UK businesses intending to hire workers from overseas (including those who carry Skilled Worker visas) are first required to obtain a sponsor licence from the Home Office.
Only upon meeting the strict and extensive eligibility requirements set out by the Home Office will a sponsorship licence be granted, and the relevant fee must be paid with each application submitted.
Sponsor Licence Guidance
The full published guidelines on sponsor licence acquisition by the Home Office extend for over 200 pages, with terms and conditions that differ significantly from one type of business to the next. Employers must get to grips with a considerable amount of information to determine whether or not they are eligible to become sponsors, and what the law subsequently requires them to do upon receiving a sponsorship licence.
It is therefore important to speak with a trained and experienced legal representative at an early stage. Whether looking to obtain a sponsor licence as quickly as possible or simply considering the potential benefits of hiring overseas workers, Aristone Solicitors would be delighted to hear from you at your convenience.
Our team will familiarise you with the requirements set out by the Home Office’s UK Visas & Immigration department (UKVI), and support your application every step of the way. Irrespective of whether your application is approved, rejected, or refused, Aristone Solicitors will provide the full representation you need to ensure a successful and cost-effective outcome for your business.
For more information on any of the services we provide or to discuss sponsor licence applications in more detail, contact a member of the team at Aristone Solicitors today.
Brexit has made it significantly more challenging for businesses across the UK to hire workers from overseas. However, the new points-based system has been designed to make it possible for any business wishing to do so to seek talent from the broadest possible international market.
Worker skill level and salary threshold rules have been overhauled, making it particularly difficult for unskilled workers from overseas to be hired by UK employers.
The UK’s exit from the European Union brought an end to EU free movement, and with it a raft of new immigration rules. Effective from January 1, 2021, any EU or non-EU national looking to work in the UK must obtain the relevant visa and be sponsored by a business that carries a sponsorship licence.
Immigrant workers seeking employment in the UK must now meet the requirements of the new points-based system. The Tier 2 (General) visa entry pathway has been replaced by the new skilled worker route, which applies to: EU nationals who arrived in the UK after 11 pm on 31st December 2020; and Non-EU nationals who applied for a visa on or after 1st December 2020.
EU nationals who were already residing legally in the UK on January 1, 2021 do not need to be sponsored. Such individuals who intended to continue living and working in the UK should have registered under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June, 2021.
What is UK Visa Sponsorship?
In accordance with the new points-based immigration system introduced by the Home Office, there are three main pathways into the country for overseas workers seeking employment in the UK:
- Skilled worker visa
- Global Business Mobility visas
- Temporary worker visas
In order for a business to employ an overseas worker under any of these pathways, they must carry an appropriate sponsorship licence. An application must be submitted to UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) complete with the appropriate payment, inclusive of all supporting evidence and documentation to verify the organisation’s eligibility to become a sponsor.
According to the Home Office, the strict rules governing sponsorship and the hiring of overseas workers are essential measures to prevent the abuse of the immigration system and combat illegal working. Upon obtaining a sponsor licence, a business formally agrees to comply with all terms, conditions, rules, and regulations set out by the Home Office.
The sponsorship system ensures that the employer meets all compliance duties necessary to sponsor overseas workers, and is offering roles that meet all published minimum skill level, salary, and genuineness requirements. It also ensures that overseas workers hired by UK businesses are suitably qualified and have the necessary English language skills.
Should a business fail to meet any of its obligations as a sponsor, its sponsorship licence may be immediately revoked, and further legal action may be taken by the Home Office. Overseas workers hired by the business may lose their jobs, have their visas curtailed, and be forced to leave the UK with little notice.
Which Type of Sponsor Licence Do I Need?
Most overseas workers hired by UK businesses are taken on under the skilled worker route. Consequently, the information in this guide is aimed primarily at businesses applying for skilled worker licenses.
Elsewhere, businesses looking to migrate workers from overseas to a UK-based branch or office will need to obtain a Global Business Mobility Visa Senior or Specialist Worker licence (formerly the intra-company transfer ICT licence).
Meanwhile, employers planning to take on overseas workers in specific roles for finite periods of time may need to apply for a Temporary Worker sponsor licence.
During your initial consultation, our team of UK immigration experts will help you determine the most appropriate type of sponsor licence for your business, and provide the support you need to ensure the best possible chance of a successful outcome.
Contact a member of the team at Aristone Solicitors today to learn more, or email at your convenience and we will get back to you as promptly as possible.
Sponsor Licence Requirements
Completion of a sponsor licence application is fairly straightforward, but providing the Home Office with robust evidence to verify eligibility to become a sponsor can be quite the contrary. This is why it is advisable to seek expert legal support at an early stage, and to have your application scrutinised by a qualified professional before submission.
The Home Office places no specific restrictions on organisation size or type, which means that any business looking to do so can apply for a sponsorship licence. However, it is important to remember that if your application is unsuccessful due to even a minor oversight, you will not receive a refund of the application fee, and will be required to pay the same fee once again to reapply.
Eligibility Requirements Outlined by the Home Office
The organisation is genuine and operating and/or trading lawfully in the UK
The business must be able to provide evidence that it is a genuine and legal entity that is operating within the UK. In the case of a limited company, the organisation must be registered with Companies House. There are no specific requirements with regard to how long the company has been trading for, but the Home Office must be satisfied that it is a real and legitimate company.
The organisation is based in the UK
Unless the business has a presence in the UK, a sponsor license will not be granted. While it is possible for a business with only a virtual presence in the UK (such as a company that exclusively offers its services online), it is typically easier for organisations with physical UK premises to verify that they are UK-based.
Suitability Criteria Outlined by the Home Office
UKVI will look to ensure a potential sponsor:
Is offering a genuine vacancy which meets the skilled worker criteria. The Home Office may request additional information to verify the specific nature of the role and its duties and to confirm that the role actually exists. Exaggerated job descriptions to meet the skill level requirements are likely to raise suspicions that the vacancy is not genuine.
Has the HR and recruitment systems in place to render it capable of complying with the sponsor duties and responsibilities, and evidencing that compliance.
The Home Office reserves the right to investigate sponsor compliance by conducting a site inspection before (as well as after) the licence is granted.
Is “honest, dependable and reliable”. This means the organisation and its owners, directors and appointed key personnel do not have any unspent criminal convictions.
Does not represent a threat to immigration control with no evidence of any previous non-compliance by the organisation.
If relevant, has the appropriate planning permission or Local Planning Authority consent for the type of business operated at the trading address.
The genuine test is more of an extensive case study than a basic eligibility requirement to fulfil. This is where a business needs to present the Home Office with complete and convincing evidence that your business requires a sponsor licence, and needs to seek overseas workers for a genuine and valid reason.
Only if you are able to present a convincing case as to why your business needs a sponsor licence and migrant workers will you qualify for a sponsorship.
According to the Home Office, a business must be able to demonstrate that any role set to be filled by an overseas worker is a ‘genuine vacancy’. This means providing evidence that:
The vacancy meets the requirements of the relevant category, in accordance with the government’s published Standard Occupation Codes.
The role is appropriate for the organisation in question. For example, if you run a small local business with just three employees, the Home Office may not deem it necessary for you to take on a dedicated payroll manager from overseas.
The prospective worker’s training or employment background fits the vacancy, meaning that they are appropriate for the job.
In the case that any of the above requirements are not clearly met, the Home Office may seek further evidence and clarification from the sponsor licence applicant. Should the requested evidence and information not be provided within the allocated time, the application will be rejected.
At any point during application, the applicant may be contacted by the Home Office and asked to attend an in-person interview. During which, the finest details regarding the vacancy and the prospective worker will be scrutinised at length, and the individual attending the interview will be expected to provide sufficient evidence to support their case.
It is therefore essential to ensure that you present the Home Office with a strong enough case in the first place, in order to avoid subsequent complications and potential costs.
Whether planning ahead or in need of urgent support with a time-critical immigration issue, the team at Aristone Solicitors would be delighted to hear from you anytime.
Sponsor Licence Duties
Where a business receives a sponsor licence, the organisation agrees to abide by all rules and regulations set out by the Home Office. To become a licenced sponsor is to take on additional responsibilities, and to keep up to date with any new or updated Home Office legislation that may affect your HR practices.
The main duties and responsibilities taken on by sponsor licence holders are separated into four distinct categories:
- Monitoring & reporting
- Absence monitoring
- Notifying the Home Office of changes in circumstances
An overview of each of these duties in a little more detail:
It is the responsibility of the business to keep full and detailed records of the overseas workers they hire, including all necessary evidence that they have the legal right to work and reside in the UK. Their personal details and contact information must also be kept accurate and up to date.
Copies of key documents must be retained by the employer, including:
- Immigration status documents, including their period of leave to remain/stay in the UK)
- Biometric residence permit
All associated paperwork and documentation (such as employee contracts) must be retained, as copies may be requested by the Home Office at any time for investigations and analysis. It is also the employer’s responsibility to conduct all necessary ‘right to work’ checks before taking on overseas employees, and to maintain formal evidence of such efforts.
Monitoring & Reporting
Sponsor license holders are required by law to appropriately track and monitor the overseas workers they hire. Within 10 days, the employer must report directly to the Home Office if a sponsored worker:
Does not turn up for work and start as expected
Is absent from work for ten days without a valid reason
Resigns or is terminated from their position prematurely
Changes job roles or requests a change of role
Employers must also contact the Home Office immediately if they believe that a sponsored workers has breached any of the terms and conditions of their visa.
The employer takes responsibility for monitoring and recording sponsored workers’ absences – authorised and unauthorised.
This includes paid holiday, unpaid leave, sickness and all types of unexpected and unauthorised time off.
Notifying the Home Office of Changes in Circumstances
There are certain changes in circumstances that must be reported to the Home Office, in advance of them coming into effect. Examples of which include a change of company address, or a major alteration to the core purpose of the business.
In such instances, the Home Office may conduct an unannounced site inspection, and/or invite the sponsor holder for an interview in person. Should these changes of circumstances in any way affect the eligibility of the business to hold a sponsorship licence, it may be revoked without appeal.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding changes in circumstances which may need to be reported to the Home Office, contact a member of the team at Aristone Solicitors anytime for more information.
Immigration Compliance Audit
Where the Home Office declines a sponsorship licence application for any reason, it can be more difficult to qualify with future applications.
This is why it is advisable to perform an extensive internal compliance audit, prior to submitting an application for a sponsorship licence. It is essential to ensure that your current HR systems and hiring policies are in order, and that you (and all other key decision-makers) fully understand the implications and responsibilities that accompany employee sponsorship.
If you are not entirely confident in your organisation’s capacity to meet all terms and conditions set out by the Home Office, consulting with an experienced legal professional in advance comes highly recommended.
Which Types of Job Roles Can Be Sponsored?
Under the skilled worker license, a broad range of job roles can be sponsored by qualifying employees. In all instances, specific salary and skill levels must be met, and some niches/sectors are excluded entirely.
A minimum of 70 points must be attained under the skilled worker visa route to qualify for sponsorship, through a combination of the following characteristics:
Minimum Salary Thresholds for Skilled Workers
In order for a UK business to take on an overseas worker, they must ensure that their salary meets the minimum threshold set out by the Home Office. Meeting this requirement is not always as straightforward as it sounds, given how different minimum thresholds apply to different types of workers.
There are instances where an individual may only need to meet the minimum threshold of £20,480 or above to qualify for the full 20 points. This would apply in the case of a person with a STEM PhD of relevance to the vacancy in question, or where a job is included in the Shortage Occupation List.
It is also important to remember that the minimum thresholds outlined by the Home Office are established on the basis of a standard 39-hour working week.
Where a person’s job role entails longer working hours than this, their minimum salary threshold will be adjusted pro-rata.
Sponsor Licence Management & Compliance
Appointing Key Personnel
Businesses that hold sponsorship licences must appoint ‘key personnel’ to oversee all matters pertaining to the hiring and general HR management of overseas workers.
These are the individuals who will take responsibility for meeting the requirements set out by the Home Office, and may be called upon to provide evidence and/or attend interviews upon request.
Roles that must be appointed by the business are as follows:
Only a high-level leadership figure with authority over recruitment and HR activities can be assigned the role of authorising officer (AO). An organisation can appoint only one AO, and this is the individual who will effectively oversee the hiring and day-to-day management of overseas workers. In the event that an AO leaves the company or takes a leave of absence for any reason, they are replaced by a suitably qualified individual immediately.
The key contact is the individual that will be contacted by the Home Office to discuss matters pertaining to the organisation’s sponsor licence, and with requests for information. Only one key contact can be appointed by the business at a time, but there is the option of appointing an external legal representative (as opposed to an in-house employee). This is often the preferred option, enabling an appointed legal representative to discuss and settle issues directly with the Home Office on behalf of the business.
Level 1 user
Those who are appointed level 1 user status gain access to the organisation’s Sponsor Management System (SMS), and play a lead role in issuing and managing licenses on an everyday basis. A business can appoint multiple level 1 users, but it is advisable to keep numbers to the bare minimum for accountability purposes.
Level 2 user
Individuals who are appointed level 2 users likewise perform a variety of everyday admin tasks regarding the issue and management of licenses, but do not have the same higher-level permissions as level 1 users.
Who Should Be Appointed to Key Roles?
The key personnel a business appoints must be named on their sponsor licence application form. With a smaller business, a single worker can be assigned multiple roles. Irrespective of business size, the individual appointed as key contact will almost always be a level 1 user as well.
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the key personnel appointed are suitable for their roles, and meet the following requirements set out by the Home Office:
- Appointed personnel must be based permanently in the UK for the full duration of their role.
- They must be paid members of staff employed by the organisation in a conventional capacity (with the exception of appointing a third-party legal representative)
- Individuals assigned key roles must not have any unspent criminal convictions or offences related to immigration
In addition, those who are granted access to the Sponsor Management System are not allowed to process or manage cases involving close relatives.
Certificates of Sponsorship
What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?
Licensed organisations issue reference numbers to the workers they intend to sponsor by SMS, which is referred to as a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
This unique reference number is then used by the Home Office to verify that all requirements under the worker’s visa route have been met.
In order to apply for a visa under the skilled worker pathway, the applicant must first receive the Certificate of Sponsorship, and include the reference number in their application.
What Are the Two Types of Certificates of Sponsorship?
The two types of certificates of sponsorship an organisation may issue are as follows:
Defined Certificate of Sponsorship
Skilled worker visa applicants need a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship if they are applying from outside the UK and need initial entry clearance.
Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship
Where a person is applying for a skilled worker visa who is already residing and/or working in the UK, they will need to include an Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship reference code in their application.
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure they understand the purposes and functions of the two different types of sponsorship certificates. In the event that the wrong type of Certificate of Sponsorship is issued, the prospective worker’s application will be rejected by the Home Office.
In addition, skilled worker visa applications must be submitted no later than three months after the Certificate of Sponsorship is allocated. At this point, the application will be automatically rejected.
Applying for Certificates of Sponsorship
When applying for a sponsorship licence, the organisation will need to specify the number of undefined Certificates of Sponsorship it will require until the end of the current allocation year (April 5).
Employers must therefore be careful in considering their projected recruitment needs for the full business year, and to request a CoS allocation that will comfortably fulfil these requirements.
Recruiting Sponsored Roles
Is it possible to begin recruiting overseas workers in advance, or must you first obtain a sponsor licence to do so?
The Home Office will only grant a business a sponsorship licence where the business has a genuine requirement for a foreign worker, and the role to be filled meets all published skilled worker visa requirements. It is therefore easier to qualify for a sponsorship licence if you have already identified a suitable candidate for your vacancy, and can provide evidence that both the job role and the candidate meet the Home Office’s requirements.
However, you cannot formally recruit an overseas worker without first being granted a sponsor licence.
Applying for a Sponsor Licence
The Application Form
The sponsorship licence application form can be accessed online via the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). The application itself is fairly simple, but the system is somewhat dated and has a tendency to run into the occasional bug.
It is therefore highly advisable to save your progress on a regular basis, in order to avoid having to start again from scratch.
Information required when submitting your sponsor licence application form is as follows:
- The type of licence you will be applying for
- Contact information
- Key personnel nominated on the licence
- List of supporting documents to be submitted
The Home Office states that a business can hire a legal representative to oversee the completion and submission of the application form, but it must be a member of the organisation itself (in a suitably qualified position) who verifies and submits the form.
It is also necessary to pay the applicable fee at the time the application is submitted – further details on costs can be found below.
Upon payment of the fee, a submission sheet is generated. This can either be printed off, signed, and submitted with the necessary supporting documents by mail, or signed electronically and returned as a PDF complete with all supporting documentation.
Documents Required for a Sponsor Licence Application
Failure to provide all necessary supporting documentation is one of the most common causes of rejected sponsor licence applications. The Home Office states that at least four mandatory documents must be provided for a business to qualify for a sponsor licence, as evidence that it is operating lawfully within the UK.
But as there is some degree of ambiguity in the published guidelines, businesses often find it difficult to know exactly which documents they need to submit to fulfil the government’s requirements.
The documents that need to be submitted will be determined based on the type of business and the length of time it has been operating, which may include the following among others:
- Latest audited annual accounts
- Employer’s liability insurance certificate
- Certificate of VAT registration
- Latest corporate bank account statement
- HMRC registration evidence, such as including PAYE number and accounts office reference number
- Evidence of ownership of, or a commercial lease for, business premises
The Home Office states that at least four forms of evidence must be provided, but it can be useful and beneficial to provide more where possible. The more evidence you provide to support your application, the higher the likelihood you will qualify for a sponsorship licence.
Additional Supporting Documents
Along with submitting four forms of evidence regarding the legitimacy of the business entity, the applicant must also do the following as part of their application:
- Explain why they are making an application for a sponsor licence
- Specify the industry they are operating in
- State their weekday opening and operating hours
- Submit a current hierarchy chart detailing all owners, directors and board members
- Submit a list of the names and job titles of all employees, if the organisation has 50 employees or fewer
- Specify the names of everyone who has access to the email address supplied with the online sponsor licence application
- Provide a contact (landline) telephone number
All of the above information can be provided in the format of a basic cover letter.
Additional Information When Hiring a Skilled Worker
If you are applying for a sponsor licence with the aim of taking on skilled workers from overseas, further details on the vacancy (or vacancies) will need to be submitted, including but not limited to:
- The job title and Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code for the role.
- A job description outlining the duties of the role.
- Details of the skills, experience, and qualifications needed to perform the role.
- The guaranteed salary if the job were vacant at the date of the sponsor licence application.
- Details of where the role sits on the organisational hierarchy chart.
Submitting the Evidence
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were required to send certified or original copies of all supporting documents by registered post. Today, the Home< Office accepts digital documents in PDF format, which can be sent and received online via SMS.
All documentation must be received by the Home Office no later than five days after the main application form is submitted online. This does not give businesses a great deal of time to collate the documents they need to support their application, which is why it is advisable to begin collecting and verifying the evidence needed to support your application as far in advance as possible.
It is not uncommon for it to take several weeks for the required documents to be prepared, verified, and readied for submission. During this time, it is a good idea to consult with a trained legal representative, who can ensure that you have all the necessary paperwork to support your application.
Remember that in the event of even the most minor errors or omissions, your application may be rejected, and you will not qualify for a refund of the application fee. You will also need to pay the same fee once again with each subsequent application you submit.
If you choose to send your documents to the Home Office by regular post, it is important to use special delivery, recorded delivery, or private courier service that can be tracked.
Submitting the Application Form
Your sponsor licence application form should be scrutinised by your designated Authorising Officer several times in comprehensive detail, before it is submitted. If there are any potential ambiguities whatsoever in the information provided, the Home Office is unlikely to accept your application.
Where possible, it is advisable to have your legal representative check your application before it is submitted, and to assist with any complexities regarding its completion. Your legal representative can help with all aspects of the application completion process, but is not authorised to submit it themselves.
Copies of both the sponsor licence application and the submission sheet should be retained by the organisation, which may be required for reference purposes.
Who Can Apply For a Sponsor Licence Within a Multi-Branch Business?
Where a business operates multiple branches within the UK, it may apply for:
- A single sponsor licence that covers the head office and all branches in the UK.
- A single sponsor licence that covers the head office and some UK branches.
- Separate sponsor licences for the head office and each UK branch.
- A single sponsor licence to cover several UK branches (perhaps on a regional basis).
Deciding which approach to pursue comes largely down to practicalities. If your business operates multiple UK branches, it is much easier to apply for, obtain, and manage a single sponsor licence for the entire organisation than separate licences for individual branches.
However, in the event that action is taken against the organisation by the Home Office, the implications will affect the organisation as a whole. For instance, if the company’s sole sponsor licence was to be revoked or suspended, every branch of the business would face the same consequences.
How Long Does the Sponsor Licence Application Take?
Collecting and preparing the necessary evidence to support a sponsor licence application can take several weeks in its own right. This is why it is important to begin the process as early as possible, and to consult with a trained legal professional at an early stage.
As a general rule of thumb, applicants are advised to allow around eight weeks for a sponsor licence application to be processed. The actual processing time can be somewhat less than this, in the case of a complete and error-free application submitted with an abundance of supporting evidence.
Even so, it is comparatively rare for the Home Office to return decisions within less than 4 to 6 weeks.
If the requirements of your business are urgent, there is the option of accelerated processing for a £500 additional fee. This will result in a guaranteed response from the Home Office within 10 working days.
Which Factors Can Influence Application Processing Times?
The most common causes of delays and disruptions when applying for sponsor licences are as follows:
Inadequate Evidence – The requirements set out by the Home Office with regard to supporting evidence appear simple at first glance, but can actually be quite difficult to negotiate. Consequently, this is the single most common reason for delayed and rejected sponsor licence applications.
Pre-Licence Compliance Visit – The Home Office may deem it necessary to conduct an audit of your business on-site, for which a minimum of two weeks’ notice will be provided. Following the inspection, it can take anything from 6 to 8 weeks for the results of the inspection to be detailed and presented in a report, and the application progressed.
Key Personnel Availability – The Authorising Officer appointed by the business must personally sign the submission sheet sent to the Home Office alongside all supporting documentation no later than five days after the online application has been submitted. Should an AO not be available for any reason, the application cannot progress beyond this stage.
Sponsored Worker Application Processing Times – Delays may also be encountered following the granting of a sponsorship licence if there are any issues with the application submitted by the sponsored worker. Decisions regarding foreign worker applications can take as long as 3 weeks following their visa interview, but can be expedited with a paid priority service to as little as five working days.
At Aristone Solicitors, we can provide you with the tailored legal support and representation you need to ensure a smooth and seamless application process from start to finish. Call today to learn more, or email us with details of your requirements and we will get back to you as promptly as possible.
How Much Does it Cost to Apply For a Sponsorship Licence?
The required sponsorship licence application fee must be paid at the time the form is submitted online. Please be aware that no refunds (partial or otherwise) are provided by the Home Office in the event of application rejections. Sponsorship licence fees vary on the basis of the size and type of the organisation in question.
An organisation is considered to be a “small” sponsor by the Home Office, upon meeting at least two of the following requirements:
– annual turnover of £10.2 million or less
– total assets worth £5.1 million or less
– 50 employees or fewer
All registered charities are also classified as “small” sponsors, irrespective of their size, nature, or combined value.
For businesses that fall within the “small” sponsor classification, a standard licence fee of £536 is payable (renewable every four years)
All other businesses that do not meet these requirements are categorised as “medium” or “large” sponsors, and are liable for the higher £1,476 fee (renewable every four years).
There are some instances where no fee is payable. For example, where a business has already been granted a ‘Worker’ sponsor licence (formerly known as Tier 2 sponsor licence) and decides to add a subcategory, an additional fee does not need to be paid.
Organisations classed as charitable sponsors also qualify for the lower fee, which includes any:
- registered charity in England or Wales
- registered charity in Scotland
- registered charity in Northern Ireland
- excepted charity
- exempt charity
- ecclesiastical corporation established for charitable purposes
All organisations that do not fall within one of these categories or classifications are liable for the full £1,476 application fee.
Along with the initial application fee itself, there are other costs that must be taken into account for businesses looking to hire skilled workers from overseas.
Examples of these include the following:
Sponsor Licence (£535 – £1,476)
Each Certificate of Sponsorship issued to foreign workers (£21 – £199)
Immigration Skills Charge for specialist roles (initial cost of £364 – £1,000)
For more details on sponsor licence application costs or to discuss any aspect of your requirements in more detail, contact a member of the team at Aristone Solicitors today.
Pre-Licence Compliance Visit
If the Home Office deems it necessary to conduct an on-site compliance visit before granting your business a sponsor licence, the visit may be conducted with or without advance notice. These inspections are performed to ensure that your organisation meets all suitability requirements to become a licensed sponsor.
During the inspection, a Home Office representative will examine your HR management systems, and request to see a broad range of documents regarding your hiring practices and planned employee sponsorships. Interviews will be conducted with the Authorising Officer and other key personnel, who will be expected to answer a broad range of questions to assess the company’s genuine need and suitability for foreign labour.
If the visiting Home Office official suspects any issues, abnormalities, or breaches, the application will be suspended or rejected.
Preparing for Home Office Inspections
If you are provided with advance notice that the Home Office intends to conduct an inspection, it is essential to prepare accordingly for their visit. This means taking the following essential preparatory steps among others:
Ensure that all of the information you provided on your application form and submitted via the SMS is complete and accurate.
Double-check the suitability of the key personnel that you have appointed, and that they are capable of fulfilling their roles.
Make sure that the AO is ready to be interviewed at length by a Home Office official, and will be able to answer all of their questions in the required detail.
Where possible, consider performing a mock compliance audit in-house, ideally under the guidance of a qualified legal representative.
Make sure all essential documentation and evidence are available for inspection at the time of their visit.
Be welcoming, pleasant, and personable on the day, and be ready to comply with the official’s requests without question or resistance.
Politely request a copy of all notes and information taken by the Home Office official, prior to their departure.
If you have been notified of an upcoming Home Office inspection or would simply like to ensure that your affairs are in order should an unannounced inspection by performed on your business, call the team at Aristone Solicitors today for more information.
Outright rejection of a sponsor licence application is not the only concern for organisations looking to hire foreign workers. Once a licence has been obtained, it may be suspended, downgraded, or revoked at any time, if the Home Office identifies (or suspects) any compliance breaches.
On-site inspections and detailed audits can be conducted by the Home Office at any time, and most commonly take place without notice. This means that at any moment after being granted a sponsor licence, your business could face an in-depth and completely unannounced investigation.
Where a sponsor licence is suspended, existing sponsored workers can remain under your employment, but no further Certificates of Sponsorship can be issued to take on new workers. After receiving notification that your sponsor licence has been suspended, you will have 20 working days to lodge a case with the Home Office to reinstate your sponsor licence, or it may be revoked permanently.
In the event that your sponsor licence is fully revoked, sponsored workers under your employment will face the prospect of their visas being curtailed, and their right to remain in the UK being revoked at short notice. Following the revocation of a sponsor licence, a business cannot apply for a new licence within the first 12 months.
There is no possibility to appeal decisions regarding revoked licences, but a business may choose to challenge such decisions made by the Home Office through the Judicial Review process. As this almost always results in a complex and potentially costly legal battle, it is essential to consult with an experienced legal adviser before pursuing such action.
Organisations that are found to have breached Home Office guidelines with regard to the legal employment of overseas workers may face fines of up to £20,000 per illegal employee, and further legal action in more severe cases.
Decisions From the Home Office
If your application for a sponsor licence is successful, you will receive confirmation from the Home Office by e-mail. At which point, the name of your business will be added to the official licenced-to-sponsor register in the UK.
This e-mail will also confirm the number of Certificates of Sponsorship you have been allocated, and the login credentials your assigned level 1 user will need to perform their duties via the SMS.
Sponsor Licence Validity
A sponsor licence has a standard validity period of four years, after which it must be renewed manually. There is no automatic renewal process with sponsor licences, which automatically expire four years after being issued.
Renewing a sponsor licence is generally much quicker and easier than applying for a new licence in the first place. The Authorising Officer simply needs to submit the renewal request via the SMS, and pay the standard application fee once again.
But as the Home Office will now have extensive records of the organisation’s HR activities spanning four years, even greater scrutiny can be placed on the business and its performance than on a new applicant. If there is even the slightest issue or oversight evident in the company’s records during this time, the Home Office may deem a detailed on-site audit necessary to process their licence renewal application.
In addition, if no compliance audit has been conducted during these four years, it is highly likely that an on-site visit (most likely unannounced) will be conducted by the Home Office as standard.
Refused or Rejected Sponsor Licence Applications
The rejection of a sponsor licence application can be frustrating, disappointing, and potentially costly. For organisations with a general requirement for migrant workers, the consequences of rejection can be catastrophic.
In the event that your application is rejected, the reason for its refusal will be indicated in the decision letter issued by the Home Office. In many instances, applications are rejected on the basis of technicalities, or the provision of incomplete/inadequate supporting evidence. If this is the case, you will be able to apply once again with no cooling-off period, but must pay the standard application fee once more.
However, applications that are refused due to the business and/or the vacancy not meeting all Home Office eligibility requirements, a cooling-off period of six months applies. If for any reason the Home Office does not believe your organisation is eligible for a sponsor licence, your application will be rejected.
Expert Legal Support and Representation for Sponsor Licence Applicants
The costs and complications associated with rejected sponsor licence applications often far outweigh those of seeking expert legal support at an early stage. The UK’s immigration system where non-UK workers are concerned has become increasingly complex since Brexit. Increasingly, the Home Office is scrutinising applicants to such an extent that even the most superfluous oversights and issues are resulting in immediate rejection.
At Aristone Solicitors, we can provide you with the trained legal support and representation you need to negotiate the complexities of becoming a licensed sponsor. Whether applying for the first time or weighing up your options following a rejected application, we can help.
With no obligation to go ahead, we will help you determine the most appropriate course of action for your business, and help you present a convincing case to the Home Office. For more information on any of our services or to discuss the sponsor licence application process in more detail, contact a member of the team at Aristone Solicitors today.
Sponsor Licence Application FAQs
What is a sponsor licence?
A sponsor licence (aka sponsorship licence) must be obtained by any UK business looking to take on skilled workers from the EU and non-EEA territories. To qualify for a sponsorship licence, an employer must meet all of the strict and extensive eligibility requirements set out by the Home Office.
How much does it cost to apply for a sponsorship licence?
For businesses that fall within the “small” sponsor classification, a standard licence fee of £536 is payable (renewable every four years). All other businesses that do not meet these requirements are categorised as “medium” or “large” sponsors, and are liable for the higher £1,476 fee (renewable every four years). Some types of charitable organisations are exempt.
What documents are needed to apply for sponsorship?
The documentation needed to support a sponsor licence application will vary in accordance with the size and type of business applying, and the type of sponsor licence they require. The Home Office states that a minimum of four forms of evidence are required to verify the legitimacy of the business applying (see above for more information on acceptable forms of evidence).
How long does a sponsor licence last?
Sponsor licences expire after four years, and therefore must be renewed in due course. There is no automatic renewal system, and license renewal applications are subject to the same scrutiny as initial sponsor licence applications.
How long does it take to get a UK sponsorship licence?
Official Home Office guidance states that it can take up to eight weeks to receive a decision, following the submission of a sponsor licence application.
But as it can take several weeks to collate the documents and evidence needed to support an application, it is important to get the process underway as early as possible. An expedited ten-day processing service is also available for an additional fee of £500.