What is a sponsor licence?

In most cases, a UK employer will need a sponsor licence to employ a foreign national (i.e someone from outside the EEA and Switzerland). This includes unpaid work.

The licence allows you to ‘assign’ work permits (certificate of sponsorship / CoS) to overseas workers whom you wish to employ.

  • The licence is operated via an online Home Office/ UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) platform referred to as the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). To access the SMS you must first be registered as a sponsor.


Types Of Licence

What are the types of licence?

The type of licence a business needs will depend on the type of job you wish to fill with an overseas worker:

  • Tier 2 – skilled workers with long-term job offers
  • Tier 5 – skilled temporary workers

Businesses can apply for a licence covering either tier or both.

Tier 2

Tier 2 is for skilled workers who you want to employ long-term or permanently. The Tier 2 scheme is divided into:

  • General
  • Intra-Company Transfer – for multinational companies which need to transfer employees to the UK
  • Minister of Religion – for people coming to work for a religious organisation (for up to 3 years)
  • Sportsperson – for elite sportspeople and coaches who will be based in the UK


Tier 5

Tier 5 is for skilled overseas workers whom you wish to employ on a temporary basis. This scheme is divided as follows:

  • Creative and Sporting – to work as a sportsperson (up to 1 year), entertainer or artist (up to 2 years)
  • Charity Worker – for unpaid workers (up to 1 year)
  • Religious Worker – for those doing preaching, pastoral and non-pastoral work (2 years)
  • Government Authorised Exchange – work experience (1 year), research projects or training, for example practical medical or scientific training (2 years) to enable a short-term exchange of knowledge
  • International Agreement – where the overseas worker is coming to do a job which is covered by international law, for instances, employees of overseas governments


How do I get a sponsor licence?

In order to get a licence, a business will first need to demonstrate that it is eligible. The eligibility criteria include, amongst other things, having appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.

As part of the licensing process, the UKVI will wish to satisfy themselves that the business is genuine. The UKVI may carry a pre-licence audit to ascertain that the business has the means to carry out its various obligations and responsibilities as a sponsor of overseas workers.  In support of the licence application, employers are expected to submit a completed form and a number of prescribed documents which can sometimes be an issue, especially for start-up companies.

You will also need to appoint individual(s) within your business to manage the sponsorship licence via the SMS as key personnel.

The individuals in question will act as:

  • authorising officer – this needs to be a senior and competent person – they will responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
  • key contact – your main point of contact with UKVI
  • level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS


These roles can be filled by the same person or different people.

Anyone playing a role in the licence will be checked by the UKVI to ensure that they are suitable.

As a representative qualified to give immigration advice and services, we are permitted to act as your key contact and level 1 user. We already fill both roles for most of our corporate clients.

For more information please contact us.