With good working conditions and plenty of diverse job opportunities, the UK continues to be an attractive destination for non-UK nationals looking to work abroad.
In today’s dynamic work landscape, the search for top talent is no longer confined by geographical boundaries. Employers are increasingly turning to global talent pools to fulfil their staffing needs and overcome reports of a national skills shortage.
Sponsoring a foreign employee has become a strategic move for companies aiming to thrive in a competitive business environment.
In this article, we’ll explore the steps of sponsoring an employee from outside the UK, covering everything from obtaining a sponsorship licence to assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). Let’s get started.
Obtaining a sponsorship licence
To employ any individual from outside of the UK, including EU citizens, you’ll first need to obtain a sponsorship licence. A sponsorship licence allows you to assign non-UK nationals with a ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’ (CoS), which enables the employee to apply for a Skilled Worker Visa (formerly known as the Tier 2 General work visa).
Even if the position you’re offering is unpaid, such as charity work, you will still need to apply for a licence.
There are some exemptions to this rule. For example, you will not need a licence to employ:
- Irish citizens
- Anyone with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
- Anyone with indefinite leave to remain in the UK
You can read more about who is exempt from sponsorship by visiting GOV.UK.
Worker licence vs. temporary worker licence
There are two different types of sponsorship licence to consider, including:
- Worker licence – suitable for skilled or long-term employment
- Temporary worker licence – for specific types of temporary employment which may include creative, charity or religious work
If you plan on recruiting multiple sponsored employees, you can apply for both types of workers if applicable.
How to apply for a sponsorship licence
To apply for a sponsorship licence, you will need to confirm and provide evidence that both your business and the individual you plan on employing is eligible for sponsorship.
This means you must have supporting documents to demonstrate:
- You are a legitimate company operating lawfully in the UK
- You are offering genuine employment opportunities
- You have the appropriate HR systems in place to monitor and manage sponsored workers effectively
Additionally, you’ll be assessed to ensure:
- You do not have any unspent criminal convictions such as immigration offences, fraud or money laundering
- You do not have any unpaid or recent civil penalties for employing illegal workers or certain other offences
- You have not had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months
You must also confirm that the candidate(s) you want to employ is eligible to come to the UK under the immigration points-based system; which specifies non-UK individuals must meet a points score of 70 to be able to work in the UK. The score is marked against criteria such as their proficiency in English and their skill level in relation to the job.
Managing your licence
Before you get started with your application, you should ensure that you have appointed designated people within the business to manage the sponsorship. They will be responsible for making sure you remain compliant with ongoing record-keeping and reporting requirements to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) as outlined by GOV.UK.
As well as having the necessary people to manage the process, you will need to ensure that you are fully aware of and understand your responsibilities as a sponsor. You should:
- Ensure that your foreign workers possess the necessary skills, qualifications, or professional accreditations to fulfil their roles effectively, and maintain documented evidence of these qualifications.
- Only assign ‘Certificates of Sponsorship’ (CoS) when the job is genuinely suitable for sponsorship. We will explore this in more detail below.
- Monitor compliance with your sponsored workers. If they are not complying with the conditions of their visa, it’s your responsibility to inform the UKVI promptly.
- Adhere to the relevant employment laws, ensuring a fair working environment.
Your licence may be downgraded, suspended or revoked if you fail to comply with these responsibilities. You can find full guidance on your requirements as a sponsor on GOV.UK.
Once you’ve checked and confirmed your eligibility and appointed the necessary management, you are ready to apply for your sponsorship online.
You will need to complete an online form, as well as pay an application fee. The amount you pay will depend on the type of licence(s) you are applying for, as well as the size of your company.
This will be somewhere between £546 (for charities and small businesses) and £1,476 (for large organisations).
Once you have submitted your application form, you will need to email the submission sheet at the end of the application, if requested, along with your supporting documents to the UKVI via the email address that is provided during the application.
The UKVI will then review your application form and supporting documents. In some cases, they may arrange to visit your business to assess your legitimacy and capability for carrying out the required duties as a sponsor. Be prepared to supply records of job adverts you’ve posted, the number of candidates who applied, and anyone who was shortlisted for the role, as you may be asked to present this.
Applications are usually processed within 8 weeks; however, you may be able to request a faster decision if needed, which might involve an additional fee.
If successful, your licence will be valid for 4 years, at which point you will need to renew it.
Assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship
Once your licence has been granted, you will be able to create and assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to candidates from outside the UK by sending a request through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
You will need to include details about the candidate, including:
- ID information
- Relevant work and home addresses
- Employment information
If your CoS request is approved, you will be able to send your employee a unique reference number to include on their visa application. Typically, the Home Office will consider each case and decide whether or not to grant CoS within 24 hours. Approved certificates will appear in your SMS account, at which point you can assign them immediately.
Once granted, the employee must then submit their visa application under the same category as your licence. If the prospective employee’s visa application is approved, they may travel to the UK and start working. Bear in mind it may take up to 3 weeks for a visa to be approved.
Associated CoS fees
For every Certificate of Sponsorship you assign, you’ll be required to pay a fee of:
- £199 for Skilled Workers
- £21 for Temporary Workers
You will also be required to pay the Immigration Skills Charge. How much you pay is dependent on the size of your business:
- £1,000 for the first year of work in the UK, plus £500 for each additional 6 months for large companies; or
- £364 and £182 respectively for small businesses or charities
However, if you are sponsoring someone who is filling a role that features on the Shortage Occupation List, such as health services, scientists, and engineers, you will not need to pay this fee.
So, there you have it – how to sponsor an employee from outside the UK. We hope you found this post useful, and that it helped clarify the steps involved.
Navigating the sponsorship process can be complex, and requires careful consideration and ongoing management. That said, when done correctly, obtaining a sponsorship licence opens the doors to a global pool of talent and exciting possibilities.