You’ll usually need a sponsor license to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK. This includes citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020.
This includes unpaid work, like running a charity.
You will not need a license to sponsor certain groups, for example:
- Irish citizens
- those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
- those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK
Sponsoring someone does not guarantee that they’ll get a visa to work for you in the UK.
To get a license as an employer, you cannot have:
- unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering
- had a sponsor license revoked in the last 12 months
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your application form and supporting documents. They may visit your business to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.
Sponsorship management roles
You need to appoint people within your business to manage the sponsorship process when you apply for a license.
The main tool they’ll use is the sponsorship management system (SMS).
The roles are:
- authorizing officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
- key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
- level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your license using the SMS
These roles can be filled by the same person or different people.
You can also appoint an optional level 2 user once you have your license. This is an SMS user with more restricted access than a level 1 user, for example they cannot withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.
You and your staff will be checked to make sure you’re suitable for these roles. You may not get your license if anyone involved in sponsorship has:
- an unspent criminal conviction for an offence listed in the guidance for sponsors
- been fined by UKVI in the past 12 months
- been reported to UKVI
- broken the law
- been a ‘key person’ at a sponsor that had its license revoked in the last 12 months
- failed to pay VAT or other excise duty
You and your allocated staff must also:
- be based in the UK most of the time
- not be a contractor or consultant contracted for a specific project
- not be subject to a bankruptcy restriction order or undertaking, or a debt relief restriction order or undertaking
- not have a history of non-compliance with sponsor requirements
Your allocated staff must usually be paid members of staff, or office holders.
Apply for your license
You need to apply online for your licence.
Once you’ve finished the online application, you need to send in:
- the submission sheet at the end of the application
- your supporting documents, if you’re asked to
Any affidavits or statutory declarations you send must be witnessed by a qualified, independent person – for example, a solicitor, Notary Public, Justice of the Peace, Commissioner for Oaths, or (in Scotland only) a Councillor.
Check whether your worker needs an ATAS certificate
Before you assign a certificate of sponsorship to your worker, you may need to check whether the worker needs an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate.
Who needs to do this
You’ll need to do this if you’re sponsoring a worker on any of the following:
- a Skilled Worker visa
- a Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
- a Graduate Trainee visa (Global Business Mobility)
- a UK Expansion Worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
- a Service Supplier visa (Global Business Mobility)
- a Secondment Worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
- a Scale-up Worker visa
- a Government Authorised Exchange visa
- an International Agreement visa
If you’re sponsoring a worker on any other visa, you do not need to do anything.
What you need to do
If you do need to check, you must follow these steps.
- Check if the worker needs an ATAS certificate.
- Answer the question on the certificate of sponsorship, confirming whether or not the worker needs an ATAS certificate. If they do not need an ATAS certificate, you may need to give a brief explanation of why.
- If the worker does need an ATAS certificate, you must tell them that they need to get one and include it in their visa application.
Check if the worker needs an ATAS certificate
The worker will need an ATAS certificate if all of the following are true:
- you have a Student sponsor licence
- you’re sponsoring the worker in a relevant occupation code
- the worker will be carrying out research at PhD level or above in a ‘relevant subject’ – check the relevant subject areas list in the worker sponsor guidance
- the worker’s nationality is not exempt from needing an ATAS certificate – check the exempt nationalities list in the worker sponsor guidance
If your worker does not need an ATAS certificate because they will not be doing research at PhD level or above in a relevant subject but all of the other points apply, you’ll need to add an explanation note.
You can either:
- add a note to the ‘job description’ field on your certificate of sponsorship
- add a sponsor note after you have assigned your certificate of sponsorship
Example explanation note
The worker does not need an ATAS certificate because the role does not involve research at PhD level or above.
If the worker needs an ATAS certificate
- tell the worker that they need to get an ATAS certificate and include it in their visa application
- make and keep a copy of the ATAS certificate, once it has been issued
You do not need to add an explanation or a sponsor note if your worker does need an ATAS certificate.
Tell the worker that they need an ATAS certificate
Tell the worker that they must apply for an ATAS certificate and include it in their visa application.
If the worker does not include their ATAS certificate, their visa application will be refused and you may lose your sponsor licences.
ATAS certificate applications for workers can take at least 2 weeks to be processed (3 weeks between April and September).
Make and keep a copy of the ATAS certificate
When the worker has received their ATAS certificate, you must make and keep a copy of the certificate, or the electronic approval notice the worker received from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).
Certificates of sponsorship
You must assign a certificate of sponsorship to each foreign worker you employ. This is an electronic record, not a physical document. Each certificate has its own number which a worker can use to apply for a visa.
When you assign the certificate to a worker, they must use it to apply for their visa within 3 months. They must not apply for their visa more than 3 months before the start date of the job listed on the certificate.
You may need to check if your worker needs an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate before you assign a certificate of sponsorship.
These are for people applying on a Skilled Worker visa from outside the UK.
You must apply for defined certificates for these workers through the sponsorship management system (SMS). You’ll get access to the SMS when you get your licence.
When you get the certificate
Applications are usually approved within one working day. It may take longer if UKVI need to carry out further checks on the information in your application.
Defined certificates will appear in your SMS account once they have been approved. You can then assign them to a worker.
These are for Skilled Workers applying from inside the UK, and applicants on all other visas.
When you apply for your licence you’ll be asked to estimate how many undefined certificates you’ll need for Workers and Temporary Workers in the first year.
If you’re sponsoring a UK Expansion Worker
If your licence has a provisional rating, you’ll only be able to assign one certificate of sponsorship. This must be assigned to the authorising officer so they can enter the UK.
Once they’ve got their visa, you can upgrade your licence to an A-rating and request up to 4 additional certificates of sponsorship using the sponsorship management system (SMS).
You’ll need to pay a fee when you assign a certificate to a worker. How much a certificate will cost depends on the type of sponsor licence you have.
|Type of licence
|Cost per certificate
|Worker (except workers on the International Sportsperson visa)
|International Sportsperson – where the certificate of sponsorship is assigned for more than 12 months
|International Sportsperson – where the certificate of sponsorship is assigned for 12 months or less
If you assign a certificate of sponsorship to a worker on a Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker visa, you might also need to pay the immigration skills charge.