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Guidance on applying for a licence to employ skilled workers from overseas.

First published:
6 July 2023
Last updated:


To employ (or sponsor) an overseas worker in a skilled role on a Skilled Worker visa an employer must have a sponsor licence.

Sponsor licences

Having a sponsor licence enables UK employers to compete for labour in the UK and global markets. It is one of a number of options to secure technical abilities not immediately available to a UK.

A sponsor licence is valid for 4 years. It can be used to sponsor any number of overseas workers in skilled roles that meet specific minimum salary thresholds.

Apply for a sponsor licence

To apply for a sponsor licence you must first:

If the answer is “yes” to both criteria you can begin your online application. As part of the process you will be asked basic questions about your organisation and your staff. You will need to provide details of the workers you intend to sponsor and to decide who will manage sponsorship in your business.

The sponsorship roles are:

Authorising officer

A senior and competent person responsible for the organisation’s compliance with immigration regulation. The authorising officer must be British or must be settled in the UK (have indefinite leave to remain).

Key contact

The main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

Level 1 user

Responsible for all day-to-day management of the sponsor licence. They will carry out any sponsorship duties using the sponsorship management system.

A sponsor licence application can take up to 8 weeks to process. It may take longer if the UKVI needs clarification or additional information. A priority service is available that will process your application faster for an additional fee.

You will receive a decision on your application by email.

Apply for a sponsor licence on GOV.UK

The sponsorship management system and certificates of sponsorship

Once your sponsor licence is granted, the Level 1 users will be given access to the Home Office’s online sponsorship management system (SMS). Use the SMS to assign an electronic certificate of sponsorship to any overseas worker you wish to employ. The overseas worker will need this to support their personal visa application.

A certificate of sponsorship is valid for 3 months from the date it is assigned.

Workers must submit a visa application within 3 months of their certificates being assigned.

A visa application cannot generally be submitted more than 3 months before the date the employment is due to start. 

A certificate of sponsorship is either “undefined” or “defined”.

Undefined certificates 

Undefined certificates can be assigned to overseas staff who are eligible to apply for a visa from within the UK. This would usually apply to staff on Skilled Worker visas who need extensions of their visas.

As part of your sponsor licence application, you must estimate the number of undefined certificates you plan to assign in the following year.

You will be allocated a limited number of undefined certificates per year. This annual allocation must be renewed each year using the SMS. You will need to set out an explanation for your anticipated undefined certificate requirements.

You can request additional certificates. These requests can take up to 13 weeks to process. For an additional fee, requests can be processed within 5 working days.

Defined certificates

Sponsors must assign a defined certificate of sponsorship for overseas workers applying for their visas from outside the UK.

Defined certificate requests are submitted through the SMS. They are assessed by the Home Office on a case-by-case basis.

There are no restrictions on the number of defined certificates that can be requested.

Worker details

Whether it is defined or undefined, the certificate must be populated with the worker’s personal information and details of the role. Only one certificate may be issued to a worker at a given time.

Each certificate is unique. Visa applicants must refer to their certificate numbers as part of their own visa application process.

Sponsorship duties

Before granting a sponsor licence, the Home Office can visit your premises to ensure you understand your sponsorship duties. They will also check that you have appropriate systems in place for sponsoring workers. 

The Home Office can also visit your premises at any point during the 4-year cycle of a sponsor licence. They will want to ensure you are complying with immigration regulations. They will also check that you are meeting your sponsorship duties. Enforcement teams can investigate whether you have carried out all ‘right to work’ checks. They may interview both you as the employer and your employees. 

You should only assign a certificate of sponsorship to a worker if you are sure they meet the immigration requirements. The terms and conditions of sponsored workers must always be consistent between the employment contract, the certificate and the conditions that apply in reality.

You may need to tell UKVI if:

  • the conditions of employment of a sponsored worker change or cease
  • the work does not start
  • specific work absences are exceeded

You might also need to keep the Home Office informed of organisational changes, such as:

  • key personnel
  • company branding
  • contact details
  • locations
  • ownership structures, including mergers. 

Sponsorship costs

Cost Small companies* and charities Medium-sized and large companies
Sponsor licence – standard timeframe £536 £1,476
Sponsor licence – priority request (optional) Extra £500 Extra £500
Certificate of sponsorship – required in all cases £199 £199
Immigration skills charge – payable depending on the immigration status of the visa applicant £364 per 12-month period of a Skilled Worker visa £1,000 per 12-month period of a Skilled Worker visa

* A small company will normally meet at least 2 of the following criteria:

  • annual turnover of £10.2 million or less
  • total assets that are worth £5.1 million or less
  • 50 employees or fewer

The Skilled Worker visa itself incurs costs (see below). It is normally for the worker and the employer to decide who meets these fees:

Skilled Worker visa - how much it costs on GOV.UK

Additional information