UK businesses who require workers from outside the UK, including citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrive in the UK after 1 July 2021, will usually require a sponsor licence to allow them to sponsor such workers. A sponsor licence allows a business to employ most types of workers from outside the UK.
The Home Office shall grant a sponsor licence to businesses who are able to demonstrate that they are trustworthy, able to carry out the duties of a licensed sponsor and the roles which they intend to sponsor meet the necessary requirements of the specific work route applied for.
As a number of businesses are now requiring a sponsor licence to employ workers from the EU, we have set out below the Frequently Asked Questions relating to a sponsor licence.
1. What are the categories of sponsor licence?
There are a number of categories of sponsor licence. The first four are known as the “Worker routes”.
- Skilled Worker – Allows workers to come to the UK, or stay in the UK, to work in an eligible job with an approved sponsor.
- Intra-Company Transfer – Allows overseas employees to come to the UK to work in an eligible job at their overseas employer’s UK branch.
- T2 Minister of Religion – Allows worker such as ministers of religion, missionaries or members of a religious order to undertake a job within a faith community in the UK.
- International Sportsperson – Allows elite sportspersons or qualified coaches, recognised by their sports’ governing body as being at the highest level of their profession internationally, to come to the UK and work, where their employment will develop their sponsor in the UK at the highest level.
There are also a further six “Temporary Worker routes” which are:
- Charity Worker – For workers coming to the UK to do voluntary work with a charitable organisation for 12 months, or less.
- Creative Worker – For workers within the creative sector, such as artists, dancers, musicians or other entertainers, coming to work in the UK for up to 12 months.
- Government Authorised Exchange – For workers coming to the UK on an approved scheme for a period of no more than 12 or 24 months (subject to the particular scheme).
- International Agreement – For workers coming to the UK to provide a service covered under an international agreement, or under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), or other agreement to which the UK has commitments. The duration of time the worker can remain in the UK depends on the agreement under which they are coming to the UK and usually is a maximum period of between 6 months and 2 years.
- Religious Worker – For workers coming to the UK to support the activities of a religious institution in the UK by conducting religious work, for a maximum period of 2 years. This can either be working in a religious order or undertaking non-pastoral duties for a religious organization.
- Seasonal Worker – For workers in edible horticulture undertaking seasonal work in the UK with an approved scheme operator for up to maximum of 6 months in any 12-month period. Please note, this route was recently extended to include poultry production workers and workers undertaking haulage driving for the transportation of foods. However, these concessions are timelimited and are expected to be removed in the near future from the list of roles eligible for a Seasonal Worker visa.
Subject to the nature of a business, it may be possible to hold a sponsor licence for a number of the worker or temporary worker tiers at the same time, such as Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer, or T2 Minister of Religion and Religious Worker.
2. How to apply for a sponsor licence?
Businesses must complete the prescribed online application form and submit specified documents to prove they are eligible and suitable to be a licensed sponsor. Acceptable supporting documents are outlined in Appendix A of the Home Office sponsor guidance.
3. How long does it take to apply for a sponsor licence?
Current processing times after submission of the online application are approximately 8 weeks. However, eligible sponsors can apply for the enhanced pre-licence priority service. The service costs £500 and aims to consider applications within 10 working days of payment of the priority service fee. The priority service is limited to 10 applicants per day, allocated through a ballot system.
4. What is an eligible job?
An eligible job is one which is genuine employment with the UK business, which also meets the salary and skill-level criteria for the specific route.
Under Skilled Worker, the job must be skilled to at least level 3 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for England and Northern Ireland (or the equivalent in Wales and Scotland), which is approximately A-level standard. Jobs eligible for sponsorship under Skilled Worker can be found in Tables 1 and 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations in the Immigration Rules.
In addition to roles meeting the skill-level requirement, the job must be paid in line with the salary levels set out in the Immigration Rules. In terms of Skilled Worker, the worker’s salary must be equal to, or exceed £25,600 per year, £10.10 per hour and the “going rate” for the occupation code for the role as set out in Appendix Skilled Occupations. However, there are certain exceptions where a discounted salary rate may apply.
Each worker route has specific requirements in relation to an eligible job and legal advice is recommended to ensure a job is eligible for sponsorship.
5. Can sponsored workers change sponsor within the UK?
Workers present in the UK as Skilled Workers can change employment and therefore change sponsors whilst in the UK under their Skilled Worker visa. This is known as a change of employment application.
The Skilled Worker will have to be issued with a new Certificate of Sponsorship by their new sponsor and make an in-country application for permission to stay as a Skilled Worker with their new sponsor.
It is also possible for T2 Ministers of Religion and International Sportspersons to change employer within the UK. Intra-Company Transfer workers can switch employers within the UK but they will be required to switch from the Intra-Company Transfer route to the Skilled Worker route to do so.
It is advised that immigration advice is sought prior to making a change of employment application to ensure that the individual is eligible to do so as well as to obtain advice on the impact of switching route may have one their route to settlement in the UK.
6. Does my business have to complete a Resident Labour Market Test before sponsoring a worker?
The introduction of the Skilled Worker route in December 2020 saw the suspension of the Resident Labour Market Test (“RLMT”) for sponsors. Previously under the Tier 2 (General) route, sponsors had to comply with the RLMT requirements in terms of advertising the role to test whether a suitable settled worker could be found for the role before proceeding with an application for a non-settled worker.
Sponsors are no longer required to conduct a RLMT prior to assigning a CoS to a new sponsored worker under the Skilled Worker route. Sponsors must however still retain evidence of the recruitment activity they have undertaken and be able to explain how they identified and recruited the worker for the sponsored role. Appendix D of the sponsor guidance outlines the specific evidence to be retained depending on the method used to recruit the sponsored worker.
Some routes do continue to require a RLMT prior to assigning a CoS to a new sponsored worker therefore it is recommended that legal advice is sought to ensure that your business is complying with its obligations as a registered sponsor.
If you would like any advice or assistance regarding a sponsor licence, or the various worker or temporary worker routes, then please do not hesitate to contact one of the experienced solicitors in our immigration team.