How to sponsor a Skilled Worker
You’re probably reading this because you’ve got a great employee or job applicant who has all the skills and experience you need, who has asked whether you can sponsor them for a visa.
Maybe you’ve visited the Home Office ‘UK Visas & Immigration’ website, and been put off by the hundreds of pages of guidance and rules, and the need to look through five or six different links before you can even work out how long it will take or how much it will cost.
For first-time and infrequent users of the UK’s immigration system, the ‘Skilled Worker’ immigration route can be incredibly daunting. To use it effectively and efficiently, you need to build up a wealth of knowledge about the guidance and rules – knowledge that you might not need again for several years – by which time the rules have changed again!
To give you a quick idea of what’s involved, we’ve outlined the main steps to sponsor a skilled worker below:
Before investing time and money, it’s important to check that an application to sponsor person X in job Y, for salary Z will meet the requirements of the Skilled Worker route. The good news is that the eligibility criteria are objective – if the requirements are met you can be pretty confident that the application will be successful. The bad news is that the eligibility criteria are complex and spread out over different pages and documents of the UKVI website.
The main things you need to check before you embark on the rest of the process are as follows:
- That the job is eligible for sponsorship – check the full list of eligible jobs on the UKVI website
- That the salary will meet the minimum threshold – this is complex and depends on several factors including the job and the applicant’s profile. If you’re paying over £30k, it’s probably fine. If you’re paying less than £26,200, the applicant will normally need to gain additional points through holding a PhD or being a ‘New Entrant’
- That the individual doesn’t have any adverse immigration history that would disqualify them from a Skilled Worker visa, or conversely that they don’t qualify for an easier, quicker and cheaper option!
If you’ve already got a Sponsor Licence covering the Skilled Worker route, you can skip this step.
If you’re not sure whether your organisation has a Sponsor Licence, you can check the full list of all registered sponsors on the UKVI website.
If you don’t have a Sponsor Licence, you will need to apply for one, even if you only want to sponsor one person. The application involves completing an online form and submitting electronic copies of four supporting company documents from the official list of suitable documents. Crucially, by applying for a Sponsor Licence, you are also certifying that you meet the UKVI’s ongoing compliance requirements. These relate to the implementation and maintenance of specific policies and procedures relating to the prevention of illegal working and document retention. By applying, you are also signing up to be audited in person by UKVI at any point. Unannounced audits can and do happen, and the penalties for non-compliance can be severe, including loss of the Sponsor Licence and the consequential loss of immigration status by your Skilled Worker visa holders.
UKVI take around 8 weeks to process the application once submitted. This can be expedited to around 2 weeks for an additional fee.
Once granted, the Sponsor Licence is valid for four years unless withdrawn or revoked in the interim. You will be given access to the UKVI online portal – the Sponsor Management System (SMS) – from where you can manage your Sponsor Licence and apply to sponsor each skilled worker.
To sponsor a skilled worker, you must ‘assign’ a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to them. In plain English, this means logging into the Sponsor Management System and allocating a ‘credit’ to the applicant, entering information about them and about the job they will be performing for you.
These Certificates of Sponsorship (or ‘credits’) come in two flavours:
- Defined Certificates of Sponsorship – these can be assigned to applicants who are currently outside the UK or who are only visiting the UK. Defined CoS must be applied for on a case by case basis via the Sponsor Management System, with UKVI typically taking one working day to review and grant the application. Once granted, Defined CoS can only be assigned to an applicant to fill the job and salary for which the Defined CoS was granted.
- Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship – these can be assigned to applicants who are already residing in the UK. Sponsors are granted an allocation of Undefined CoS when their application for a Sponsor Licence is granted, and are issued a new quota after they have held their Sponsor Licence for 12 months and at the start of each subsequent 12 month period. If you use this allocation up, you can apply for more, but this application typically takes several weeks.
Once you are sure you have a Certificate of Sponsorship – either Defined or Undefined as appropriate – you will need to ‘assign’ it to the applicant you would like to sponsor. This involves logging into the Sponsor Management System and entering information about the applicant and the job they will be performing. The form on which you enter this information is not particularly intuitive and mistakes are difficult to resolve later, so it is crucial to be confident that it is being completed correctly.
Once you have added all of the relevant information, you complete the assignment of the CoS by paying the relevant fee online via credit or debit card – this includes payment of the Immigration Skills Charge (where relevant).
Once payment has been made, the Sponsor Management System instantly generates a unique Certificate of Sponsorship reference number – this is used by the applicant when they apply for their visa. The CoS is a digital document – there is no physical or ‘original’ version of the CoS. Applicants only need the CoS reference number although it often makes sense to send a pdf copy of the assigned CoS to the applicant as well.
Once you have assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship to the applicant, they will need to apply for their visa or grant of immigration status. This involves the following steps:
- Submitting an online application form
- Making payment of the application fee and where relevant, the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)
- Submitting biometrics – EU, EEA and Swiss nationals, and those who already hold a Biometric Residence Permit for the UK can normally do this via an app, but other nationalities must attend an appointment at a visa application or support centre to have their digital photo and finger scans taken. Applicants who are outside of the UK and attend an appointment must also submit their original passport
- Submitting electronic copies of supporting documents
N.B. Applicants who are currently outside of the UK or who are only visiting the UK must apply from outside the UK, from a country in which they are normally resident (e.g. their home nationality).
- If the applicant is an EU, EEA or Swiss national, they will be granted a digital status and will have no physical evidence of their visa. Employers can verify this status online.
- If the applicant is another nationality and applying from outside the UK, they will be granted a 90 day visa vignette, stuck into their passport. They will then need to enter the UK within these 90 days and collect their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP – a plastic ID card) from a local branch of the Post Office. The BRP will be valid for the remainder of the applicant’s grant of status, e.g. three years.
- If the applicant is a visa national and applying from inside the UK, a Biometric Residence Permit covering their full grant of leave, e.g. three years, will be couriered to them directly.
Even once the visa has been granted, you must ensure you remain compliant with the ‘Sponsor Duties’ that you signed up to when you applied for the Sponsor Licence. Many of these duties relate to ongoing sponsorship of each sponsored skilled worker, for example:
- You must notify UKVI of any significant changes to the role or salary
- You must retain certain information and documentation for each sponsored skilled worker, including an up to date and historical record of their contact details.
UKVI will review your compliance with the sponsor duties periodically by asking for information or conducting a remote or site audit.