performance, the list includes industries, job titles, and descriptions of roles suitable for skilled worker visa applications from overseas. 

Whilst the job specification does not need to be the same, any positions should pay homage to this list and match the key criteria such as job titles, salaries, and operating sectors. These links are important as it also helps companies match their current vacancy to the exact SOC code, making it an eligible position for visa association.

The official database allows titles to be searched for matching codes. Also available is confirmation of the regulated qualifications framework or RQF level. This highlights the credentials needed to carry out a position and dictates the criteria for skilled worker applications. When the correct qualifications are not available, the SOC also outlines associated skills that can be used to gain application points. 

Only roles that are included within the SOC and skilled worker vacancy list are eligible for this form of visa application along with suitable candidates who have achieved passes in the other point categories.

Who to appoint as key personnel?

The key personnel are an intrinsic factor within a licence sponsor application process. Representing the sponsoring company and their intentions, the individual must meet certain criteria to be eligible. 

Whilst the position within the company is not dictated, a member of staff who will have line management responsibility for the new employee is the best candidate. The key personnel can also serve multiple positions within the hiring company at the time of application. The factor being assessed is their connection with the business in question, not the role they carry out. 

The key personnel will be responsible for liaising with the Home Office as the company’s primary point of contact, so they should ideally hold a position of authority within the hiring company. They must also be available for meetings and inspections upon request, as monitoring the status of sponsored employees is a duty that the Home Office take seriously. 

The criteria that the key personnel with a licence sponsor application should meet are the following:

  • The key contact must be a permanent staff member or an officially hired legal representative acting on behalf of the business. If the professional is a contractor or agency staff, at least one level 1 employee must be in place as a current employee. Proof of the relationship will need to also be proven via a signed official contractor or other supporting documentation.
  • The individuals cannot have any unspent criminal convictions or have been fined by the UKVI within the past year. 
  • Being based permanently in the UK is also a key criterion as well as providing full contact information.
  • The key personnel must also have paid all VAT and other exercise duty fees at the time of application. Being subject to bankruptcy or undertaking debt relief support is also not allowed and will result in a failed application.
  • Have not had a sponsor licence application revoked or rejected within the past 12 months. They must also not have a negative history regarding sponsor licence compliance. 

At Synergy Immigration Solutions, we can help you select the best candidates to become sponsors and assist in bringing your new employees to work for you. Our expert team can advise on the probable success of your applications to ensure the entire process is efficient.

Being an official key personnel does not have to be a daunting task, instead having the option to be highly beneficial to companies. Contact us today to find out more.

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Why should I choose Synergy Immigration Solutions to support my Sponsor Licence Application?

Our elite immigration agency has extensive experience in dealing with employer and employee applications concerning sponsor licencing. By choosing a professional company to manage your request, you are more likely to receive a successful outcome and, in turn, be able to hire the staff you need much more quickly. As an OISC-registered company, we provide advice that is legally compliant for an affordable price. To find out more, please call us on 020 315 05359, email info@synergy-immigration.com or fill in our online contact form.

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