In order to employ skilled workers from outside the EU/EEA, UK employers must first obtain a sponsor licence (i.e. authorisation from the Home Office). There are a number of requirements that employer organisations must meet to qualify for the licence:
- have a trading presence and operate lawfully in the UK,
- have HR systems and recruitment processes in place to comply with sponsorship duties,
- be honest, dependable and reliable,
- be able to offer highly skilled jobs (in general, jobs must be graduate level, NQF Level 6 or above with very few exceptions).
The sponsor licence application is submitted online. There is an application fee of £356 (for small sponsors) and £1,476 (for large sponsors). After an application fee is paid online, a Submission Sheet is generated. The signed and dated Submission Sheet must be posted to the Home Office together with original/certified copies of supporting documents.
There is a prescribed list of supporting documents that can be submitted for sponsor licence applications (e.g. business bank statement, Employer’s Liability Insurance certificate, VAT registration certificate). In most cases sponsor licence applicants must provide at least 4 supporting documents.
Home Office audit (visit)
Prior to making a decision on a sponsor licence application and/or at any time during the period of a sponsor licence, Home Office officers may come to visit the sponsor’s business premises to conduct an audit. The purpose of their visit is to assess if an organisation is able to comply with the sponsorship duties (pre-licence audit) or whether an organisation already holding a licence has complied with the sponsorship duties (post-licence audit).
During their visit Home Office officers speak to an Authorising Officer (i.e. person from a sponsor’s organisation with an overall responsibility for immigration compliance) and review the sponsor’s HR procedures and records.
Depending on the result of the visit, the Home Office may grant or refuse a sponsor licence application OR suspend or revoke an already existing licence.
Application processing time
The Home Office processing time for sponsor licence applications is usually between 5 to 9 weeks.
When a sponsor licence is granted, the sponsor employer can start issuing Certificates of Sponsorship (COS) effectively electronic work permits, to non-EEA nationals who can then apply for work visas. Once their work visas are granted they can come to the UK and start employment with their sponsor employer.