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© Pathfynder Limited 2018. Pathfynder Solicitors is a trading name of Pathfynder Limited, a company registered in England and Wales with company registration number 10170947. The registered address is King House, 5-11 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4UA. Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, SRA No. 629672.


Sponsorship licences were introduced in 2008 to shift some of the responsibilities and costs of immigration control from UKVI to those who benefit most from immigration such as employers and education providers.

The concept was intended to be a simple system whereby individuals looking to come to the UK under certain visa categories had to obtain sponsorship from an organisation which had a licence issued by UKVI. However, over the years the system has become quite complex and it is easy to fall foul of the rules.

There are a number of different types of sponsorship licences which enable organisations to:

- Recruit workers;

- Enrol students;

- Employ ministers of religion; and

- Employ sportspeople.

There are also specific licences under the Government Authorised Exchange Scheme which promote international objectives such as enabling overseas engineering students to obtain work experience in engineering companies in the UK.

This article focuses on Tier 2 of the Points Based System, which is one of the most common sponsorship licences for non-European nationals to migrate to and work in the UK. This section will consider some of the main requirements that employers will need to satisfy in order to obtain a Tier 2 sponsorship licence.

Main requirements to obtain a Tier 2 sponsorship licence

To obtain a licence under Tier 2, a prospective sponsor must satisfy UKVI that:

- They have appropriate systems in place to meet the sponsor’s duties under the licence. These include appointing key personnel within the business who will manage the sponsorship process and having appropriate recruitment systems in place.

- They can offer a genuine vacancy which meets the criteria of the category of business that the sponsor is applying for a licence under. The sponsor must also provide evidence that the migrant will fill a genuine vacancy that cannot be filled by a suitable settled worker.

- They do not have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering;

- They have not previously failed UKVI compliance;

- They have not been suspended or removed from any sponsor register within the last five years;

- They do not have any criminal prosecutions pending; and

- They have not failed to pay VAT or any other form of excise duty.

Additionally, as with most immigration applications, prospective sponsors are required to provide a selection of supporting documents.

Documents required for the application

The exact set of documents to be provided will depend on the nature of the prospective sponsor’s business as well as the type of Tier 2 licence that is being applied for.

To determine which documents are relevant, a prospective sponsor will have to look at the UKVI document entitled ‘Appendix A: supporting documents for sponsor licence application’ (‘Appendix A’), which sets out four tables of documents. Employers are required to navigate Appendix A to determine the types of documents applicable to them.

Examples of the types of documents contained in the four tables are:

- Avidence of a current corporate bank account;

- A certificate of VAT registration;

- A letter from the Department for International Trade;

- Evidence of registration for PAYE;

- Employer’s liability insurance certificate; and

- Proof of ownership or lease of business premises.

In addition to the documents set out at Appendix A, a prospective sponsor will have to provide a detailed hierarchy chart setting out a hierarchy of any owners, directors and board members. Prospective sponsors that have less than 50 employees must list all the employees within the company and state their full names and job titles.

All documents submitted must be original documents or, where specified, certified in a certain manner.

Application process

The actual application is relatively straightforward.

To make an application, a prospective sponsor must submit an online application to UKVI and paid the appropriate fee (set out below). Once this is done, they will have to print out a submission sheet which must be completed and posted to UKVI together with the supporting documents within five working days from the date that the application was submitted. Once the application and all supporting documents are submitted, UKVI generally make decisions on the application within eight weeks although Pathfynder Solicitors is known to have obtained decisions on licences sooner than that.


The initial fee for a sponsor licence application will depend on the size of the sponsor. A small business or a charity will be required to pay an initial fee of £536 whereas a medium or large business will have to pay £1,476.

The size of the business is determined by reference to the Companies Act 2006 which defines a small business as a company which does not meet two or more of the following criteria:

- Annual turnover of more than £10.2 million;

- More than 50 employees; and

- Balance sheet total of more than £5.1 million.

If a sponsor licence is granted, it is usually valid for four years. At the end of the licence period, a renewal fee is payable.

There are also additional fees for amending the scope of the licence, paying for each certificate of sponsorship and paying the Immigration Skills Surcharge.

Outcome of a licence application

Once a decision is made, the UVKI may either approve or refuse the application.

Successful applications

If the application is successful; the sponsor will be given access to UKVI’s online sponsorship management system (‘SMS’). The sponsor’s name will also appear on the published register of licensed sponsor. Once a sponsor becomes licenced, they will have to comply with a number of sponsorship duties (some of which are set out below).

Unsuccessful applications

If an application is not approved, the prospective sponsor does not have a right of appeal against the refusal. However, they may be able to challenge the decision in other ways. If, despite any challenge, an application for a sponsorship licence is ultimately unsuccessful, there is a cooling off period of six months before a further application can be made.

Sponsorship duties

There are many duties that a sponsor, once they have been granted a license, must comply with. The purpose of these duties is mainly to prevent abuse and capture early patterns of migrant behaviour that may cause concern, address possible weaknesses in the system and ensure compliance with immigration law.

A sponsor must ensure that it complies with its sponsorship duties from the moment that it is licenced until such a time as the sponsor either surrenders its licence or UKVI revokes its licence. If a sponsor does not comply with its sponsorship duties, there can be some serious and costly repercussions. Some of the main sponsorship duties are:

Record keeping

The sponsor must keep the following records or documents and must make them available to UKVI upon on request:

a copy of the relevant page, or pages, of each sponsored migrant’s passport, worker authorisation (Purple Registration Certificate) or UK immigration status document and biometric residence permit (if available) that shows their entitlement to work in the UK;

each sponsored migrant’s up to date contact details;

a copy of the migrant’s national insurance number;

a record of the migrant’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check where required for the role undertaken by the sponsored migrant;

record of the migrant’s absences;

a copy of migrant’s qualifications to show that they are suitable for the role; and

any other document set out in the relevant code of practice.

Preventing illegal working

The sponsor must also have a system in place to prevent illegal working.

All employers, not just sponsors, are legally required to only employ those who have the right to work in the UK. Failure to comply with the preventing illegal working regulations can carry penalties of up to £20,000 per illegal worker. It is also a criminal offence to employ an illegal worker and a sponsor may face a further fine or a prison sentence.

Monitoring migrants

One of the enforcement functions that was passed on to sponsors as part of the 2008 shakeup of the work permit system was the requirement for sponsors to monitor migrant activity.

Under Tier 2, the monitoring function includes informing UKVI if:

- A sponsored migrant does not turn up to work on their first day of work;

- The sponsor terminates the employment contract;

- The sponsored migrant is absent from work for more than 10 consecutive working days without permission.

If you are considering applying for a sponsorship licence or if you already hold a licence and are looking for support in complying with your sponsorship duties, Pathfynder Solicitors is available to assist. Please feel free to call us or arrange a meeting to discuss your circumstances with us.

Please note that this article is for information only and should not be taken as legal and/or financial advice. Immigration law changes regularly and it may be the case that this page has not been updated to take into account the latest changes. If you would like advice on your personal circumstances, please feel free to contact us.

Sponsor licence applications - 26 Oct 2017