Under the UK’s immigration rules, you have to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a foreign national in order for them to be able to work for you.

If you get this stage in the recruitment process wrong, you could face enforcement action from the Home Office.

In this guide for UK sponsors, we explain what a Certificate of Sponsorship is and the rules you need to understand as an employer to ensure you are complying with your legal obligations when sponsoring visa workers.

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

Before a foreign worker can make a successful application for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK, they must be assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). A CoS is a certificate issued by an approved licensed sponsor to an overseas national to enable them to apply for a suitable work visa, where a certificate must be assigned to each sponsored worker.

A Certificate of Sponsorship is an electronic record, rather than a physical document, which confirms details of the worker that you intend to recruit and the job that they will be doing in the UK. The CoS is essentially confirmation from you, as a licensed sponsor, that:

  • you wish to sponsor the worker in question
  • you are satisfied that the worker can meet the relevant immigration requirements
  • you are eligible to sponsor the worker on the relevant route
  • you agree to comply with the terms and conditions as set on the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). You will get access to the SMS when you are granted your sponsor licence.

Each certificate has its own unique reference number, which a worker can then use to submit their immigration application to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

What are defined & undefined CoS?

There are two broad categories of Certificates of Sponsorship: defined and undefined.

A defined CoS is for overseas nationals applying for entry clearance on the Skilled Worker route from outside the UK. In contrast, undefined CoS are for Skilled Workers applying for permission to stay from inside the UK, as well as visa applicants on all other work routes, regardless of whether they are applying for entry clearance or leave to remain.

If you are sponsoring an overseas national on the Skilled Worker route, it is important to differentiate between defined and undefined CoS and to assign the correct type. You must not assign a defined certificate to a worker for any job other than the one as described in the application for that CoS, or an undefined certificate where a defined one is required. If you assign the wrong type of CoS, even by mistake, UKVI may revoke your sponsor licence.

What are the CoS allocation rules?

When you apply for your sponsor licence, you will be asked to estimate the number of undefined certificates that you will need for new recruits under both the Worker and Temporary Worker routes during your first year of sponsorship. A ‘Worker’ licence is for skilled or long-term employment, while a ‘Temporary Worker’ licence is for specific types of temporary employment. You can apply to UKVI for a licence covering either one or both types.

Once your licence application has been approved, UKVI will notify you of your CoS allocation for the year. In setting your allocation limit, various factors can be taken into account, including the nature and extent of your business, how established that business is, how many people you employ and any previous dealings with UKVI. You will need to justify your allocation request and UKVI may ask you for further information before a decision is made.

In some cases, UKVI could allocate fewer undefined CoS than you requested, or set your allocation to zero. This could be because you cannot justify your need for the number you have requested, you have failed to satisfy UKVI that you can offer genuine employment that meets the skill-level or salary requirements of the route, or you have a history of non-compliance.

Once UKVI has decided your annual undefined CoS allocation, these will show in your SMS account, where you will be given up to 12 months to assign these certificates. It is possible to increase your allocation during the CoS year via your SMS account, although you must again be able to justify any request. You will not be able to carry over any unused certificates, and unless you are set up to receive automatic renewals, you must submit a manual request for a ‘follow-on’ allocation via your SMS account up to 3 months before the end of the CoS year.

In respect of defined Certificates of Sponsorship, you must apply for this type of certificate each time you need one. You must also wait until your application has been approved before you can assign the CoS to a worker, although you can apply for a defined certificate if you have not yet identified a worker but will be looking to sponsor a Skilled Worker from overseas.

If you are sponsoring someone for a UK Expansion Worker visa, one of the five new Global Business Mobility (GBM) routes, you will only be able to assign one single CoS. The purpose of this GBM route is to enable an overseas organisation to send a senior manager or specialist employee to set up a branch or subsidiary in the UK. That individual must also be the nominated Authorising Officer (AO) on your sponsor licence application, who will be able to upgrade the provisional rating initially given on a sponsor licence for this route. As a newly upgraded A-rated sponsor, the AO can then request additional CoS using the SMS account.

How is a Certificate of Sponsorship assigned?

A Certificate of Sponsorship can be assigned using your SMS account, although a CoS can only be assigned by someone who has access as either a Level 1 or Level 2 user. This person must then work through a short online form, providing UKVI with the relevant information about the worker and the role that they are looking to fill. When you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship, there is certain information that it must contain for it to be valid, including:

  • the route under which you are sponsoring the worker
  • the personal details of the worker, such as their name, nationality, country of residence, place and date of birth, passport details and contact address
  • the usual work address or addresses where that individual will be working
  • the total weekly hours of work, or an average figure if this is likely to vary
  • details of the worker’s job, including job title and job description, their start and end dates, their salary and the relevant occupation code
  • whether the worker was sourced using an agent and details of that agent
  • whether, as the sponsor, you wish to certify maintenance for the worker
  • whether the worker requires an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate
    any other route-specific information based on the relevant guidance.

When assigning a CoS, you must ensure that this contains the correct information, where any failure to correctly assign a certificate can result in it being cancelled. Before assigning a CoS, you should also satisfy yourself that the worker can meet the relevant immigration requirements. UKVI can reduce or remove the number of CoS you can assign for any breach of the rules around Certificates of Sponsorship. It can also revoke, suspend or downgrade your licence, where you must normally be an A-rated sponsor to be eligible to assign CoS.

How much does a Certificate of Sponsorship?

When you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to a foreign worker, you will need to pay a fee, where any failure to pay the correct fee could again result in cancellation of the CoS. The cost of each certificate will depend on the type of sponsor licence that you have.

For certificates assigned under a Worker licence, with the exception of workers on the International Sportsperson route, the cost per certificate is £199. To assign an CoS under a Temporary Worker licence the cost is just £21. For those applying for a visa as an International Sportsperson, where the certificate is assigned for more than 12 months, the cost will be £199, reduced to £21 where the CoS is assigned for 12 months or less.

If you assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to a foreign worker on either a Skilled Worker visa, or Senior or Specialist Worker visa, you might also need to pay the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC). You will usually need to pay the ISC if your new recruit is applying for a visa outside the UK to work for 6 months or more, or inside the UK for any length of time. The ISC payable will be based on the size of your organisation and how long the individual will be working for you, using the start and end dates on their CoS. For small or charitable sponsors this will be £364 for the first 12 months, and an additional £182 for every extra 6 months. For medium or large sponsors, this will be £1000 for the first 12 months and £500 for each additional 6 months.

What is the Certificate of Sponsorship processing time?

Provided you have an unused allocation of undefined Certificates of Sponsorship showing in your SMS account, these can be completed and assigned with immediate effect, although it can take several weeks, sometimes months, for an increased allocation request to be processed. It is therefore advisable that this is done well in advance, where needed.

An application for a defined Certificate of Sponsorship through your SMS account will usually be approved within one working day. However, it can take longer if UKVI need to carry out further checks on the information contained within your application. Once approved, a defined certificate will appear in your SMS account. It is at this stage that the CoS can then be assigned to your prospective new recruit to enable them to apply for a visa.

How long are Certificates of Sponsorship valid for?

Once you have assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship to a foreign worker, and paid any Immigration Skills Charge, this will be valid for a period of 3 months. This means that the worker must use the CoS in their application for entry clearance or permission to stay no later than 3 months after the date you assigned it. If the worker fails to make an application within this 3-month period, the CoS will show as expired in your SMS account. If the worker still wants to make an application, you will then need to assign them a new CoS.

Assigning a CoS does not guarantee that your prospective new recruit will be granted entry clearance or permission to stay from UKVI, where the worker must also meet all of the immigration requirements of the route on which they are applying. If an application is refused and they wish to re-apply, you will again need to assign them a new certificate.

Do sponsored workers need a CoS to start their job?

Your new recruit must not apply for their visa more than 3 months before the start date of the job role listed on the Certificate of Sponsorship. However, to be able to start their new role, they must have permission by way of a suitable work visa, where applicants cannot submit their visa application to UKVI without a CoS unique reference number.

All employers are also under a duty to conduct right to work checks under the illegal working regime, where you must be satisfied that the worker you have chosen to sponsor has been successfully granted entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK. This means that, even if you have assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship, you must still ensure that your new recruit has permission to work in the UK and undertake the work in question.

Are CoS transferable between workers and jobs?

If you have assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship to someone in your organisation who then moves to a new job within your business, you will need to assign them a fresh certificate. They will then need to use this to apply for a visa. However, you will only be required to issue another CoS if the new job has a different occupation code. In these circumstances, where a newly assigned CoS is required, you must also pay the ISC for the full length of the visa.

Certificate of Sponsorship FAQs

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship is an electronic record assigned to any foreign worker sponsored by an employer in the UK, where each certificate has a unique reference number which can be used by the worker to apply for a visa.

How do I get a sponsorship certificate UK?

To obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to be able to apply for a visa to work in the UK, this would need to be assigned to you by a Home Office approved licensed sponsor.

How do I issue a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship can be issued using the Home Office Sponsorship management system. This will involve working through a short online form, giving UKVI the relevant information about the worker and their prospective job role.

What documents are required for Certificate of Sponsorship UK?

You will need a valid sponsor licence to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to a prospective foreign recruit. This will require detailed documentary proof of a genuine business and that you can meet your sponsorship duties.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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