Sponsor Licence

Can a start-up business apply for a sponsor licence?

By Amer Zaman

on November 4, 2022

Read Time: 8 Minutes

Any business – whether in the UK or elsewhere – will depend greatly on having the most appropriately skilled and experienced people on board in order to ensure its survival and fuel its longer-term growth. And if you have only recently set up a business in the UK, you might find that the candidates you wish to work for you are not presently in the country.

This will likely lead you to come into contact with the UK sponsor licence system. It is normally necessary for a UK organisation that wishes to employ someone to work for them from outside the UK to get approved for a sponsor licence by the Home Office.

The short answer to the question of whether a start-up business in the UK is able to apply for a sponsor licence, is yes. But what are some of the other things such a business will need to know?

When does a start-up business need to apply for a sponsor licence?

Since 1 January 2021, it has been necessary for companies in the UK to have a valid sponsor licence in order to employ any skilled worker who does not already have the right to work in the UK. This includes European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals and their family members, if the Home Office has not granted them settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

There are some categories of worker that your UK start-up business will already have the right to employ without the need to secure a sponsor licence. Examples of these include:

It is important to note that your organisation being approved for a sponsor licence by the Home Office does not mean you will be able to immediately hire someone who does not have the right to work in the UK. The candidate will still need to apply for a visa to enable them to secure the necessary immigration permission to enter, remain in, and work in the UK.

How your business can apply for a sponsor licence

There are five broad stages of the process for a business that wishes to apply for a sponsor licence to recruit someone from overseas in the UK:

  • Checking that their business is eligible. Start-up businesses are permitted to apply for a sponsor licence from the Home Office; however, employers will need to fulfil other eligibility requirements. These include not having unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, as well as not having had a sponsor licence revoked within the last 12 months.
  • Ensuring that the role they are recruiting for is suitable for sponsorship. Different requirements apply in relation to job suitability across various categories of worker, ranging from skilled workers and scale-up workers to those coming to the UK on any type of ‘Global Business Mobility’ visa.
  • Choosing the appropriate type of sponsor licence to apply for. There are two types of sponsor licence, depending on the type of worker that you wish to recruit for your start-up business from another country. These are the ‘Worker’ licence for skilled or long-term employment, and the ‘Temporary Worker’ licence, which would allow your organisation to sponsor someone on a temporary basis.
  • Deciding who within the business will be responsible for managing sponsorship. At the time of your application for a sponsor licence, you will be expected to assign certain sponsorship management roles to people within your business. One of these roles is the authorising officer, who will be the senior and competent person responsible for the actions of your firm’s staff and representatives who use the sponsorship management system (SMS). There will also need to be a key contact within your organisation who serves as your firm’s principal point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), as well as a level 1 user who will be responsible for day-to-day management of the licence via the SMS.  
  • Applying online and paying the fee. The application itself will need to happen online, and once you have done this, you will be required to send in the submission sheet at the end of the application, as well as any supporting documents that are requested of you. The Home Office fee for a sponsor licence application varies depending on the type of licence applied for, and the type of organisation, with smaller sponsors – such as start-up businesses – typically paying less than larger ones.

To help your start-up organisation with its budgeting, we charge a predictable fixed fee for our sponsor licence application service, whereby our capable and experienced experts in immigration law will project-manage every stage of the application from start to finish.

You can find the latest information on our fees page, but at the time of typing, our fixed fees for sponsor licence applications start at just £1,500. Please note that as part of the process of ascertaining your suitability for a sponsor licence, UKVI may visit your premises in person.

What does a start-up business need in order to sponsor someone?

In addition to satisfying the eligibility requirements set out by the Home Office, your start-up business will be expected to supply certain documents in support of its application.

In order for your sponsor licence application to be valid, you will need to send your supporting documents within five working days of the date on which you submitted your online application for the sponsor licence. If any of the mandatory documents are missing or incorrect, your application will be rendered invalid, which will mean it is rejected and your application fee is refunded.

For the purposes of a sponsor licence application, the Home Office defines a start-up business as one that has been operating or trading in the UK for less than 18 months on the date the application is made. The checks that UKVI makes will differ from those for more established businesses.

The documents that you will need to send include:

The Home Office needs to be able to check four different pieces of information. However, the department is also understanding of the fact that some start-ups may not be able to provide certain documents that more established businesses are able to supply.

As a start-up business, you might therefore need to also provide some of the below documents to support your sponsor licence application:

  • A certificate of VAT registration
  • A letter from your corporate banking provider, outlining the dealings it has had with you, including the nature and duration of those dealings
  • Proof of registration with His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as self-employed
  • Evidence of registration with HMRC as an employer to pay PAYE and National Insurance
  • Evidence that you have appropriate planning permission to operate your type/class of business at your trading address, where this is required by the local authority

The above is not an exhaustive rundown of all the documents a start-up business could provide to strengthen its chances of a successful sponsor licence application. For an in-depth conversation with our immigration solicitors in central London about the evidence you could provide for your application, please don’t hesitate to call us on 0208 215 0053.

What happens after I apply for a sponsor licence?

In the event that you are successful in being approved for a sponsor licence as a start-up business, the Home Office will inform you of this and give you a sponsor licence rating; this will be an A-rating when you have only just been granted a sponsor licence.

An exception to this would be if your authorising officer is based outside of the UK, in which case, you will receive a ‘provisional’ rating rather than an A-rating; this rating will enable your business to assign only one certificate of sponsorship (COS), which will have to be assigned to the authorising officer to enable them to enter the UK.

Once the authorising officer has secured their UK visa, you will be able to upgrade your licence to an A-rating and use the SMS to request further certificates of sponsorship so that you can recruit other people to help grow your young business.

Remember that while your firm’s sponsor licence will entitle you to issue certificates of sponsorship, your ability to do so will depend on you having jobs open at your company that are suitable for sponsorship.

Your licence will remain valid for four years, but you must also meet your responsibilities as a sponsor over that time to ensure you retain your licence – including making sure your foreign workers have the skills, qualifications, or professional accreditations needed in order to do their jobs.

How can Cranbrook Legal help your start-up firm secure its sponsor licence?

Our professionals in immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal recognise that it might seem an intimidating or overwhelming process to apply for a sponsor licence for the first time if you are a start-up or small business. At least in part, it might seem less than obvious to you what steps you need to take, or which documents would best support your application for a sponsor licence.

For answers to all these questions and assistance at every stage of your sponsor licence application journey with the peace of mind that comes with a pre-agreed fixed fee, please do not hesitate to contact us today. It is a quick and easy process to book a free consultation with us online, or by calling 0208 215 0053.

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