Sponsor Licence

Common mistakes when assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship

By Amer Zaman

on October 5, 2023

Read Time: 9 Minutes

As we have covered extensively in our previous news articles at Cranbrook Legal, if a UK employer wishes to employ someone from outside the UK to work for them, it will normally be necessary for them to have a sponsor licence.

A sponsor licence needs to be obtained by the employer from the Home Office. It effectively constitutes the UK Government giving the specific organisation permission to recruit migrant workers.

There are some groups of overseas nationals that are not subject to this sponsorship system – such as Irish citizens, and those with “indefinite leave to remain” status in the UK. As a general rule, however, if your UK business is interested in recruiting talent from overseas to support its survival and growth, it will need to seriously consider applying for a sponsor licence.

The importance of UK employers complying with their sponsor licence obligations

Presuming that your UK organisation is successful in being granted a sponsor licence, it will need to comply with certain requirements. In the event that your organisation is in breach of such obligations, there could be a risk of the Home Office taking enforcement action against you, which could include your company’s sponsor licence being suspended or revoked.

The revocation of your firm’s sponsor licence would result in it immediately losing the right to lawfully employ its sponsored workers – and that, in turn, would mean any sponsored workers would have their UK visa curtailed. Nor would you be entitled to apply again for another sponsor licence for another 12 months. Such disruption could be immensely damaging to your business.

So, you can probably begin to understand why it is of critical importance for your organisation to fulfil all its responsibilities in relation to its management of the sponsor licence. One of those duties is the process of assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship, or CoS, for every foreign worker that your organisation employs.

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship, and what is the process of ‘assigning’ a CoS?

The term “Certificate of Sponsorship” might suggest a paper certificate or other physical document of some kind; it is, in fact, “merely” an electronic record. However, it is an extremely important electronic record, given that a CoS needs to be assigned by a UK employer for every foreign national that it uses its sponsor licence to employ. Each CoS comes with a number, and it is this number that the given overseas worker will use in order to apply for a UK visa. Once the migrant has been assigned a CoS, they must apply for their visa within three months. It is crucial that they do not apply for their visa more than three months prior to the start date of the job listed on the certificate.  

How do you correct a mistake with a Certificate of Sponsorship?

Unfortunately, once you have assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), it is not possible to amend it. In the event of a minor error having been made, however, there is the option of using the sponsorship management system (SMS) to add a comment in relation to this.

If a more substantial change is required, it may be necessary to cancel the given CoS and create a new one.

The best way to tackle mistakes in relation to a Certificate of Sponsorship, then, is to avoid making them in the first place. Before you have actually assigned a given CoS, you will see on the SMS that there is an option to amend. However, once the CoS has been assigned, this option will disappear, and your only other option will be to add a “sponsor note” about any minor errors.

If the mistake that has been made is to do with the occupation code, sponsorship route, sponsorship route subcategory, or more than one of the following: nationality, birthdate, or the worker’s surname, you will have no option other than withdrawing the CoS and issuing a new one.

Presuming, on the other hand, that the given mistake is minor, you can add a sponsor note to an already-assigned CoS by following the below steps:

  1. Logging into the SMS
  2. Navigating to the “workers” screen
  3. Selecting “Sponsorship Duties”
  4. Selecting “Report migrant activity”
  5. Searching for the relevant CoS
  6. Selecting “Sponsor note” from within the relevant CoS
  7. From the “Edit Sponsor Note” screen, typing the note drawing attention to the error, and clicking to “save”.

It is important to be aware that while all level 1 users of the SMS are able to view and edit all Certificates of Sponsorship, level 2 users are restricted to accessing those CoSs that they have entered themselves. If you find yourself needing to edit an already-entered sponsor note, you can do so by simply clicking on “Sponsor note” again.

What are some of the mistakes that organisations most frequently make when assigning Certificates of Sponsorship?

As we stated above, it is exceedingly important to ensure your organisation follows all the appropriate steps in relation to assigning Certificates of Sponsorship. So, you should be mindful to avoid some of the errors that UK employers often make with this process.

Those mistakes can include – but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Failing to check whether the worker needs an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate

You will need to do this prior to assigning a CoS if you are sponsoring a worker on certain routes, such as the Skilled Worker visa, the Scale-up Worker visa, or the Government Authorised Exchange visa (this is not an exhaustive list; the full one can be found on the GOV.UK website).

Once you have checked whether the worker requires an ATAS certificate, you will be able to answer the relevant question on the CoS, confirming whether this is the case. In the event that the worker does need an ATAS certificate, you must tell them that they need to get one and include it in their application for a visa.

  • Not including all the information that the CoS needs to include

When your organisation assigns a CoS, it will only be valid if it has certain information on it. This will include details of the route on which you are sponsoring the worker, and the worker’s personal information, such as their name, nationality, date of birth, passport details, and contact address.

You will also need to provide information on the CoS in relation to the usual work address or addresses, the total weekly hours of work, and other aspects of the worker’s job, such as their job title, job description, start date, end date, and occupation code (as well as their salary, unless they are applying as a Charity Worker).

The above is not an exhaustive rundown of all the information you might need to include on a CoS that your organisation assigns; the exact list will depend on the specific route.

  • Assigning a CoS for a longer period than the maximum allowed on the given route

In the event that you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship for a longer timeframe than the maximum period permitted on the route, there are several courses of action that the Home Office might take.

The department may, if the migrant worker is successful with their application for entry clearance or permission, limit the amount of permission it grants to them. Or if the worker has already spent the maximum period allowed on the specific route, the Home Office will refuse the application.

If you assign a CoS for longer than the permitted maximum period and it is a Government Authorised Exchange worker or Seasonal Worker that your organisation is sponsoring, you could be reported to the relevant endorsing Government department. In the event that they withdraw their endorsement because of this, the Home Office will revoke your sponsor licence.

  • Using the wrong occupation code

A key aspect of the process of assigning a CoS to a worker, is specifying the correct four-digit occupation code (also known as the “standard occupational classification” code, or SOC code) for the given job. The SOC is a classification of occupations that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has developed.

Using the wrong occupation code when your organisation assigns a CoS or applies for a Skilled Worker Defined CoS, could result in an application being delayed or refused. So, it is extremely important to get this process right (as well as to not provide information on a CoS that is false, misleading, or otherwise incorrect, when it comes to the skill or salary level of the job).

  • Mistyping a name or date of birth

Fortunately, this counts as an example of a “minor” mistake on a CoS. If you have already assigned a CoS and you see you have made this kind of mistake on it, you can simply use the “sponsor note” functionality (as we explained above) to amend the error.

In the event, however, of you having made more than one mistake in the worker’s personal details, you will normally be required to assign a new CoS.

For further advice and guidance in relation to any of these aspects, please don’t hesitate to contact Cranbrook Legal’s own experts in UK immigration law, who possess extensive knowhow and experience in relation to sponsor licences and management of the sponsorship management system (SMS). You can call us today, on 0208 215 0053.

What happens after a Certificate of Sponsorship is assigned?

Once an employer has assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), the sponsored migrant will have a three-month window in which to submit their visa application. After this time has passed, the CoS will expire.

If it turns out to be needed, the employer has the option to change the start and end date for a CoS, using the “sponsor note” functionality outlined above. However, the migrant will not be permitted to apply for their UK visa more than three months prior to the start date of the CoS.

How can the Cranbrook Legal team assist your company with its sponsorship licence duties?

Here at Cranbrook Legal in central London, our award-winning, well-qualified, and seasoned immigration solicitors understand how daunting it can be to attempt to keep on top of your organisation’s sponsorship licence responsibilities. Indeed, this process might seem especially intimidating or overwhelming if your firm has never held a sponsor licence previously.

This is why we are pleased to make available a broad range of advice and support services to UK organisations, in relation to both Certificates of Sponsorship in particular, and the broader management of the sponsorship management system (SMS).

Whether you require advice on how to make sure you assign the right type of CoS, help with selecting the appropriate SOC code for a given role, or even assistance with the management of the SMS portal on your organisation’s behalf, we can provide the complete service.

To learn more about our expertise in these aspects of sponsor licence management and compliance, please don’t hesitate to call our specialists in UK immigration law today, on 0208 215 0053. You are also welcome to fill in and submit our online contact form to ask for a free consultation.

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