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Focus on: Sponsor licences - What actions should UK employers be taking now?

  • United Kingdom
  • Employment law
  • Global mobility and immigration


On 23 September 2022, the Home Office published its latest figures on immigration. In the year ending June 2022, the Home Office granted a total of 222,349 ‘Worker’ visas, an increase of 96% compared with 2019. There has also been an increase in the number of sponsor licence applications, with 20,869 decisions made in the year ending June 2022 compared to 10,347 in the year ending June 2021. The total number of licenced sponsors for work and study at the end of June 2022 were over 46,000.

The increases in sponsor licence applications and visa applications are not a surprise since EU nationals now require sponsorship following Brexit and the end of free movement. However, the figures are nonetheless compelling and highlight the increasing importance of sponsor licences as part of people strategies in the UK.

In this article, we will look at what a sponsor licence is and when organisations need to apply for a sponsor licence.

What is a sponsor licence?

Organisations need to be a licensed sponsor before they can sponsor certain categories of workers. Such sponsorship is often a requirement to employ migrant workers in the UK. The organisation must apply for a sponsor licence from the Home Office before they can sponsor those individuals. The categories of workers who require sponsorship are:

  • Skilled Worker
  • Global Business Mobility Worker
  • Minister of Religion or Religious Worker
  • International Sportsperson
  • Charity Worker
  • Creative Worker
  • Government Authorised Exchange Worker
  • International Agreement Worker
  • Scale-up Worker
  • Seasonal Worker

A sponsor licence is valid for four years and sponsors need to renew it every four years.

Why do employers need a sponsor licence?

Employers will need a sponsor licence if they wish to sponsor anyone under any of the categories listed above. This is the case whether the individual is applying from outside the UK or within the UK, and whether the individual is already in the UK under that immigration category or is switching into the immigration category. The individual does not need to be an employee.

When do employers need a sponsor licence?

Employers will need a sponsor licence before they can sponsor the relevant worker. This may be a new hire from outside the UK, a new hire who is already in the UK, someone who already works for the organisation but is switching into one of the relevant immigration categories, or an employee that the organisation has acquired under TUPE.

What do employers need to consider before applying for a sponsor licence?

One of the main principles for sponsorship set by the Home Office is that “sponsorship is a privilege, not a right”.  Sponsors are required to play their part in ensuring that the immigration system is not abused, comply with wider UK law and not behave in a manner that is not conducive to the public good. The Home Office has set a number of obligations on sponsors to support this, including record keeping and reporting duties.

Therefore, before organisations  apply for a sponsor licence, they should ensure that they have the correct systems, policies and procedures in place that will allow them to comply with the Home Office’s requirements. Any sponsor who does not comply with their obligations will risk losing their sponsor licence, with consequent impact on their ability to employ or continue to employ individuals from outside the UK.

Employers should also consider the practical aspects of applying for a sponsor licence, including:

  • which immigration routes are required?
  • who will be the Key Personnel to carry out the roles in relation to the licence?
  • what supporting documents  need to be provided?
  • how much will the sponsor licence application cost?
  • how long will the sponsor licence application take?

How we can help

We have seen a significant increase in the number of migrant workers requiring sponsorship, particularly after Brexit.

Our team of immigration lawyers has significant experience in supporting employers through the sponsor licence process. We recommend that employers speak to us about whether they are likely to need a sponsor licence as early as possible, even if they do not currently have a need for it, as a sponsor licence application could take around eight weeks to be processed. For further information, please contact any of our advisers below.