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A Guide to Certificates of Sponsorship for Foreign Workers

A foreign worker cannot simply apply for a visa to work in the UK. They need a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) from their employer. This is an electronic record with a unique CoS reference number that will allow them to apply for a visa.

To learn more about the Certificate of Sponsorship process, please read this article. Then, if you need help applying for a Certificate of Sponsorship, please contact Total Law at 0333 305 9375 or visit us online.

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    What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

    The Certificate of Sponsorship is the essential electronic document to allow you to apply for many worker visas in the UK. This document gives you a unique number which is a prerequisite to applying for many such visas.

    Once you have received your Certificate of Sponsorship, you must use the unique number within three months of having it issued.

    Having the Certificate of Sponsorship gives you the opportunity to apply for a visa that will be valid for between three and five years. At the end of your visa period, you will have the option to apply for indefinite leave to remain or to get a new Certificate of Sponsorship so that you can renew your visa.

    Types of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)

    There are two main types of CoS that you will need to be aware of. Make sure that you apply for your circumstances.

    Firstly, Defined CoS only applies to Skilled Worker visa applicants who are applying from abroad and have a job offer for an eligible position in the UK.

    Meanwhile, Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship apply for Skilled Worker visa applicants who are applying from inside the UK, and other types of work visa regardless of whether you are applying from inside or outside of the UK.

    Visas that Require a Certificate of Sponsorship

    The Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer visas are the most common visas requiring a CoS. However, there are several other types of visa that need a CoS, including the following:

    • Global Business Mobility.
    • Scale Up.
    • Minister of Religion.
    • International Sportsperson.
    • Scale-up Worker.
    • Creative Worker.
    • Religious Worker.
    • Government Authorised Exchange.
    • International Agreement.
    • Seasonal Worker.
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    Application Processes with Certificate of Sponsorship

    The application processes for your work visas differ based on the kind of CoS that your employer has obtained for you. This section outlines the application process for both a “Defined CoS” and an “Undefined CoS”.

    Defined CoS

    The following process applies to foreign workers applying for a Skilled Worker visa:

    1. The prospective employer gives a job offer to a foreign worker.
    2. The employer makes an application to UKVI through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). A minimum of 70 points are needed to be successful.
    3. The application is assessed by a UKVI panel.
    4. The application is successful and the employer is charged the fee in return for the CoS number.
    5. The worker applies for their visa within three months of being given the CoS.

    Undefined CoS

    The process is different if you are applying for a Skilled Worker visa from inside the UK, or for any other type of work visa. The process for an Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship is as follows:

    1. The employer applies with the UKVI for their yearly CoS allocation, which is added to their SMS account.
    2. One CoS from the CoS allocation is granted to the prospective employee, and the employer is charged the fee.
    3. The worker applies for the relevant visa.

    Role Requirements for Sponsorship


    As well as requirements for the business applying for sponsorship, there are also a number of requirements for the role itself which must be followed for a CoS to be awarded.

    The role must also comply with minimum wage and working time regulations and must not amount to hiring a worker to supplement an existing role. In most cases, the wage requirement will be higher than the minimum wage and will need to be in line with the market norm for

    As displayed previously, there is a huge diversity of different visas and roles that can be sponsored through a certificate of sponsorship. The section below breaks down the key requirements for each type of role that can be sponsored:

    Skilled Worker

    Most sponsored workers are skilled workers. The primary requirement is that the role must be listed as an “eligible skilled occupation.” These roles are usually skilled at “level 3” of the Regulated Qualifications Framework in England and Northern Ireland, or the equivalent in Wales and Scotland. This refers to roles where the holder has substantial responsibilities and autonomy and will usually have management duties.

    Global Business Mobility (GBM) Worker

    There are five key types of GBM workers that can be sponsored for a GMB visa, which have different requirements and include the following:

    • Senior or specialist worker: senior management or specialists who are coming to the UK to fulfil temporary duties.
    • Graduate trainee: a worker temporarily in the UK as part of their training for a senior management or specialist position.
    • UK expansion worker: an employee coming to the UK to help a business expand in the country.
    • Service supplier: a temporary overseas worker fulfilling a contractual service.
    • Secondment worker: a temporary overseas worker undertaking assignments and being seconded as part of a contract or investment.

    Scale-Up Workers

    As part of the scaling-up initiative, the UK government has brought in a new way for rapidly growing companies to recruit highly skilled workers to cope with their new demands. This role must be at least six months long and fulfil salary demands.

    The scale-up sponsorship pathway also has two key requirements for the employer. They must have a growth of at least 20% for the three-year period before the application for a Certificate of Sponsorship. Secondly, the employer needs a minimum of 10 employees from the start of this ten-year period.

    Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) Worker

    This visa applies for foreign workers with the ambition to temporarily come to the UK for work experience, training, an Overseas Government Language Program, or a research or fellowship position. Replacing the T5 visa, the worker must be sponsored by a government authorised exchange scheme to get the Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) Worker visa.

    If you have any questions about certificates of sponsorship, our team is happy to assist. Contact Us

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      Requirements for the Foreign Worker


      There are several requirements that the foreign worker must be consistent with to be eligible for sponsorship. These are as follows:

      • They must be at least 18 when the application is made.
      • They must meet the points requirement for their chosen visa.
      • They must genuinely intend on taking the role and don’t intend on taking alternative employment.
      • The worker must be able to financially support themselves and any family members they are bringing with them.
      • Previously officially sponsored students must have consent from their sponsor to apply for new sponsorship.
      • They must have a clean criminal record.
      • The worker needs appropriate skills and qualifications for their role.

      Points-Based System

      All foreign workers are now subjected to the points-based system if they want to work in the UK. This assigns points based on how eligible you are for the work visa you are applying for. Points are given for the following characteristics:

      • A valid Certificate of Sponsorship.
      • A job offer with an appropriate skill level.
      • English language skills.
      • Salary.
      • Academic qualifications.

      Bonus points are also awarded based on how in-demand workers in your role are or if the role is a new entrance into the British labour market.

      Managing Your CoS


      In many senses, a CoS is a living document because you and your employer have the ability to make adjustments as your circumstances change. Discover in the section below how you can make adjustments for the following purposes:

      • Renewing your certificate of sponsorship.
      • Making cancellations.
      • Transferring a CoS to a different foreign worker.


      In most cases, a certificate of sponsorship and the visa attached to it can be issued for a maximum of 5 years. Your visa will be extendable, but your certificate of sponsorship is fixed.

      As the CoS cannot be renewed, your employer will need to allocate you a new certificate so that you will be able to extend your visa.


      Sometimes, a prospective foreign worker will decide not to go through with their visa application after their prospective employer has successfully obtained a CoS for them. It is sensible to let your prospective employer know as it is simple to cancel your Certificate of Sponsorship, and this will allow them to search for an alternative hire.

      On the other hand, a CoS will always expire three months after it has been awarded, so you may choose to simply let it expire.

      Transferring a CoS to a New Individual

      It is possible to transfer your certificate of sponsorship to a new individual in your position if you are leaving the position and your company will be hiring another foreign worker. Your boss will need to do so from within the SMS system.

      They will first need to make sure that the prospective employee has an SMS account and connect with it.

      They should enter the “View CoS” screen and then select “Transfer”. From within the transfer section, they will need to select the new employee from within the “Transfer a single CoS” drop-down menu. They will be notified when the transfer has been successfully completed.

      Make the application process easier with the help of our immigration team. Contact Us

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        What is a Sponsor Licence?


        As of January 2021, all UK employers need a Sponsor Licence if they want to hire foreign workers, including those from the EEA and Switzerland. To apply for a Sponsor Licence, your prospective employer must have the following characteristics:

        • Operating and trading lawfully in the UK.
        • A long-lasting presence in the UK.
        • Registered with appropriate bodies for the industry.
        • Appropriate planning permission and local authority consent to run your business at its address.
        • The ability to offer genuine employment at the market rate of pay.
        • The ability to fulfil the duties of a licence holder.

        Your employer will have the option to get one licence to cover all of their branches or a separate licence for each individual branch.

        Furthermore, it is usually the business rather than an individual that will apply for and hold a Sponsor Licence. The only exception to this rule is sole traders wishing to expand their business.

        Types of Sponsorship Licence

        There are two types of Sponsorship Licence. Your employer can choose to obtain one or both of these licences depending on the types of workers they want to hire.

        The first licence is to hire “workers” which refers to anybody who will be employed in the UK for a period of over 12 months.

        Meanwhile, a “temporary workers” licence allows your employer to apply for certificates of sponsorship for workers who will be hired for less than 12 months.

        Fees for a Sponsor Licence

        The exact fee for a Sponsor Licence depends entirely on the size of the business. Medium and large organisations, defined by a turnover of over £10.2 million with assets over £5.1 million and more than 50 employees, must pay £1,476.

        Meanwhile, small businesses and sole traders are subjected to a lower fee of £536.

        Renewing a Sponsor Licence

        EMPLOYER NOTE: If your licence is due to expire before 6th of April 2024, you will need to renew and pay a fee. If it is due to renew on or after 6th of April 2024, you will not need to manually renew or pay a fee. It will be automatically renewed and be valid for 10 more years.

        It is possible for your employer to renew their sponsor licence to ensure they can continue to sponsor you. They must start this process at least three months before the expiry of their current sponsorship licence.

        The renewal process also happens from within the SMS system. To apply for the sponsor licence renewal, the employer will need to provide an up-to-date record of all of the foreign workers that they currently employ and sponsor for a work visa.

        Having submitted their sponsorship licence application, it is likely that your employer will need to undergo a compliance visit. This is designed to ensure they are still following the obligations of a sponsorship licence and is providing accurate information on the foreign workers they are employing.

        How Can IAS Help?

        The process of obtaining and using a Certificate of Sponsorship for foreign workers to come to the UK is complicated. It requires businesses and prospective employees alike to fulfil a range of demands to apply for licences, certificates, and visas.

        Total Law is perfectly positioned to help you overcome the challenges that are endemic in this system. We can work with businesses to help them get ready to sponsor foreign workers and with foreign workers themselves to complete visa applications once they have sponsorship.

        If you want assistance from Total Law, please call us at 0333 305 9375. Alternatively, you can visit us online to learn more about our services.

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                  Related pages for your continued reading.


                  The fee for a CoS is changing alongside many other immigration and nationality fees. The alteration will come into effect on the 4th October 2023. Most short-term visas (under 12 months) requiring a CoS will rise from £21 to £25.

                  Meanwhile, each visa over 12 months will see more substantial changes. The exact fee will vary greatly depending on the visa you are applying for and the length of time that a CoS has already been issued. The fee will vary from just over £200 to well over £1000 accordingly with some visa fees having changed by hundreds of pounds. Please consult the UK government website to learn exactly what new fee you will be expected to pay.

                  Even if an employer fits all of the criteria to sponsor foreign workers mentioned earlier in this post, there are two key factors that would prevent them from obtaining a Sponsor Licence.

                  Firstly, the employer cannot have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or for business-based crimes. This includes money laundering and fraud.

                  Furthermore, the employer cannot have had a sponsor licence revoked in the previous 12 months.

                  Most working visas require the holder to be over 18 years old at the time that the application was made. However, there are some exceptions.

                  Children under 16 can come to the UK on a child performing licence. This applies to modelling assignments, films, places, and concerts. The organiser of the event should apply at least 21 days before the event.

                  Meanwhile, those under 18 can be sponsored as a foreign worker on the following three visas:

                  • International sportsperson visa (minimum age 16).
                  • Creative worker visa (no minimum age).
                  • Government Authorised Exchange Visa (no minimum age).