What legal steps are necessary for a UK company to sponsor international work visas?

In today's globalized world, businesses often venture outside national boundaries in search of skilled workers. However, hiring foreign talent isn't as straightforward as it might seem. For businesses in the United Kingdom, sponsoring international work visas is an intricate process, involving a myriad of legal steps. This article aims to demystify these steps for you, helping your business thrive with global talent.

Obtaining a Sponsor Licence

The sponsor licence is the cornerstone for any UK business planning to hire overseas workers. This licence authorises your business to sponsor foreign workers for a visa, essentially acting as a prerequisite for the entire process.

To obtain a sponsor licence, your business must meet certain eligibility criteria. You must not have any unspent criminal convictions related to immigration offences or other serious crimes. Additionally, your business will need to demonstrate a genuine need for the sponsored workers and show that you have the necessary systems in place to meet your sponsor obligations. These obligations include keeping records of the workers you sponsor and reporting certain changes to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) office.

The application process involves completing an online form and submitting supporting documents, such as a current, original or certified copy of your business bank statement. Upon successful application, your business will be granted either an A-rated or B-rated licence.

Navigating the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)

Once you have obtained the sponsor licence, the next step is to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the potential employee. Think of the CoS as a virtual document that holds all the information about the job and the worker's personal details.

Before you can assign a CoS, you must ensure your potential employee meets eligibility requirements. They must have a job offer from you, and the job must be at a skill level of RQF3 (A-level equivalent) or above. Additionally, they should be paid a salary that meets or exceeds the general salary threshold or the going rate for their job, whichever is higher.

Each CoS carries a unique reference number, which the worker will need when they apply for their visa. The CoS is valid for three months from the date it is assigned to the worker.

The Sponsorship Management System (SMS)

As you navigate the sponsorship process, the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) will become a crucial tool. This online system allows you to manage your licence and fulfil your sponsor duties.

Through the SMS, you can assign certificates of sponsorship, report changes in the circumstances of your sponsored workers, and maintain records of your sponsored employees. Remember, keeping accurate records of your employees and their immigration status is not just a good practice—it is a legal obligation that can impact your ability to continue sponsoring workers.

The Immigration Skills Charge

The final step in sponsoring an international worker's visa is paying the Immigration Skills Charge. This is a fee that the UK government imposes on companies that sponsor skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.

The amount you have to pay depends on the size of your business and the length of the worker's stay. Larger companies will have to pay a higher fee than small or charitable organisations. The fee is paid when you assign a CoS. Payment is made online and is part of the wider CoS assignment process.

The Responsibility of Sponsorship

Sponsoring an international worker's visa is a significant responsibility. Once you have sponsored a worker, you have a legal obligation to comply with immigration rules and ensure the worker is compliant as well. This includes notifying the UKVI if the worker stops coming to work, takes a significant period of unpaid leave, or if there are significant changes to their job.

In conclusion, the process of sponsoring an international work visa is complex and involves several legal steps. It is a process that requires significant investment in both time and resources. However, by understanding the steps involved, UK businesses can successfully navigate this process and reap the benefits of a diverse, international workforce.

Remember, the legal landscape is constantly changing, and it's crucial for businesses to stay updated on the latest immigration laws and visa requirements. While this guide provides a comprehensive overview, it's always advisable to seek professional advice or consult with the UKVI office directly to ensure your business remains compliant.

English Language Requirement

Another crucial aspect of the sponsorship process is the English language requirement. To be eligible for a work visa, the potential employee must demonstrate a good command of the English language.

The English language requirement is typically met through passing an approved English language test. Alternatively, it can be met if the worker has an academic qualification taught in English and is recognized by UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre) as being equivalent to a UK bachelor's degree, master’s degree or PhD.

Your prospective employee will not need to prove their knowledge of English if they’re a national of an English-speaking country or they have already proven their knowledge in a previous application.

It is important to note that the English language requirement varies depending on the visa category. For instance, the Tier 2 (General) worker visa requires the worker to achieve B1 level English on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale.

Failure to meet the English language requirement can lead to the worker's visa application being refused. Therefore, ensure that this requirement is clearly communicated to the potential employee and that they have sufficient time to meet the requirement before their visa application.

Compliance and Record Keeping

Once you have successfully sponsored a worker, your responsibilities as a sponsor do not end. UK businesses play a vital role in immigration control and are subject to strict compliance duties. This entails regular monitoring and record-keeping of the activities of your sponsored employees to ensure they are adhering to their visa conditions.

A robust compliance and record-keeping system will assist in maintaining your sponsor licence. Typically, you will be required to keep copies of your sponsored workers' immigration status documents, their contact details, and a record of their attendance and work.

Regular reporting to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) office is also required. If a sponsored worker fails to turn up for work, is absent for a prolonged period without permission, or their employment status changes, you must report this to UKVI within ten working days.

Failure to comply with these duties can result in penalties, including the revocation of your sponsor licence. Therefore, to maintain your business mobility and continued capacity to sponsor skilled workers, it is critical to adhere to these obligations and ensure you have an effective compliance and record-keeping system in place.


In the global business environment, having the ability to sponsor international work visas is a valuable asset for UK companies. However, the process involves numerous legal steps, from obtaining a sponsor licence to ensuring compliance and record-keeping.

Navigating these steps can be a daunting task, especially considering the potential penalties for non-compliance. However, armed with the correct information and the commitment to uphold the responsibilities that come with it, businesses can successfully undertake the process.

Ultimately, the rewards of bringing in skilled international talent are often well worth the investment. This, combined with the diversity and innovation that a global workforce brings, makes visa sponsorship a strategic move for businesses seeking to excel in a globalized marketplace.

As always, it's advisable to seek professional advice or consult with immigration barristers to ensure your business remains compliant with the latest laws and regulations. It is also essential to remember that immigration rules change frequently, so regular updates and monitoring are crucial to stay abreast of any changes that may affect your business. However, with the right approach and understanding, sponsoring international work visas can be a manageable and beneficial process for UK businesses.