A UK-based organisation willing to employ a non-EU or non-EEA visa applicant in the UK on a Tier 2 Visa must hold the relevant Tier 2 Sponsor Licence. A Sponsorship Licence is also required for educational institutions recruiting students from overseas. Without one, UK companies cannot transfer existing employees to the UK, extend an existing work visa or apply for permission to employ anybody from outside of the EEA.

Businesses will require a License to offer employment to applicants under the new points based route expected to start in the new year.


The Sponsorship Licence is valid for 4 years and may be downgraded, suspended or even withdrawn should the company not meet its responsibilities as a sponsor.

The company will need to provide sufficient documents and may even have a site visit before a decision is made. Once a Sponsorship Licence has been granted, the company will be issued with a licence rating. This enables the employer to begin assigning Certificates of Sponsorship which are required as part of each non-EEA individual’s Immigration Application under Tier 2 of the points-based system.

To allow for immediate employment to take place, the employer should obtain either a ‘restricted’ or ‘unrestricted’ Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS):

Unrestricted CoS apply to new employees earning in excess of £159,600 per annum, who are switching within the UK to the Tier 2 (General) Visa as well as to those applying for extensions. When the company applies for a license, they will be required to estimate how many Tier 2 Certificates they require. They will then be granted a fixed allocation of unrestricted CoS annually as part of their Sponsorship License.

Restricted CoS apply to new employees applying from outside of the UK for a Tier 2 (General) Visa who will earn less than £159,600 per annum, as well as to individual dependants of Tier 4 students applying from within the UK who wish to switch to a Tier 2 (General) Visa.

Once a CoS has been issued, the prospective employee may then apply for a visa to join the company or may then apply for leave to take up employment with the company from within the UK.

Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence Renewal

Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence Renewal falls due every 4 years. Should an organisation employ sponsored migrants, they must renew their Sponsorship License prior to expiration, even if they do not intend to sponsor any further new migrants.

Key points about renewing a Sponsorship License:

Sponsorship Licenses must be renewed every 4 years
Sponsors may view their license expiry date and earliest renewal date within their Sponsorship Management System (SMS) account
Sponsors must apply to renew their license by submitting a renewal application via their SMS account along with remitting the appropriate fee online

Compliance visits from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are common when reviewing renewal applications. Visits may or may not be announced, and the attending Home Office Compliance Officer has the right to request access to records. Information which they may request access to will be in order to verify that the employer has been keeping and maintaining appropriate records pertaining to compliance, record keeping and reporting.

It is essential that companies can produce such documentation on request and be prepared for the potential of an inspection visit as part of their preparation to submit a Sponsorship License Renewal Application.