Sponsor licence guidance : Recruiting overseas nationals Skip to content

20th June 2023

Sponsor licence guidance : Recruiting overseas nationals


20th June 2023

Sponsor licence guidance : Recruiting overseas nationals

Does your business have a sponsor licence to enable you to employ overseas nationals? If so then this article will be of interest to you.

In a time of severe recruitment challenges, it can be hard for companies to secure the talent that they need for their business to survive and succeed from within the UK.

Recruitment from overseas has been brought into sharp focus post-Brexit because EU nationals now need a visa to work in the UK (unless they have another right to work in the UK such as settled status).

The main route for overseas nationals to come to the UK to work is the Skilled Worker visa, which is based on a job offer from a licensed UK sponsor. This has led to many more companies applying to become sponsors.

As a licensed sponsor you have much greater flexibility to recruit internationally. However, the requirement to apply for a new Certificate of Sponsorship for each role means that the process of sponsoring workers can still be difficult and time consuming. Understandably, many of those involved in recruitment have limited experience of this process and the Sponsorship Management System, making this particularly daunting.

Sponsor Licence top tips

To assist those involved in international recruitment, we have set out below the steps a business holding a sponsor licence needs to take each time they are considering employing an overseas national in the UK.

1. Is the job role eligible?

The first step to take is to establish whether the role you’re recruiting for is eligible for a Skilled Worker visa. The job role that the overseas national is going to be doing in the UK needs to be at the right skill level and must be within one of the eligible job classification codes, known as “SOC” codes.

Importantly, the required skill level was reduced post-Brexit and Skilled Worker visas are now available for many more roles than before. This includes managers and directors in various industries including manufacturing, construction, transport, logistics and warehousing, retail, leisure, hospitality and agriculture; engineers and technicians; IT professionals, software developers and web designers; sales and marketing professionals; medical and healthcare professionals; teachers and those employed in educational roles; professional services such as accountants and architects; and skilled trades such as chefs, electricians, plumbers and mechanics. The list of eligible roles can be found on the Government’s website under Immigration Rules.

2. What salary do you need to pay?

Once the correct SOC code for the role has been identified, it’s necessary to establish the minimum salary that needs to be paid for the role. The minimum salary level for a Skilled Worker visa was increased recently to £26,200 per annum. However, each SOC code has a “going rate” of salary which must be paid if this is higher than £26,200. For example, the going rate for an HR manager is £36,500 per annum. Minimum salaries vary depending on the skill level of the role. However, the minimum salary requirement can be reduced to 70% of the relevant minimum salary for “new entrants” (for example, if they are under 26 years old or switching from a student visa in the UK) or to 80% of the relevant minimum salary for job roles on the shortage occupation list.

3. Issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship

Once you’ve established that the role you’re recruiting for is eligible to be sponsored under a Skilled Worker visa, you will need to apply for and assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the overseas candidate. This is a reference number that the individual puts on their online Skilled Worker visa application to prove they have an eligible job offer from a UK sponsor. Each CoS costs £239. Sponsors can apply for a CoS using the Sponsor Management System (SMS). There are two types of CoS:

  1. Undefined CoS are for individuals switching to a Skilled Worker visa from within the UK. When it makes its sponsor licence application, the company submits a request for undefined certificates.
  2. Defined CoS are for Skilled Worker visa applications made from outside the UK. Sponsors need to apply for each defined CoS separately. You should get allocated the defined CoS within a couple of days of the application being made, unless further information is requested in relation to the role, the recruitment process or the job candidate.

Once it has been allocated, the CoS will then need to be created and assigned to the potential employee on the SMS.

4. Skilled Worker visa application

The last step is for the potential employee to make their online Skilled Worker visa application and, once their visa has been granted, they can start working for you. As part of their application, the individual will need to prove their knowledge of English to level B1 CEFR, usually by either having a degree taught in English or by passing an approved English language test in reading, writing, speaking and listening with an approved provider.

Visa decision waiting times can vary depending on where the applicant is applying from but applications made from outside the UK currently take an average of 3 weeks to process. The employee also usually has the option of paying an additional fee to get a faster decision within 5 working days.

5. Ongoing sponsor duties

It is important to remember that the company has ongoing sponsor duties and may receive a compliance visit from the Home Office at any time. Sponsors are seen as the first line of immigration control in the UK and therefore they have onerous duties and responsibilities.

A sponsor must have the appropriate HR systems in place. This includes systems to monitor the right to work, keep the relevant documents required by the record keeping duty, track the attendance of employees, keep contact details up to date (including historic contact details) and report to the Home Office if there is a problem or change in job role/salary.

The record keeping duties of a sponsor are set out on the Government’s website in Sponsor Guidance Appendix D.

For each skilled worker, the sponsor must keep a copy of their current passport; evidence of their date of entry to the UK; a copy of their biometric residence permit (BRP); a copy of their National Insurance (NI) number; a history of their contact details which must always be kept up to date; a record of their absences; copies of their payslips; evidence of the amount and frequency of all salary payments made to them; a signed contract of employment/service agreement; a detailed and specific job description outlining the duties and responsibilities of the role; and copies of any relevant qualifications they hold to confirm they have the skills and experience to do the job.

A sponsor also has to keep a record of the recruitment process undertaken. Although a company is no longer required to carry out a formal advertising process for Skilled Worker roles (known as the Resident Labour Market Test), you must still be able to explain (and, where appropriate, provide evidence of) how you recruited the Skilled Worker and why they were suitable for the role.

This is so the Home Office can assess whether the vacancy is genuine.

There are also sponsor licence reporting duties. For example, a sponsor must report certain events to the Home Office within 10 days such as if the employee is absent without leave for more than 10 consecutive days, if they resign or are dismissed, or if their job title, salary or work location changes. There is also a duty to report any significant changes to the company (e.g. if the business is sold or is involved in a merger) within 20 working days of the change.

Sponsoring overseas nationals can seem like a daunting process but, with the right advice and guidance, you can secure the talent you need from overseas. For further advice around your sponsor licence or any other immigration issues, please contact any member of the Immigration team.

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