Clarkslegal LLP - Solicitors in Reading and London

UK Immigration

Sponsoring Skilled Migrant Workers

The UK Government strictly regulates the immigration of migrant workers to the UK. As a part of its immigration system, it requires companies to have a sponsor licence before they can sponsor non-EU employees. From 1 January 2021, companies will require a sponsor licence to sponsor all non-UK employees.

Our experienced solicitors are available to offer practical, prompt and high-quality advice and support to business and individual clients. We can consult on your Sponsor Licence enquires and guide you through the process.

Once you are granted a Sponsor Licence, you will be added to the Home Office’s Worker and Temporary Workers Sponsor Register and you will be given access to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). You can then use the SMS to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) which if granted can be assigned to the prospective migrant employee so they can use this to make a Worker or Temporary Worker visa application.

Our business immigration team are proud to represent reputable international charities which are based in the UK. We regularly assist charity clients with initial sponsor licence applications, immigration compliance and prepare visa applications for their overseas charity workers.

Frequently Asked Questions

The UK Government strictly regulates the immigration of migrant workers to the UK. As a part of its immigration system, it requires companies to have a sponsor licence before they can sponsor non-EU employees. From 1 January 2021, companies will require a sponsor licence to sponsor all non-UK employees.

The latest Home Office guidance on sponsor licences has been updated to include a further Annex. This Annex encourages employers who think they may require a licence from 1 January 2021 to apply early.

What is a sponsor licence?

It is important to understand that not all migrant workers need to be sponsored to work in the UK. This is because they may be lawfully in the UK on some other immigration category which allows them to work. This could include, for example, a spouse of a British citizen visa, an ancestry visa or even the dependant of a migrant who is sponsored.

However, for most migrant workers, who want to come to the UK for work, they must be sponsored. This means that they should have a job offer from a company which has a sponsor licence.

A sponsor licence is in effect an approval from the UK Home Office for an organisation to sponsor migrant workers. Organisations that can sponsor are included in a register of sponsors which is updated daily.

The UK government, and the UK courts, define sponsorship as a relationship of trust. It allows companies to act as de facto gatekeepers to the UK work immigration route.

This licence (or relationship of trust) requires an initial and ongoing validation. The initial validation comes through an application for sponsorship, and thereafter the UK Home Office may conduct occasional checks to ensure that the sponsoring company continues to abide by its sponsoring obligations.

How do you apply for a sponsor licence?

The sponsor licence application is made online through the UK Home Office website. However, applying organisations should not make this application until they are satisfied that they have all the relevant documents. This is because the Home Office requires the relevant supporting documents to be submitted by post within 5 working days (see COVID-19 paragraph below, if applying now).

Whilst we expect there to be a suspension of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) in August 2020, for roles that require an RLMT, we encourage organisations to conduct this test before making this application. This will assist in determining whether a sponsor licence is required at all.

The documents required for a sponsor licence vary depending on the type of organisation. For example, a start-up may need to show a lesser number of documents but may end up with more scrutiny at an initial and post-licence stage.

In addition to the prescriptive list provided by the Home Office, organisations intending on applying for a licence must also demonstrate that they fulfil the following criteria:

  1. Whether the organisation is genuine and operating lawfully in the UK: This can be demonstrated by providing documents listed in the relevant Appendices of the sponsor guidance.
  2. Have a Human Resources (HR) & recruitment system to meet their sponsor duties. The Home Office may conduct a compliance visit to check this
  3. Whether the organisation and its key personnel, are honest dependable and reliable. The Home Office is likely to conduct background checks on the organisation and any of the key individuals to determine this.
  4. Whether you can offer genuine employment under the eligible roles of your intended sponsor category. It is important to note that not all employment roles are eligible for sponsorship.

Making the online application

Once you have taken the necessary steps and have the relevant documents, you should then complete the online application. You will have to pay the sponsor licence fee, which will vary depending on the size of your organisation.

Following the online submission, a submission sheet will be generated. This must be signed by the proposed Authorising Officer (this is the most important role for the functioning of a sponsor licence.

Processing times

The standard period for a sponsor licence to be processed in 8 weeks. In our experience, most applications are decided sooner than this. In the event, the sponsorship team need to make a compliance visit before they issue the licence, the processing time can be a lot longer.


There are several indicators of whether you have been approved for a sponsor licence. However, the official confirmation is normally received through the post, with your Level 1 username to access the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).


In light of COVID-19 the sponsor licence team at the Home Office has reduced the documentary requirements to make a sponsor application. Previously, the Home Office required original or certified documents. However, we understand that they are now accepting electronic documents. This means you may be able to send scanned documents by email and add digital signatures to your submission sheets.

For more information, contact our Sponsors licence team at

The long wait is over, and you now have a sponsor licence decision. If everything was done correctly, you should either have a grant, which means you are now licenced to sponsor migrant workers, or your application has been refused. 

Processing times

A sponsor licence decision can normally take up to 8 weeks. In practice, for straightforward applications, it can take as little as 3 weeks, but if the Home Office intends on making a pre-decision compliance visit, it can take longer than 8 weeks.

Decision – Granted

If you have been granted a sponsor licence, your legal representative (if you have one), can normally advise you of the decision (to grant) by checking the Tier 2 register of sponsors (surprisingly this is updated before the actual decision is received in most cases).

This is usually followed by an email from the Home Office providing you with your Level 1 user password. This email also does not mention that you have been granted a sponsor licence, but as a level 1 account is only opened for licenced sponsors, you can infer that you are now a registered sponsor.  However, you should still wait for your official letter confirming the approval of your licence. The decision letter will contain your Level 1 username, which you will need to access the Sponsor Management System along with the password you received earlier.

As a licenced sponsor, you should receive a Sponsor Licence number and access to the Sponsor Management System. You can use the latter to maintain your licence.

Decision – Refused

Unfortunately, a significant number of sponsor licence applications are still being refused by the Home Office. However, this is usually because of a lack of preparation, which can lead to insufficient information being provided.

If you have been refused, you should contact your legal representative urgently. If you do not have a legal representative, you should seek independent legal advice.

You cannot appeal a sponsor licence decision, but you may be able to seek a review if you think the decision was incorrectly refused because of:

  • A Home Office caseworker error
  • You sent supporting evidence to the Home Office, but this was mistakenly not considered by them

If the Home Office accepts that the decision was indeed made in error, you will be invited to re-apply with a further fee. The further fee will be refunded, once your new application is received by the Home Office.

If the Home Office refuses your application (and review, if applicable), you cannot reapply for a further 6-month period. This is known as a ‘Cooling-Off’ period. In some cases, this period may be longer, if the reason for refusal includes a previous revocation, or n immigration offence.

In any event, if you reapply (after the Cooling-Off period), you should appropriately address previous reasons for refusal.

If you think the decision to refuse your application was incorrect, you may be able to challenge this decision by way of Judicial Review.  Judicial Review is not covered in this blog, but we encourage you to seek legal assistance if you consider this to be appropriate for your case.

 For immediate advice and assistance from our immigration solicitors based in London and Reading please call on 0118 958 5321 or email our immigration team.