SKILLED WORKER SPONSOR LICENCE
The Skilled Worker route is a sponsored route for overseas nationals who have an offer of an eligible skilled job in the UK from a Home Office-approved sponsor. In order to secure a Skilled Worker visa, applicants need to be sponsored to do a specific job, which meets certain skill and salary requirements, by an employer that holds a valid Skilled Worker sponsor licence.
This article is primarily for UK-based employers who are considering applying to be authorised by the Home Office to sponsor a non-settled worker as a Skilled Worker. We provide guidance for employers as to the main general and route-specific requirements that they will need to satisfy in order to successfully apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence.
Who Needs to Be Sponsored on the Skilled Worker Route?
You will need to sponsor any overseas national you wish to employ if they are not a settled worker or do not otherwise have immigration permission to work for you in the UK. This includes most EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020. In order to sponsor a Skilled Worker you will need to be authorised by the Home Office as a licensed Skilled Worker sponsor.
There is no limit on the number of workers that a Skilled Worker sponsor licence holder can sponsor. However, when applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence the online sponsor licence application form will ask for an estimate of the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) you may wish to assign in your first year. You will need to assign a CoS to any worker you wish to sponsor before they can apply for a Skilled Worker visa. You will therefore need to think carefully about how many workers you are likely to employ during your first year. You must be able to justify your Certificate of Sponsorship allocation request.
How to Apply for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
In order to successfully apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, you will need to satisfy various general and route-specific requirements.
General Requirements for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
In terms of general requirements, as part of your Skilled Worker sponsor licence application you will need to satisfy the Home Office that:
- You are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK;
- You are honest, dependable, reliable and are not engaging and have not engaged in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good;
- You are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties and evidencing your compliance in a timeframe and manner set out in sponsor guidance.
Route-specific Requirements for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
In terms of requirements that are specific to the Skilled Worker route, when you apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence you will need to satisfy the Home Office that:
- You can offer employment which meets the skill level requirement of the Skilled Worker route;
- You can offer employment which meets the salary level requirement of the Skilled Worker route;
- The job(s) you are looking to sponsor is (are) genuine;
- There is a direct employer-employee relationship between you (the sponsor) and the worker and you are not looking to sponsor a role which will involve hiring a worker to a third party to undertake an ongoing or routine role.
In the remainder of this article we explore these general and route-specific requirements for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence in more detail.
Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence Requirements
General Requirements for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
Genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK
To satisfy the Home Office that you are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, you will need to provide at least four specified documents as set out in Appendix A of the sponsor guidance. The exact documents you will need to provide will vary depending on the circumstances of your application.
Appendix A is split into four tables. Table 1 confirms that a public authority or a company listed on the London Stock Exchange does not have to submit documents other than those specific to the licence they are applying for. Table 2 covers starts-ups (organisations that have been trading for less than 18 months), as well as franchises and charities. Table 3 lists the specific evidence that needs to be sent for a particular tier.
Table 4 then lists all the other possible documents you could provide, one of which must be the latest set of audited accounts if the organisation is legally obliged to submit them.
In addition to information about your organisation, the proposed job role, and the candidate in mind, you will also need to explain to the Home Office why you are applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence.
Honest, dependable and reliable
When assessing whether you are honest, dependable, reliable and are not engaging and have not engaged in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good, the Home Office will look at the history and background of your business, the backgrounds of the Key Personnel named in your application (see below) and also the backgrounds of any people involved in the day-to-day running of your business.
Capable of carrying out sponsor duties
If you are granted a sponsor licence, you will need to fulfil various sponsorship duties, including reporting duties, record-keeping duties and a duty to comply with UK immigration law.
In order to assess whether you are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties and evidencing your compliance in a timeframe and manner set out in sponsor guidance, the Home Office will look at your current human resources and recruitment procedures to make sure that you will be able to fulfil your sponsor duties.
Sponsorship duties include reporting certain information about sponsored workers, your business and using the sponsorship management system. If something needs to be reported, this must be done within either 10 or 20 working days of the event, depending on the matter to be reported. Events that require reporting for a skilled worker include changes to start dates and change of work location.
Your sponsorship duties will also include keeping records of employment such as contracts of employment, salaries, and evidence of genuineness of any vacancies advertised. Appendix D: keeping records for sponsorship sets out further details.
You should be aware that the Home Office can visit you as part of the Sponsor Licence application process, to check that your systems are sufficient. This will usually occur if your organisation is newly formed, or, if the application is high risk. Not only can the Home Office inspect your organisation during the application process, they can also visit at any time whilst you are a Sponsor Licence holder. Home Office visits may be announced or unannounced, meaning it is essential to ensure that sponsor duties are complied with, especially in relation to record-keeping. During the visit(s), the Home Office will check your HR systems, and speak to the appointed Authorising Officer. They may also ask to interview sponsored employees.
If the Home Office finds that you are not meeting your duties and obligations, they can revoke or suspend your licence, resulting in curtailment of any sponsored workers visas.
- How To Apply For A Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
- Key Personnel in Sponsor Licence Applications
- Certificates of Sponsorship: All You Need to Know
- Sponsor Licence Duties: A Checklist for Employers
- New Right to Work Check Guidance for Employers
Route-specific Requirements for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
Skill Level Requirement
Before applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, employers should ensure that the job they are seeking to recruit for will meet the skill-level requirement of the Skilled Worker route.
The job the applicant is being sponsored to do must normally be skilled to level 3 or above (A-level equivalent) on the Regulated Qualifications Framework for England and Northern Ireland, or the equivalent level in Wales or Scotland. The prospective Skilled Worker does not need to have A-levels or an equivalent qualification, but the work they will be doing must be at this level.
Eligible occupations are listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations of the Immigration Rules. You will be able to sponsor a worker for a job which is listed as eligible for the Skilled Worker route in either Table 1 or Table 2 of the Appendix or is under occupation code 6145 (Care workers and home carers).
If the job is not listed as eligible for the Skilled Worker route, then the worker will not meet the skill-level requirement for a Skilled Worker visa. If this is the case then an application for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence will not be appropriate.
As a sponsor you will also need to choose an appropriate occupation code. If the Home Office has reasonable grounds to believe that you have not chosen the most appropriate occupation code, then the applicant's application for a Skilled Worker Visa will be refused.
In assessing whether you, as the sponsor, have chosen the most appropriate occupation code, the Home Office will consider factors such as whether you have shown a genuine need for the job as described, whether the applicant has the appropriate skills, qualifications and experience needed to do the job as described and your history of compliance with the immigration system.
Salary Level Requirement
Before applying for a Skilled Worker sponsorship licence, employers should also ensure that they can offer employment which will be paid in line with the salary rates for the Skilled Worker route as set out in the Immigration Rules and sponsor guidance.
The salary you pay the worker will usually need to equal or exceed the following:
- The general salary threshold – for most jobs this is at least £25,600 per year, but may be at least £23,040 or £20,480 per year if the worker scores 'tradeable points' (see below); and
- The applicable 'going rate' for the occupation as set out in Table 1 or Table 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations – or a percentage of the 'going rate' if the worker scores 'tradeable points' (see below); and
- Where applicable, the minimum hourly rate (at least £10.10 per hour).
If the general salary threshold is higher than the going rate for the occupation, then you must pay the worker at least the general salary threshold. If the general salary threshold is lower than the going rate for the occupation, then you must pay the worker at least the going rate. In either case, you must pay at least the hourly rate (where this applies).
The general salary threshold is calculated based on actual gross earnings, up to a maximum of 48 hours per week.
The going rate is calculated and pro-rated based on the number of hours the applicant will actually work.
If the worker scores 'tradeable points' for attributes such as having relevant academic qualifications, being sponsored to work in a shortage occupation or an eligible health or education occupation, or because they are a 'new entrant' to the UK's labour market then you will be able to pay the worker less than the general salary threshold of £25,600 and between 70% and 90 % of the 'going rate':
- An applicant with a PhD qualification which is relevant to the job may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £23,040 per year and 90% of the going rate for the occupation;
- An applicant with a PhD qualification in a STEM subject which is relevant to the job may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation;
- An applicant with a job offer for a job in a shortage occupation may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation;
- An applicant who is a new entrant to the labour market may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 70% of the going rate for the occupation;
- An application for a job in a listed health or education occupation may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation.
What is a 'job in a shortage occupation'?
The Home Office maintains a list of skilled roles where employers find it difficult to secure adequate numbers of workers with the required skills to fill their vacancies. If you are sponsoring a worker for a job listed in the Appendix Shortage Occupation List then the salary threshold requirement will be reduced.
Who is a 'new entrant to the labour market'?
New entrants to the labour market include those under the age of 26 at the date of application (or switching from a Student or Graduate Visa), those sponsored in postdoctoral research positions and those working towards professional qualifications, registration or chartered status. If you are sponsoring a worker who qualifies as a new entrant to the labour market then the salary threshold requirement will be reduced.
Employers should note that an applicant will not qualify as a new entrant if granting their application would result in their combined period of permission as a Skilled Worker, Tier 2 Migrant and/or Graduate exceeding 4 years in total.
You will need to pay the worker the minimum hourly rate requirement of £10.10 per hour if:
- The worker is applying after 6 April 2021; and
- The worker did not hold permission as a Skilled Worker or Tier 2 (General) Migrant under the Rules in place before 6 April 2021 (or, if they did, has not held continuous permission on those routes since they were granted such permission); and
- You will be sponsoring the worker in an occupation code listed in Table 1 of Appendix Skilled Occupations
The hourly rate requirement does not apply if the worker will be sponsored in an eligible health or education occupation code listed in Table 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations.
If the amount you, as the employer, intend to pay the Skilled Worker is below the appropriate salary rate then the worker will not qualify for entry clearance or permission to stay and so an application for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence will not be appropriate.
The Immigration Rules and Sponsor Guidance contain complex rules on the calculation of applicable skilled worker salary rates, including rules on allowances and pro-rating. You may wish to seek expert legal advice in relation to the skilled worker salary requirement.
Genuine Employment Requirement
As part of your Skilled Worker sponsor licence application, the Home Office will want to be satisfied that you will offer a genuine vacancy which will meet the skill and salary requirements under the skilled-worker route.
If there are reasonable grounds to believe that the job(s) an employer is looking to sponsor does (do) not exist, is (are) a sham or has (have) been created mainly so that the worker can apply for a Skilled Worker Visa then the sponsor licence application will be refused. You should ensure that there is a credible need for the role that you are looking to sponsor in your business.
Working for a Third Party Requirement
When applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, the Home Office will also want to be satisfied that you will not assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to a worker for a role which amounts to filling a temporary or permanent position with a third party who is not the sponsor, or undertaking contract work which involves undertaking an ongoing routine role or providing an ongoing routine service to a third party who is not a sponsor.
There will need to be a direct employer-employee relationship. You (the sponsor) will be the employer and will be responsible for paying the sponsored worker.
Appointing Key Personnel
Once you are satisfied that you will be able to meet the above-mentioned sponsorship requirements of the Skilled Worker route, you should appoint an Authorising Officer to manage your sponsorship licence, a Key Contact to act as the main contact between your business and the Home Office and nominate at least one Level 1 User to carry out day-to-day sponsorship activities using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
- Authorising Officer – Usually someone senior within the company or organisation, who is involved with recruitment and/or HR. This person will be ultimately responsible for the licence, and ensuring that Sponsor Licence duties are met;
- Key Contact – The primary point of contact for the Home Office. A legal representative can undertake this role for you; and
- Level 1 User – This person will be responsible for all day-to-day management of the Sponsor Licence through an online portal, known as the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). This person must be an employee at the time of application, however once the Sponsor Licence has been assigned, others, including legal representatives can be set up at Level 1 Users, or Level 2 Users who are able to undertake certain limited tasks on the SMS.
These key personnel will need to be in place when you apply for your Skilled Worker sponsor licence. The roles can be filled by the same person or a combination of different people.
Each of your Key Personnel must be based in the UK for the period they will fill the role you have appointed them to, not have any unspent criminal convictions, civil penalties or other adverse history (including adverse immigration history) and be a paid member of your staff or engaged by you as an 'office holder' (unless an exception applies).
Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) Allocation
When you apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, you will be asked to estimate and justify the number of Undefined CoS that you wish to assign in your first year as a licensed sponsor.
If your sponsor licence application is approved, the Home Office will notify you of your CoS allocation for the year. You will then have up to 12 months to use your CoS.
It is possible to apply to increase a CoS allocation part way through a CoS year. However, it typically takes 18 weeks for an in-year allocation increase unless a priority service is used.
Although unused CoS cannot be carried over to the next CoS year, during the validity period of your licence it will be possible to apply for a further allocation for the next CoS year.
Applying for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
Once you have decided how many workers you are likely to sponsor in your first year, you will apply for your Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence by completing an online application form, paying an application fee and submitting all relevant supporting documents specified in Appendix A to the sponsor guidance within 5 working days of submitting your application.
You will also have to give information about the key personnel you are appointing, as well as what documents and evidence you are providing to meet the eligibility criteria set out above.
A legal representative can help you complete the application form, but the application form must be submitted by the sponsor themselves.
How Much Does a Sponsor Licence Cost?
The fee for submitting a sponsor licence application will vary depending on the size of your organisation. A small company or charity will be charged £536.00, and a medium or large sized company will be charged £1,476.00.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence?
Sponsor licence applications typically take up to 8 weeks to be decided by the Home Office. There is a priority service which costs £500.00, and will return a decision within 10 working days.
Duration of a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
If your Skilled Worker sponsor licence application is successful, your licence will be valid for 4 years. If you wish to continue to sponsor skilled workers after the end of the 4 year period you will need to apply to renew your sponsor licence before it expires.
If, however, your Skilled Worker sponsor licence application is refused, there is no right of appeal and there will be a six-month cooling off period.
Sponsor Licence Rating
If your Skilled Worker sponsor licence application is approved, you will be rated 'A' on the published register of licensed sponsors.
If, during the validity period of your sponsor licence, the Home Office considers that you are not able to comply with your sponsor duties or otherwise act in an appropriate way then they may downgrade you to a B-rating. If you are downgraded to a B-rating, you will need to meet a time-limited sponsorship action plan which sets out the steps you will need to take to regain an A-rating. If you do not meet the requirements of your action plan then your sponsor licence will be revoked.
Immigration Requirements for a Skilled Worker Visa
Employers should also keep in mind that workers who wish to come to the UK on a Skilled Worker Visa will themselves need to satisfy various eligibility requirements set out in the Immigration Rules.
Before assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), you should check that the worker that you wish to sponsor is eligible for a Skilled Worker Visa.
In addition to their job being at an appropriate skill level and being paid an appropriate salary, applicants must have English language skills at level B1 or higher on the Common European Framework of Reference for language in all 4 components (speaking, listening, reading, writing).
Skilled workers also need to satisfy a financial requirement. However, once you are an A-rated sponsor you will be able to certify that the financial requirement is met when you assign a CoS, if you wish.
Applicants who are applying for entry clearance and being sponsored for certain jobs (broadly comprising jobs in the health, care, welfare and education sectors) must, unless it is not reasonably practical to do so, provide a criminal record certificate for any country in which they have been present for 12 months or more (whether continuously or in total) in the 10 years before the date of their application, since the age of 18. Where this requirement applies, sufficient time should allowed to make sure that the necessary documentation can be obtained.
You can read more about the requirements for a successful Skilled Worker Visa application here.
Immigration Skills Charge
You may have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge each time you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a worker on the Skilled Worker route.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.