Applying for a sponsor licence

If you are an employer in Scotland who wishes to hire a migrant worker, you will need to obtain a sponsor licence to become a Home Office registered sponsor.

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How to apply

To obtain a licence, you need to submit an online application to the Home Office. This application process consists of two aspects. The first is an online application through the Home Office website and this is followed by a paper submission to the Home Office by post.

The application is relatively straight forward and you are able to save it in draft if need be. The Home Office website contains a detailed 10 step process about what you need to do in order to apply online.

Once the application has been submitted online and the relevant fee has been paid, the application has to be followed up with a postal application which contains proof that the online application has been submitted, proof of payment and all the necessary supporting documentation.

Which licence to apply for

When you are applying for a sponsor licence you will be asked to choose whether to apply for a Tier 2 (General) licence or a Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) licence. 

A Tier 2 (General) licence is for bringing staff to Scotland with a view to them remaining here permanently and bringing new staff into the organisation. 

A Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) licence is for businesses with connected companies outside the UK, e.g. part of the same group of companies or joint venture companies. This licence allows the Scottish business to transfer employees from a connected company to Scotland. It does not lead to the staff remaining in Scotland permanently and it does not allow you to recruit workers who do not already work for a connected company. 

If you qualify for both licences you may wish to consider applying for both at the same time. There is no additional cost for this and it should only require a small amount of additional supporting documents. If you apply for both licences then you will have them both available in the future should you need them. 

If you do not apply for both licences at the same time it is possible to apply for the other type of licence in the future; however this will require you to make a separate application and it can take some time for the Home Office to process this, which could delay your recruitment plans.

Application fee

The fee to apply is currently £536 for small organisations or those with charitable status and £1,476 for all other organisations.

Your organisation must meet at least two of the following three conditions if you are to be defined as a small organisation:

  • The average number of employees must be 50 or fewer
  • Annual turnover must be £6.5million or less
  • The balance sheet total must be £3.26million or less

Required documentation

The supporting documentation is very important and the application will be refused (and your fee lost) if you do not send the correct documentation or if you do not send the documentation in the correct format. The Home Office is very strict on this and it is important that you check the documentation carefully against the Home Office policy guidance before submitting it.

You should note that where you are sending documents that are not original documents, then they need to be certified as true copies in a very specific manner. Not all solicitors or advisors will be aware of this and you should draw this to the attention of the person certifying the documents for you.

The Home Office may also conduct checks with various bodies such as HMRC and the Register of Companies to verify any information that you prove to them.

They may also conduct an on-site check as part of your application and are likely to continue on-site audits throughout the duration of your licence.

Processing times

The application can take up to several months to be approved. You cannot employ an overseas (migrant) worker until you have a sponsor licence and even then, there are other steps that require to be taken. It is therefore important that you apply well in advance of when you wish the person to start work.

Once you have a licence, you will be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship much more quickly.

Sponsor rating

Depending on your application, you will either be given an A-rating or a B-rating.

If you are designated as a B-rated sponsor, you must follow an action-plan set out by the Home Office in order to become an A-rated sponsor. You will need to pay for this and become A-rated sponsors or you may lose your licence.

To assess whether you are A-rated or B-rated, the Home Office will give you a score of 1, 2 or 3 for:

  • Your human resources systems: whether you have systems in place to ensure you can track whether a migrant has turned up for work and identify when their visa expires.
  • Convictions or civil penalties: whether or not you as an employer or a relevant person has any convictions or civil penalties against them.
  • Migrant compliance: whether you as an employer are currently employing any migrants in breach of their conditions of work.

You will be given an A-rating if you score 1 in all categories. You are likely to be given a B-rating if you score 2 in any of the categories. If you score 3 in any category, your application is likely to be refused.

Once you receive your licence, you’re entitled to issue Certificates of Sponsorship to future employees who are eligible for sponsorship, as they need this to make their visa application.