How to get and retain a sponsor licence

Sian Saunby outlines the steps businesses need to take when they want to recruit overseas nationals subject to immigration controls

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In the post-Brexit world, a sponsor licence is required if a business wishes to recruit and employ overseas nationals who are subject to UK immigration controls.

Following the relaunch of the UK’s points-based system on 1 December 2020, we saw the skill level for sponsorship lowered from regulated qualifications framework (RQF) 6 (degree level) to RQF 3 (A-level), allowing for a greater range of jobs to be sponsored.

Pre-application considerations

Before an organisation applies for a sponsor licence, there are four main pre-application considerations to be made.

  1. Is the business incorporated, registered and trading in the UK?

This is evidenced by having an entity registered on UK Companies House, together with supporting documentation submitted to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) in support of the application.

  1. What category of licence is most appropriate for your business?

This could be:

  • skilled worker, usually for new hires to the business; and/or

  • global business mobility (GBM), usually for existing employees transferring to the UK.

GBM covers several categories, but senior/specialist worker is most common for short and long-term assignments.

  1. Do you have relevant key personnel to manage the licence?

There are three main roles that need to be allocated when applying for a sponsor licence:




Authorising officer (AO)

This is the most important role to be assigned; the authorising officer is responsible for all activity on the sponsor licence (including any activity undertaken by third parties) and will take accountability for any failings on the licence.

This role must be undertaken by a senior employee within the UK business.

Key contact (KC)

The main point of contact between the applicant company and the Home Office.

This role can be undertaken by an employee of the company, or a third-party representative.

Level 1 user (L1)

This is an administrative role. The L1 will have access to the sponsor management system once the licence is granted and will have the access to assign certificates of sponsorship and report changes (among other things).

At the application stage, this role must be undertaken by an employee based in the UK with permanent residency. Once the licence is in place additional L1s can be added and this role can be outsourced to a third-party representative.

  1. Do you have necessary compliance processes to manage the licence?

When applying for a sponsor licence, you agree to adhere to the regulatory aspect of licensing (essentially doing the job of UKVI). Therefore, compliance processes are arguably the most pertinent point when considering whether to apply for a sponsor licence. You will be required to acknowledge and demonstrate how you will manage your sponsor licence under these five key areas:

  • monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal working;

  • maintaining contact details;

  • record keeping and recruitment practices;

  • tracking and monitoring; and

  • general sponsor duties.

The compliance requirements are ongoing throughout the lifetime of the sponsor licence. The UKVI can audit a sponsor as part of the sponsor licence application process or at any time during the validity of the licence.

The application 

The sponsor licence application is formed of two parts:

  • draft and submission of an online application; and

  • supporting documentation sent to the Home Office.

The online application must be submitted by the AO with the relevant application fee being paid at the time of filing. All supporting documentation must then be sent to the Home Office within five working days of the application being made online. 

From submission, the standard consideration time is eight weeks. Priority service is available at a fee of £500, which reduces the consideration time to 10 working days (usually quicker!)

Maintaining and managing your licence

Once the sponsor licence is granted, you can request and assign certificates of sponsorship and start your journey as a sponsor of overseas nationals. But now the licence is in place, how do you keep it and what are the biggest risks?

Maintaining a licence can take a minimal amount of effort for smaller sponsors but, when holding a licence that includes multiple entities and decentralised HR processes, this could lead to situations of non-compliance. 

How you wish to maintain your compliance obligations often depends on the size and scale of your immigration programme. Buy-in from senior leadership is pivotal but often overlooked until it’s too late. The UKVI does not mandate how compliance processes should be carried out, only that they are adhered to. This therefore provides sponsors with flexibility as to how they design and implement compliance processes, which in part often do complement existing HR policies. 

Day-to-day requirements include (but are not limited to):

  • right to work checks and visa expiry tracking;

  • tracking employee whereabouts and using a system that records absences;

  • reporting corporate and employee change of circumstances; and

  • retaining documentation.

Failure to comply with your compliance obligations could result in UKVI officials visiting your business to conduct an audit. Depending on the outcome of that audit, the sponsor licence could be downgraded, suspended or revoked, all of which will have an impact on any sponsored employees.

Sian Saunby is an immigration supervisor at Fragomen