Sponsor Licence Visa Application Guide – Tier 2, 4 & 5

Businessman in airport

In order to excel in today’s business landscape, it’s crucial that you can hire the very best, skilled workers, regardless of where they are currently based. That’s why the Osbourne Pinner business immigration team are ready to support you in accessing the best talent from around the globe.

As a business, your time is too precious to be spent navigating the difficulties of sponsoring overseas workers for a Tier 2 visa. From understanding restrictive policies to avoiding penalties for non-compliance, your business will want to be able to rely on the clear and expert advice of dedicated immigration solicitors.

Here at Osbourne Pinner, that’s exactly what we do. With years of experience in supporting a range of businesses and educational institutions in successfully sponsoring individuals under the UK’s sponsor licence policy, we’re ready to guide your organisation with clear and straightforward advice.

Thanks to over 18 years of experience in supporting companies with sponsor licences, we can offer full support across all of the requirements that come with obtaining and overseeing sponsorship licences. Whether you’re applying for your first licence, renewing or extending existing sponsorship licences or simply looking for ongoing support in managing them, we’re here to help.

How can our business immigration solicitors help? 

The process of dealing with sponsor licences for your business can be both time-consuming and tedious. If you want to make the process much smoother and clearer, an experienced and dedicated immigration solicitor can make a world of difference. In short, you get the time and energy back to focus on the other aspects of running a successful business.

Here at Osbourne Pinner, our team of expert business immigration solicitors have gained years of first-hand experience in overcoming many of the challenges that businesses face as a result of sponsor licence policies. This means we’re more than well equipped to guide you in gaining the best talent without experiencing any of the stress or confusion that can come with the application process.

From drafting initial sponsor licence applications and collating the necessary paperwork to reviewing internal procedures ahead of a visit from the UK Immigration and Visa agency and reviewing whether prospective employees satisfy the points-based system, our efficient team of solicitors will be available to help your business each step of the way.

How do sponsor licences work?

When it comes to advancing your business, hiring the best team will be a crucial first step. However, if you’re looking to hire workers from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), you will need to apply for and obtain a Sponsorship Licence from the Home Office. Without it, your organisation will be unable to hire workers or extend the visas of employees who are currently sponsored.

When sponsoring a prospective employee, it’s essential to be aware of the immigration duties your business will have as a result. That includes the different processes and systems involved in meeting the requirements. It even extends to the maintenance of key records to show evidence of compliance.

If you’re submitting an application for your first licence, you’ll need to make it clear your business can handle the requirements from the first day your team member will be employed. Without demonstrating this, the Home Office may refuse your application.

The Home Office and UK Immigration and Visa agency also perform checks or ‘audits’ throughout the year on whether organisations are complying with their strict criteria. They can even subject businesses to unannounced visits. In the event of non-compliance, the Home Office can suspend and revoke licences, potentially resulting in workers being unable to remain in the UK.

With the penalties so severe, it’s crucial that you have the right processes in place to not only protect your business but your workers too. Our specialist immigration solicitors can make sure you have all the measures in place to pass a sponsor licence compliance audit.

Types of sponsor licence

There are different types of sponsor licence available, so it’s important that prior to preparing your application, you identify the right licence for you and your prospective worker.

Tier 2 (sponsor licence) visa

The Tier 2 sponsor licence is the most common visa that’s sought for by businesses. It enables companies to hire a skilled worker from outside the EEA for an extended period of time. This licence provides businesses with a range of options, including:

  • General – suitable for a role on the shortage occupation list, or when the talent isn’t available in the UK job market
  • Intra-company transfer – ideal for businesses who operate in different countries and need to relocate an employee on a long-term basis. It can also be suitable for graduate training programmes.
  • Sportsperson – for sportspeople or coaches who are taking roles at the highest level in their chosen sport.
  • Minister of Religion – available for those who are travelling to the UK for a long-term position in a religious organisation.

Football coach

Tier 4 (sponsor licence) visa

The Tier 4 sponsor licence is suitable only for education organisations who are enrolling students from outside of the EEA. In order to be granted the visa, an establishment must offer courses for full-time students and continue to monitor the student, ensuring they attend their classes and contacting the authorities should a student leave their course prematurely.

Further reading: Everything You Should Learn About the UK Student Visa

Tier 5 (sponsor licence) visa

Tier 5 sponsor licences are suitable for temporary workers who are only looking to work in the UK for a short period of time, usually for a maximum of 12-24 months. This can include charity and religious workers, creatives and sportspeople, exchanges authorised by the government and international agreements.

What is the resident labour market test?

The resident labour market test, or RLMT, requires you to advertise the job on offer if it’s not already on the shortage occupation list. This ensures there are no suitable workers already in the UK permanently, essentially proving that you need to hire from another country.

RLMT is required for Tier 2 General, Tier 2 Minister of Religion, Tier 5 Creative and Sporting and Tier 5 Religious Workers. There are several rules in place to stay compliant, including placing at least two adverts. Again, this is an area where specialist lawyers can add a lot of value, making sure everything is done properly without delays.

Applying for a sponsor licence 

As a basic requirement for obtaining a sponsor licence, you must be able to prove that you are a genuine business who is lawfully operating within the UK, and are able to carry out the duties involved, including appropriate HR and recruitment processes.

When applying for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence, you will also be required to demonstrate that your employment offer is genuine and that it meets the required skill level and rate of pay.

The application process will require you to complete an online application and provide a range of documentation that provides evidence as to your business’s capabilities, the prospective employee and the role in question. Once these have been submitted, the UK Immigration and Visa agency may then visit your premises to assess whether or not your business is compliant with their regulations.

When obtaining a sponsor licence, you’ll also need to comply with the illegal working requirements. These state that non-EEA workers must provide documentation that proves their right to work before being hired.

Extending or switching a sponsor licence

When a sponsor licence is coming to an end, you can choose to extend the licence, switch it to another tier or apply for permanent settlement.

Extending you Tier 2 sponsor licence

You can renew a tier 2 sponsor licence within three months of the expiry date. The requirements are generally the same as they were with the initial application, with the extended licence lasting another four years.

Switching to Tier 2

Another option is to switch to a Tier 2 sponsor licence visa as your existing visa comes to an end. You can apply to switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2 within three months of the completion of your course. With generally 3-4 months left on a Tier 4 visa after the course is completed, that gives you a total of 7 months to apply for the switch.

While you can’t technically switch from a Tier 5 to a Tier 2, you can apply for a Tier 2 after you have stopped using your Tier 5 visa. In other words, after you have returned to your country of residence. Given the time critical nature of moving from Tier 4 and Tier 5 to Tier 2, it’s certainly an area where immigration solicitors can add a lot of value.

Applying for permanent settlement

Once you have lived in the UK for five years, you can apply for permanent settlement from your Tier 2 visa. This is known as Tier 2 Indefinite Leave to Remain. You will need to meet a few criteria, such as a minimum annual salary and language requirements.

The minimum annual salary stands at £36,200 in 2020/22 financial year, rising to £36,900 in 2021/22 and £37,900 in 2022/23. This needs to come from one primary job. You will also need to pass tests for language capability and knowledge of life in the UK.

Refusal, rejection or suspension

There are some instances where sponsor licence visas are refused, rejected or suspended. If your application is rejected, you have 14 days from the date of refusal to reapply if you believe it is down to one of the following:

  • An error made by the caseworker processing your application
  • Any of your supporting documentation was not considered

Alternatively, your application may be subject to a six-month cooling off period. This prevents you from reapplying for half a year, if your application was rejected for any of the following reasons:

  • The requirements for your chosen sponsor licence category weren’t met
  • Your documents were incorrect or false
  • The required processes were not in place to comply with sponsor duties
  • You or your business doesn’t have a trading presence in the UK economy

Finally, there are also some instances where you can reapply at any time. This includes applications where documents or information was missing due to reasons out of your control.

Upcoming changes to sponsor licences

From 1st January 2021, the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system is in place, potentially affecting hundreds of workers across the nation. Under the changes, workers who are from the current European Economic Area will also need to secure a visa to remain working and living in the UK. As such, it’s crucial that businesses assess their current workforce and identify whether they will need to acquire a sponsor licence.

If your business does need to obtain a Tier 2 sponsor licence, then you will need to check their eligibility. Check if they meet the following criteria:

  • Language – workers are required to be able to speak English to be eligible.
  • Salary – to qualify for a Tier 2 visa, your worker must be earning at least £25,600 unless they satisfy a different criteria.
  • Skill – eligible workers will be in roles that have a skill-level equal to A-level, or RQF3.

With Tier 2 sponsor licences taking between three to five weeks to be considered, and a potential for applications to be refused, it’s essential to start preparing your application as soon as possible.

Your dedicated immigration solicitor will be able to help you in creating your application, as well as gather all of the supporting evidence required, ensuring the process of approval is smooth and straightforward.

Immigration solicitors’ fees

When it comes to sponsor licence guidance, the costs involved will fall into two categories – the cost of submitting the application, and the cost immigration solicitor fees.

Sponsor licence fees

The fees to pay on obtaining a sponsor licence will be lower for charities and small businesses who have 50 employees or fewer and have an annual turnover of £10.2 million or less. The Tier 2 sponsorship licence cost is higher for medium to large businesses. The same costs apply should you be requesting Tier 2 and Tier 5 at the same time.

However, if you’re looking to add a Tier 5 to an existing Tier 2, there will be no fee. To add a Tier 2 to a Tier 5, there is no fee for small businesses, but there will be a fee for medium to large organisations.

Immigration solicitors’ service fees

The price of the immigration solicitors’ services will vary depending on what your business requires. For instance, full-time management of your Tier 2 sponsor licence will incur higher costs than only requiring support with the application process.

At Osbourne Pinner, we will meet with you for an initial consultation to discuss your business’s needs. We’ll then provide you with clear and cost-effective pricing, including fixed fees or an hourly rate, to ensure you get the most value out of our services.

London’s local immigration solicitors

As a business, working with London-based specialist immigration solicitors will offer you plenty of benefits. For any urgent or pressing questions, such as those that often arise during the Tier 2 sponsor licence process, it can be quick and simple to pop in and quickly address any problems.

Being able to meet face to face will also ensure that you can gain full clarity and understanding of what you’ll need to obtain a successful sponsorship. It can be much easier to go through different requirements in person. You’ll also be able to build a trusting, personal relationship which can ensure a more positive experience.

With offices located in the heart of London, Osbourne Pinner is ideally placed to offer dedicated legal advice for business based in the UK’s capital city. Just a short tube ride from Covent Garden, Soho and Leicester Square, our Piccadilly Circus office is ideally placed for meetings and legal guidance.

Call 0203 980 9348 or leave your details on our contact form.

Online immigration solicitors

We all know how hectic business can get, and we understand that not everyone can get out of the office. Your dedicated immigration solicitor will be more than happy to consult you online, using your preferred mode of communication, to make the sponsorship process as stress-free and straightforward as possible.

Visa consultation

So, when you can’t come to us, our team can use whatever means is most suitable for you. Whether it’s via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp, our expert team are available online and by phone. Should you need to run through your application, ask a quick question or get a progress update, Osbourne Pinner can work flexibly to meet your needs.

Thanks to our online communication routes, we can also offer our expertise to businesses based further afield. From Northumberland to Cornwall, you can benefit from our specialist guidance wherever you’re based.


What is a sponsor licence?

A sponsor licence is granted by the UK government to an organisation or individual who sponsors a foreign employee to work within a business. This licence equally applies to small businesses, charities and other unpaid work.

However, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may need to visit a business’s premises to check they are suitable.

How are decisions on sponsor licences made?

The Home Office looks at who can add the most to the UK economy and society by analysing several suitability measures which ultimately determine whether the licence will be granted or refused.

Criteria that are assessed include whether a business has a genuine vacancy, whether a company has suitable human resources policies to meet sponsor duties and whether the Home Office is able to conduct regular checks to ensure compliance.

In many cases, if an application is refused, a business will not be able to apply again for another six months. Two of the most common reasons behind refusal include not paying the minimum annual salary, or if the Home Office believes a vacancy is not genuine.

How long does a UK company need to be trading to apply for a sponsor licence?

There is no specified length of time that a business must have been trading for. Once a company is legally operating, has registered with HMRC and has employer’s liability insurance, they will be able to apply. 

Who is responsible for maintaining a sponsor licence?

The responsibilities for the sponsor licence need to be assigned to a member of staff, or multiple members, known as Authorising Officers. It will be their job to handle all of the record-keeping and reporting on behalf of the sponsor.

The Authorising Officer should be permanently based in the UK, a paid member of the business and meet criminal convictions requirements.

At all times, a business must keep a photocopy or electronic copy of the relevant page of each sponsored migrant’s passport or Biometric Residence Permit and contact details.

These should be ready to provide to the Home Office upon request, and Authorising Officers should also inform them on any significant changes to an employee’s contract of employment such as a promotion or change in core duties within 20 working days.

How long is a sponsor licence valid for?

As a minimum, a sponsor licence is granted for four years and can be renewed by making an application to the Home Office. The four years will start from the date the licence is issued, even if a business is not immediately going to sponsor anyone.

However, keep in mind that the Home Office can revoke them if a business or individual does not comply with sponsorship duties. If a sponsor licence is revoked, then it will impact on a business’ ability to employ any overseas workers in the future. Failure to carry out duties leading to hiring someone illegally can result in a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per worker.

What happens if a business misses a renewal date?

If a business misses a renewal for a sponsor licence, they will immediately lose their licence and the Home Office will reduce the migrant’s leave to 60 calendar days.

If an application to renew is made in the future, the employer will be treated as if they were a new sponsor, and any foreign workers will be treated as new recruits for the purposes of sponsorship.

Does a company need to advertise a position in the UK or EU before hiring foreign worker?

Government regulations specify that a job must have been advertised to applicants within the EEA for at least 28 calendar days before being promoted overseas, known as the resident labour market test (RLMT).

It will also need to be advertised in a minimum of two places, including the government website and Jobcentre Plus.

What are the minimum salary thresholds of a sponsor licence?

Under Tier 2 or Tier 5 General, a business will need to pay sponsored employees a minimum salary. From the outset, it should be clear what this figure will be and whether there is potential for the salary to increase in the future. 

There are two different thresholds for salaries, and within them are different rates depending on how the prospective employee is classified – either an experienced or new applicant. The first threshold is a general minimum salary level, which applies across the board, and the second is a role-specific salary level, unique to each job title.

Can a business issue a certificate of sponsorship to an applicant who is the family member of a current employee?

Yes, but they must ensure they are disclosing this information on the certificate of sponsorship to comply with the law.

What is Sponsorship Management System (SMS)?

Once you have been granted a sponsorship licence, you will then have access to the Sponsorship Management System. This is a portal where you can: 

  • Create Certificates of Sponsorship for employees under either Tier 2 or Tier 5
  • Report any changes to the circumstances of your employees
  • Review, renew and manage your organisation’s sponsorship licence

When working with an immigration solicitor, you will be able to appoint them as an additional user on the SMS. This will enable them to fulfil any duties required on the system. 

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a reference number given to an employee, enabling them to apply for their visa. As an employer, you will need to assign one to every foreign worker you hire. 

There are two types of CoS – restricted and unrestricted. A restricted CoS will be required for the following: 

  • A Tier 2 worker who will be paid less than £159,600 and will not be working in an inward investment role.

  • Dependents of Tier 2 migrants who will be switching to a Tier 2 visa. 

Arrange a consultation

If your business is looking to obtain a sponsor licence, Osbourne Pinner is available to provide sponsor guidance for Tier 2, Tier 4 and Tier 5 visas. With over 18 years of first-hand experience in securing sponsorship licences and managing compliance, our team of solicitors are here to help you sail through every step in hiring and retaining your ideal candidate.

Whether you’d prefer to call us, meet us in person or arrange a video call, please do not hesitate to get in touch for a free, no-obligation initial chat. Our seasoned and dedicated London-based immigration solicitors are always just a phone call away on 0203 980 9348. Alternatively, leave your details on our contact form, and we will call you back.

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