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How to Get a UK Sponsor Licence

sponsor licence

How to Get a UK Sponsor Licence

Attracting and retaining talented workers is a challenge for many employees and HR Directors.  Industries such as technology, finance, food manufacturing and many more need the ability to hire workers from non-EEA countries easily.  To do this, they must be a UK Sponsor and hold a valid Tier 2 Licence.

Getting a Tier 2 licence and becoming a registered UK sponsor is a process in itself, maintaining this throughout the life of the licence (four years) is a separate matter entirely. The compliance element of being a Licence holder requires committing to a rigorous record keeping regime as well as staying up to date with the changes in Immigration Rules that could affect you. Your HR processes and procedures will need to be able to cope with the duties and responsibilities set by the Home Office; demands that may cost you your employees, your licence and business reputation if not met.

This article is the first in a series discussing the application process of becoming a UK sponsor and maintaining a Tier 2 Licence.  We will also be covering the visa process itself which applies to the relevant foreign migrant and prospective employee including how to conduct a Residential Market Labour test or RLMT.

Before we begin discussing how to apply, it is important to note that if you already have a person in mind whom you wish to recruit, being granted a Sponsor Licence doesn’t guarantee that the individual in question will be awarded a tier 2 visa.

The eligibility criteria for a UK Sponsor Licence

The eligibility and suitability criteria for obtaining a Tier 2 Licence can be found in the Sponsor Guidance for Tiers 2 and 5 (SG), and in the supplementary guidance on the UK Visas and Immigration pages of the GOV.UK website.

To be considered a suitable applicant, the prospective sponsor must demonstrate to immigration officials that:

  • they are a genuine entity and operating or trading lawfully in the UK
  • they are based in the UK
  • they have the required planning permission or Local Planning Authority consent for the type of business they run
  • they are ‘honest, dependable and reliable.’
  • they present no threat to UK immigration control, and
  • they can and will comply with the sponsor duties and responsibilities

The last requirement presents the greatest challenge, especially for smaller organisations who do not have a dedicated HR team in place.  At Saracens, we, could take the bulk of the needed compliance from you giving you the reassurance and peace of mind you need to prioritise the needs of your business. We can also guide you toward the correct HR processes the Home Office expect to see and prepare you for any potential audits that could happen at any point over the four year validity period of your licence.

The Tier 2 licence application procedure

There is a standard procedure to follow when applying for a Tier 2 Licence.  We advise any Uk company looking to become a sponsor for foreign migrant workers to do the following:

  1. decide which visa categories/tiers it wishes to include on the Sponsor Licence
  2. Use a trust firm of solicitors or legal expert to engage in a mock audit of their HR systems to assess whether they are suitable to meet the Sponsor Licence compliance requirements and make any changes needed
  3. decide who will be the ‘Key Personnel’ and whether they will name a legal representative as one of them
  4. collate the required documents which need to be submitted with the application depending on the nature and size of their business
  5. determine the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) needed for the first year based on how many foreign migrant workers the company plans to hire.

The definition and responsibilities of key personnel

Upon becoming a UK sponsor, or once the Tier 2 sponsorship licence application has been granted, your organisation will be given access to what is called a Sponsorship Management System or SMS. This is an online portal through which all future requests to the Home Office are made and changes to your organisation or changes to your licence must be recorded. The login information will be sent to you by post upon the grant of your licence and only “Key Personnel” or people who have been authorised may have access to them and therefore to the SMS itself.

We have defined the names of Key Personnel and their roles below:

  • Authorising Officer
  • Key contact
  • Level 1 user of the Sponsor Management System
  • Level 2 user of the Sponsor Management System

These roles can be fulfilled by the same person, and an immigration solicitor or expert can act as Key Contact, and or a Level 1 & 2 user.  However, at least one person in-house must fulfil the role of Authorising Officer. When applying for a Tier 2 Licence, it is important that the business decides who will be the Authorising Officer as this will be the person taking the initial steps in the process. Although an Authorising Officer may be guided by an Immigration expert or solicitor, they will be required to initiate the process. A legal representative can only be added as one of the Key Personel members once the Tier 2 sponsorship licence has been granted and the request for adding a legal representative has been sent to and accepted by the Home Office.

It is important to understand that the Home Office regularly run checks on the IP addresses used to log into the SMS and that anyone who is not authorised to access it but does so will be in breach of the terms of their licence.

It is also extremely important to be mindful of keeping the records and positions of Key Personnel up to date particularly if staff members holding these positions leave the organisation. This is another advantage of naming a legal representative on your SMS as these changes will be update by them and there will always be an authorised person who can submit requests and make necessary changes/ applications where needed whilst your organisation hires a new person.

A and B ratings

When an organisation is first granted a Sponsor Licence, it will be given an A rating.  This will allow the employer or UK sponsor company certain privileges such as applying for a certificate of sponsorship or CoS as well as the ability to certify the relevant migrant worker’s maintenance which is part of the conditions of their individual visa.  [1].

If an organisation fails to comply with their sponsorship duties, their licence may be downgraded to a B rating.  If this happens, the business will no longer be allowed to  issue new certificates of sponsorship which will affect your ability to hire new migrant workers or extending existing migrant workers’ leave.  The Home Office will provide an action plan to bring the organisation back up to an A rating however failure to adhere to this will lead to the company remaining at a B rating along with a new action plan being issued.  Ignoring the action plan will eventually result in your Tier 2 sponsorship licence being revoked.

We advise that every UK company looking to apply for a Tier 2 sponsorship licence to use the advice of an expert particularly at the initial stages. Building strong HR processes at the start, with the guidance of an experienced Immigration lawyer or expert will make it easier for your organisation to remain compliant long term.

Support for your Tier 2 and 5 Sponsor Licence application process

Many HR directors/employers find instructing an immigration solicitor, who understands not only the law but the decision-making processes of immigration, highly beneficial.


An experienced immigration solicitor can take care of the entire application process for you and act as your key personnel ensuring that you are always compliant and your licence and staff are protected. This can free up your HR department and foreign migrant employees from the stress and uncertainty of compliance allowing them to concentrate their efforts on your business.

Final words

The process of becoming a UK sponsor by successfully applying for and maintaining a Tier 2 sponsorship licence can be challenging and daunting but it doesn’t have to be. With the help of an experienced firm of experts your business can benefit from highly skilled foreign migrant workers that will help you push your business to its full potential.

Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based opposite Marble Arch on the North side of Hyde Park in London.  We have a dedicated immigration law team who can assist you with applying for a UK Sponsor Licence.  We can manage the entire process for you, from assessing your HR systems prior to application to managing your key personal responsibilities.  For more information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.

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