What is a Sponsor Licence?
Sponsor licence is now a universal requirement for businesses in order to employ overseas workers in the UK.
All UK immigration categories facilitating employment opportunities in the UK require all businesses employing overseas nationals in the UK to have a valid sponsor licence.
Applying for a sponsor licence if you are an investor, entrepreneur or a business owner and you are relocating to the UK may be the best option for you.
What happens if you employ someone illegally in the UK and without the required sponsor licence?
You can be sent to jail for 5 years and pay an unlimited fine if you’re found guilty of employing someone who you knew or had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ did not have the right to work in the UK.
This includes, for example, if you had any reason to believe that:
- they did not have leave (permission) to enter or remain in the UK
- their leave had expired
- they were not allowed to do certain types of work
- their papers were incorrect or false
You have a legal duty to check whether your employees have the right to work in the UK and make sure their documents are valid.
Check your employees properly
You can also be penalised if you employ someone who does not have the right to work and you did not do the correct checks, or you did not do them properly.
If this happens, you might get a ‘referral notice’ to let you know your case is being considered and that you might have to pay a civil penalty (fine) of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker.
You’ll be sent a ‘civil penalty notice’ if you’re found liable and you’ll have 28 days to respond.
The notice will tell you how to pay, what to do next, and how to object to the decision.
Your business’s details may be published by Immigration Enforcement as a warning to other businesses not to employ illegal workers.
You will not have to pay the civil penalty if you can show you made the correct ‘right to work’ checks.
Types of Sponsor Licence
There are 2 main types of sponsor licences for businesses:
- ‘Workers’ – for skilled or long-term employment
- ‘Temporary workers’ – for specific types of temporary employment
You can apply for a licence covering one or both types of worker.
A ‘Worker’ licence will let you sponsor people in different types of skilled employment. The skilled work can be for a short time, long-term or permanent depending on the worker’s visa.
The licence is split into:
- Skilled Worker – the role must meet the job suitability requirements
- Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility) – for multinational companies which need to transfer established employees to the UK, previously the Intra-company Transfer visa
- Minister of Religion – for people coming to work for a religious organisation
- International Sportsperson – for elite sportspeople and coaches who will be based in the UK
Temporary Worker licence
A ‘Temporary Worker’ licence will let you sponsor people on a temporary basis, including for volunteering and job-shadowing. You can only get a Temporary Worker licence for specific types of employment and visas.
The licence is split into:
- Scale-up Worker – for people coming to work for a fast-growing UK business
- Creative Worker – to work in the creative industry, for example as an entertainer or artist (up to 2 years)
- Charity Worker – for unpaid workers at a charity (up to 1 year)
- Religious Worker – for those working in a religious order or organisation (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 worker is coming to do a job which is covered by international law, for example employees of overseas governments
- Graduate Trainee (Global Business Mobility) – for workers transferring to their employer’s UK branch as part of a graduate training programme
- Service Supplier (Global Business Mobility) – for workers with a contract to provide services for a UK company (6 or 12 months)
- UK Expansion Worker (Global Business Mobility) – for workers sent to the UK to set up a new branch or subsidiary of an overseas business
- Secondment Worker (Global Business Mobility) – for workers transferring from overseas to work for a different UK business as part of a high-value contract
- Seasonal Worker – allows people to come to the UK and work in horticulture (for example, picking fruit and vegetables) for up to 6 months, or poultry from 18 October to 31 December each year
Why a Scale-up worker visa may be an attractive option for investors, entrepreneurs and business owners?
A number of UK visa categories that were specifically designed for investors, entrepreneurs and business owners were either closed down or significantly altered to eradicate any advantages that were highly attractive historically.
It is understood that in the effort to boost UK industry and with potential investors, entrepreneurs and business owners in mind, a scale-up worker visa may be an attractive option for UK relocation purposes.
These are the reasons why:
- Your sponsorship responsibilities as a sponsor for a scale-up worker will end 6 months after they get permission to come to or stay in the UK.
- After that, a scale-up worker can do any of the following until their visa expires:
- continue working for you without getting a new certificate of sponsorship
- change jobs without getting a new sponsor
The business argument here is that even a highly profitable business is not likely to sponsor an overseas worker for 6 months only if the worker in question potentially is not an investor, entrepreneur or a business owner.
Is Your Business Eligible for a UK Sponsor Licence?
To get a licence as an employer, you cannot have:
- unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering
- had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months
You’ll need appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored workers and people to manage sponsorship in your business.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your application form and supporting documents. They may visit your business to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.
What are Employer’s Responsibilities?
As an employer you must:
- check that your foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditations to do their jobs, and keep copies of documents showing this
- only assign certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship
- tell UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa
- comply with UK employment law for jobs you’re offering
Your licence may be downgraded, suspended or withdrawn if you do not fulfil these responsibilities.
You need to comply with sponsor requirements and duties and check workers have the right to work in the UK.
You must have HR systems in place that let you:
- monitor your workers’ immigration status
- keep copies of relevant documents for each sponsored worker, including evidence you’ve carried out the relevant right to work checks
- track and record workers’ attendance
- keep worker contact details up to date
- report to UKVI if there is a problem, for example if your worker stops coming to work
Changes to your business
You must report any significant changes in your own circumstances within 20 working days, for example if you:
- stop trading or become insolvent
- substantially change the nature of your business
- are involved in a merger or take-over
- make changes that affect your relationship with any overseas businesses that have sent workers to you
- make any changes to a contract covering secondment workers or service suppliers
You must also tell UKVI if you’re changing your details, like your address or allocated roles.
If you’re sponsoring a UK Expansion Worker and have a ‘provisional’ rating
You must tell UKVI when your authorising officer’s visa is granted. You’ll need to update their immigration status and address in the UK.
If you’re sponsoring a scale-up worker
Your responsibilities as a sponsor for a scale-up worker start on the date you assign them a certificate of sponsorship. Your responsibilities end 6 calendar months after either:
- the ‘valid from’ date on your worker’s visa – if they were outside the UK when they applied
- the date they are told they have permission to stay – if they were inside the UK when they applied
A scale-up worker gets their permission to come to or stay in the UK on 1 October 2022. Your sponsorship responsibilities for that worker will end at 11:59pm on 1 April 2023.
You must tell UKVI your worker’s start date using the sponsorship management system (SMS).
Why do you need a professional to help you to process your sponsor licence?
When the Home Office agrees to issue a sponsor licence to you as an employer it is the ultimate bond of trust. In short, the Home Office feels you are worthy to be delegated a border control responsibility from your government.
It is not just satisfying the initial set of requirements, but honouring this trusted relationship with the Home Office. It is about having the right procedures in place that protect you and your status as an employer, as well as your business.
The Home Office may downgrade or revoke your licence. Home Office caseworkers will visit your business premises and will evaluate how well you are complying with sponsor licence requirements on spot.
Your business and individuals running the business have to be above board and retain your compliant nature and trusted status throughout this relationship.
Working with a dedicated professional may help you not only to secure your sponsor licence for your business, but also identify potential business risks, neutralise such risks and identify the correct solutions for the future.
It makes sense to have a professional help you to negotiate the treacherous waters when dealing with authority and demonstrate compliance.
Get it Right from the Start!
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Saule Voluckyte, M.A.E.S, LL.B, FAIA
I have been working exclusively with UHNWI in Mayfair, London since January 2008. I built specialist knowledge and expertise required to serve ultra high net worth individuals investing, operating and relocating to the UK or Switzerland.
Within the industry, I am the single adviser who is able to traverse the different areas of expertise and bring a comprehensive approach across: global structuring, UK immigration, international taxation and FOREX to develop their global wealth strategy, while they build, grow and expand their wealth worldwide.
Previous experience as one of the senior advisors for the government, made me a go-to person when delicate and uncomfortable scenarios involving heads of state need to be handled with care and preserve privacy.