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Sponsor Licences

A sponsor licence is a licence issued by the Home Office to commercial and third sector organisations that enables them to employ talent from outside the UK and Ireland into skilled roles.

From 1 January 2021, only British and Irish citizens have an automatic right to live and work in the UK. Everyone else must either have their own free-standing immigration permission, such as a visa which permits work, or they must be sponsored by an employer who holds a sponsor licence. In most cases, employer sponsorship will be required.

Before Brexit, very few organisations held a sponsor licence. However, since the sponsor licence system was reformed and simplified in 2020, thousands of employers have applied for a sponsor licence.

Thorntons’ dedicated sponsor licence team is on hand to guide you through every stage of the process of becoming a sponsor licence holder. Our service focusses on ensuring not only success with your initial application, but also helping you protect your investment through bespoke training for your team on sponsor licence duties. Our approach will save you time and lessen the compliance burden on you and your team.

Frequently asked questions

Here we answer some commonly asked questions on sponsor licences.

As an employer, holding a sponsor licence gives you the ability to:

  • Recruit from a diverse talent pool of international employees
  • Employ staff who are committed and loyal to the organisation – sponsored staff are tied to their employer in terms of their visa, and have to make a new visa application if they wish to change employer
  • Employ staff with little or no absence issues – sponsored employees could face issues with their visa if they have absence issues
  • Support your wider diversity strategy

No. While in many cases employers apply for a licence in order to fill a specific vacancy, a ‘specific recruitment need’ is actually no longer required for a sponsor licence.

In fact, many employers are opting to apply for a sponsor licence now to ensure they are not at a competitive disadvantage on the recruitment market later. This approach is actively encouraged by the UK Government given the processing times involved in obtaining a sponsor licence, which is currently 8 to 10 weeks.

The sponsor licence application is made up of an online application followed by submission of a set of prescribed documentation within 10 working days. If any documentation is missing, the application will be rejected.

When you apply for a UK sponsor licence, the Home Office Sponsor licence team will scrutinise your application to determine whether:

  • Your organisation is genuine and operating lawfully in the UK
  • Your organisation has had any previous issues of non-compliance
  • The people you plan to appoint as ‘Key Personnel’ on the licence are suitable – the Key Personnel are the people within your organisation who will have overall responsibility for the licence and for its day-to-day management
  • Your organisation is capable of carrying out its sponsor duties – this will involve the Home Office considering your human resources and recruitment practices

If you are a small organisation, the Sponsor licence team may carry out a pre-licence visit to determine whether your HR systems and processes can discharge your sponsorship duties.

The Home Office operates a two-tier fee structure depending on the size of the business.

The cost of obtaining a sponsor licence is £536 for small businesses/charities and £1476 for all other organisations. You are usually a small sponsor if at least two of the following apply:

  • Your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less
  • Your total assets are worth £5.1 million or less
  • You have 50 employees or fewer

The fee of £536/£1476 is a one-off cost for your sponsor licence which lasts four years. You need to renew your licence every four years for a further four-year period and the renewal fee is the same as the initial application: £536/£1476.

A sponsor licence is your first step to sponsoring international employees. Once the licence is in place, you can start to recruit international employees who then apply for their skilled worker visas. For your prospective employee to make this application, you will need to pay to assign them a Certificate of Sponsorship, which costs £199 per certificate.

In most cases, you will also have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge when you assign the Certificate of Sponsorship to a specific worker. For small or charitable sponsors, this is £364 for the first year and £182 for each additional six months. For medium or large sponsors, the charge is £1,000 for the first year and £500 for every six months after that.

The Immigration Skills Charge does not apply, broadly, to researchers and academics, clergy, sports professionals, coaches and officials or to those switching from a student visa.

You, as the employer, are required to pay the Immigration Skills Charge and the Certificate of Sponsorship as costs of sponsorship.

The costs of sponsoring an individual for five years are:


Small or charitable sponsor

Medium or large sponsor

Certificate of Sponsorship



Immigration Skills Charge

£364 per year

£1000 per year





Given the high levels of retention for sponsored staff, many clients feel these fees represent a sound investment

How can Thorntons help?

We have a dedicated sponsor licence team, made up of immigration specialists who have decades of experience in handling sponsor licence applications. Our support is tailored to each client’s specific situation and designed to make applying and maintaining a UK sponsor licence a smooth and straightforward process for you.

We offer an Essential services package which contains all the components you need to maximise the chances of a successful sponsor licence application outcome. Our service also provides peace of mind that your internal team is receiving the training necessary to meet your ongoing sponsorship duties and successfully pass any Home Office audit.

To arrange a no-obligation meeting and find out more about we can help you obtain a sponsor licence and our fixed fee quotation, please contact Gurjit Pall, Jacqueline Moore or Louise Crichton, or complete our online enquiry form and a member of the team will contact you.