If you run a business in the UK and employ non-European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss nationals, you must hold a UK Visa Sponsor Licence.
The rules changed on 1 January 2021, extending this UK Visa Sponsor Licence requirement to cover the employment of all non-UK or non-Irish nationals who don’t hold Settled Status or Pre-settled Status through the EU Settlement Scheme. This means if you intend to employ someone from outside the British Isles next year, you’ll need a UK Visa Sponsor Licence for your business.
UK Visa Sponsor Licences are issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and businesses must hold the required UK Visa Sponsor Licence before they can sponsor an employee or potential employee’s visa application.
In this post you’ll find out in 5 easy steps how to apply for a UK Visa Sponsor Licence:
Want to receive more expert guidance, tips and resources to help you make a successful visa application?
Click ‘Join now’ and fill out the short form to join the Help with my visa! mailing list.
STEP 1: Does my Business Need a UK Visa Sponsor Licence?
The immigration rules changed on 1 January 2021 so we’ll cover both the current immigration rules that you may be familiar with and the new immigration rules coming into force. The new immigration rules will impact significantly more UK businesses than the existing immigration rules as EEA and Swiss nationals will fall into scope for the first time.
Current Immigration Rules
If you employ anyone from outside the EEA or Switzerland, whether long-term or temporarily, for a paid role or charity work, you must hold a UK Visa Sponsor Licence. Without the UK Visa Sponsor Licence, you’re prohibited from sponsoring that employee’s visa, meaning you can’t legally employ them.
New Immigration Rules
The new rules came into force on 1 January 2021 when the Brexit Transition Period ended and visa requirements for EEA and Swiss nationals change. From this date, UK businesses need to hold a UK Visa Sponsor Licence if they intend to employ someone who is a non-UK or non-Irish national under the new Points-based System.
There is a caveat though.
All EEA and Swiss nationals resident in the UK are able to apply for Settled Status or Pre-settled Status based on their residency in the UK. If they hold Settled Status or Pre-settled Status, the new rules don’t apply and you don’t need a UK Sponsor Licence to employ them.
EEA and Swiss nationals can apply for Settled Status or Pre-settled Status up until 31 July 2021, and once they have either of these statuses the new rules don’t apply.
But if you’re employing someone fresh from outside the UK or Ireland who doesn’t hold Settled Status or Pre-settled Status, you’ll need a UK Visa Sponsor Licence to be able to sponsor their visa application.
STEP 2: What Type of UK Visa Sponsor Licence Do I Need?
For employers, there are two types of UK Visa Sponsor Licence depending upon whether you employ visa holders long-term or temporarily.
Tier 2 UK Visa Sponsor Licence
If you employ someone long-term, either on contract or permanently, you need a Tier 2 UK Visa Sponsor Licence. This covers anyone you employ who needs one of the following types of visa:
- Skilled Worker
- Inter-company Transfer
- Tier 2 Minister of Religion
- Tier 2 Sportsperson
- Tier 2 Health and Care
Tier 5 UK Visa Sponsor Licence
If you employ someone temporarily or short-term, you’ll need a Tier 5 UK Visa Sponsor Licence. This covers anyone you employ who needs one of the following types of visa:
- Tier 5 Creating and Sporting
- Tier 5 Charity Worker
- Tier 5 Religious Worker
- Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange
- Tier 5 International Agreement
Tier 4 UK Visa Sponsor Licence
There’s a third type of UK Visa Sponsor Licence for educational institutions who offer study courses to people who need Student or Child Student visas. You can find out more about this specific type of UK Visa Sponsor Licence on the UKVI website.
STEP 3: What Does my Business Need to Do?
If your business needs a UK Visa Sponsor Licence there are six things you need to do to comply with the requirements.
Firstly, you need to make a UK Visa Sponsor Licence application for the relevant category or categories of people you employ (i.e. Tier 2, Tier 5 or both). This means making an online application and providing the required supporting documents.
Secondly, you’ll need to pay the UK Visa Sponsor Licence fees. You do this online during the application process.
Thirdly, you need to assign the required Sponsorship Management Roles to people in your organisation.
Your business needs to appoint someone as the Authorising Officer, a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the Sponsorship Management System your business will get access to when your UK Visa Sponsor Licence is approved.
You also need to appoint a Key UKVI Contact for correspondence, and a Level 1 User who is responsible for the day-to-day management of your business’s compliance with the UK Visa Sponsor Licence requirements.
Fourthly, your business and all employees nominated for Sponsorship Management Roles must successfully complete the Suitability Checks, which includes confirming there are no unspent criminal convictions and that your business hasn’t failed to pay VAT or other excise duties.
Fifth, you need an HR system in place to monitor the immigration status of your employees and keep all required records.
And sixth, you need to inform UKVI if there are any material changes to your business, such as if you stop trading or become insolvent, undergo a substantial change of ownership or are the subject of a takeover.
STEP 4: What are the UK Visa Sponsor Licence Fees?
You’ll pay up to three sets of fees to apply for a UK Visa Sponsor Licence, and possibly a fourth set of fees if you need fast-track processing. There are also additional annual fees if you decide to join the UKVI Premium Customer Support Scheme.
Fees differ depending upon whether you’re a small business or medium/ large business. The UKVI definition of ‘small business’ is one with less than £10m annual turnover and that employs less than 50 people.
UK Visa Sponsor Licence Fees
Certificate of Sponsorship Fees
When you sponsor an employee’s visa application you’ll need to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for them. When you employ citizens of Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey, this CoS is free; for all other nationalities there is a charge. A CoS costs £199 for a worker, and £21 for a temporary worker. You need to pay these fees fot every qualifying person you hire.
Immigration Skills Charge Fees
If you employ someone on a Skilled Worker or Intra-company Transfer visa you may also have to pay an Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) on an ongoing basis. There’s an initial charge for the first 12 months of employment, then further charges for every six months of employment.
Charges differ depending upon whether you’re a small or charitable sponsor or a medium or large sponsor. Small and charitable sponsors need to pay £364 for the first 12 months of employment and £182 for every subsequent 6 months the person is employed. Medium and large sponsors need to pay £1,000 for the first 12 months and £500 for every subsequent 6 months the person is employed.
You don’t need to pay the ISC under certain circumstances, such as if you’re employing someone on a Skilled Worker visa directly from a Student visa.
Fast-track Processing Fees
The standard UK Visa Sponsor Licence processing time is 8 weeks (UKVI advises 80% of all UK Visa Sponsor Licences are processed within this time) but you can fast-track your application to get a decision within 10 days for an additional £500.
Premium Customer Support Scheme Fees
There is also a Premium Customer Support Scheme available for businesses who need regular assistance from UKVI. The cost is £8,000 per year for small businesses and £25,000 per year for medium and large businesses.
STEP 5: How to Apply for a UK Visa Sponsor Licence
You apply for a UK Visa Sponsor Licence on the UKVI website. The whole process takes 20-30 minutes and you’ll need all your supporting documents to hand before you start, as well as a payment card to pay the fees.
You’ll also need all six things mentioned above in place and be able to show proof they meet the requirements.
You could prepare this all by yourself, but there is an easier and cheaper way of doing it.
Because you don’t want to take days of time out of your business to set up new management systems and train staff.
And you certainly don’t want to pay upwards of £8,000 per year for UKVI support when there are more cost-effective options available.
Appoint an immigration professional through Help with my visa!
That’s why we recommend using Help with my visa! to appoint a professional immigration adviser to fully prepare your UK Visa Sponsor Licence application for you.
They’ll even provide you with templates and guidance documents covering exactly what you need to do to embed the new UK Visa Sponsor Licence processes into your business.
You can book an appointment with a vetted immigration professional online today using Help with my visa! All services are 100% COVID-safe and take place over telephone, video conference and email as appropriate.
We partner with immigration professionals to give you quick and easy access to the resources you need without the hassle.
There’s no need to take a chance on someone you don’t know… or spend hours trying to pre-qualify a suitable immigration professional. We’ve already done that for you.
The immigration professions we partner with have already been vetted for their regulatory registrations, financial stability and their commitment to a high level of customer service.
Services start from £1,500+ any applicable taxes and service fees – considerably cheaper than using UKVI and a lot faster than trying to do everything yourself.
So click the button below to appoint an immigration professional today using Help with my visa! and start your UK Visa Sponsor Licence application.