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Work sponsorship visas for the UK

In today’s global economy it’s essential to draw the best international talent to maintain a competitive advantage. As a UK-based employer, you can employ anyone within the EU, however you will need a certificate of sponsorship to employ non-EU nationals. We offer expert assistance, advice and support to help you meet your employment needs.

Get the employees you need

The general process a UK-based employer follows is to:

  • Obtaining a sponsorship licence
  • Issuing a certificate of sponsorship (COS)

Obtaining a sponsorship licence

To employ a person who is not an EU national, the employer will need to apply for a sponsorship licence. Once the licence has been issued, they can then assign a certificate of sponsorship to each non-EU national they want to employ.

To get a sponsorship licence, the company must:

  • Prove to the Home Office that they are a genuine company operating and trading lawfully in the UK
  • Meet the suitability criteria
  • Give the Home Office no reason to believe that you represent a threat to immigration control
  • Agree to comply with the duties of sponsorship

There is no government fee to apply for a sponsorship licence. However, there is a new skills charge when taking on new non-EU employees on the Tier 2 (General) visa.

Certificate of sponsorship

A certificate of sponsorship is a virtual document which a prospective non-UK worker requires in order to be able to apply for a UK visa

Certificates of sponsorship are divided into two categories: Unrestricted and restricted. To ensure that the relevant certificate of sponsorship is issued in the correct way, it’s essential that employers have an understanding of the requirements for each category.

Read more on issuing a certificate of sponsorship.

Skills charge

In 2017, the UK government introduced a new skills charge in a bid to encourage businesses to train British citizens to fill skilled roles and reduce Britain’s reliance on migrant labour. The charge is payable when an employer sponsors an employee on a Tier 2 visa.

Read more on the skills charge requirements for employers.

Employing EU nationals

We assist and advise UK employers, and the EU nationals who they employ, on their visa status.

A brief history of the EU and the UK

You may be aware from previous dealings with European citizens that they do not need visas or permission to take up employment in the UK. Their rights of free movement as well as employment and business opportunities in any EU member state are granted by the Treaty of Rome (and subsequent European treaties).

Various member states of the EU joined at various times. Following the decision by the UK public to leave the EU at some stage in the future, the UK legislation allowing EU nationals to work in the UK will have to be modified or repealed. This, however, is not expected until December 2018.

The members of the European Union before 1 May 2004 were as follows:
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Other citizens with the same rights as EU nationals

The EEA includes all EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It allows them to be part of the EU’s single market and so nationals of these three countries have the rights to employment in the UK as nationals of the other EU states. Switzerland is neither an EU or EEA member but is part of the single market - this means Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EEA nationals.

Some countries acceded to the European Union on 01/05/2004.

Money Transfers

The European states (often referred to as the A8 countries) in question are:




Czech Republic

















From the period 2004 to 2011, nationals of these countries had to apply to the Home Office for permission to work under the worker registration schemes. Now nationals of these countries are treated in the same way as any other European Union citizens.

Similarly, Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union on 1 January 2007 and were subject to restrictions on taking employment in the UK. The restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians ceased on 1 January 2014

From 1 January 1983, children born in the UK are not automatically British citizens and the status of the parent must be considered. Where the parents are European citizens, the rules have changed no less than three times in the last 15 years and so children born at different times will have different rights to British citizenship.

Get an employee visa audit

There are substantial penalties (up to £20,000 per employee) payable by the employer where an employee does not hold the correct UK immigration status. We can undertake a full audit of your employee records to ensure that all your non-British staff hold a valid visa and work status in the UK.

How you as an employee can be held liable for an illegal hire

All UK-based employers are required by law to check that their staff have the right to take employment in the UK. Those employers that hold sponsor licences from the Home Office have an additional duty to ensure the relevant checks have been made and those who do not comply risk having their sponsor licence downgraded or revoked.

Prior to January 1997, no sanctions were imposed on UK employers who gave work to overseas nationals who did not have lawful permission to remain in the UK or take employment in the UK. At this time, any person found working unlawfully was simply removed from the UK by the Immigration Service.

Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 came into force in January 1997 creating a new criminal offence of employing an illegal worker. It became the personal responsibility of the person instigating the employment to make certain mandatory checks on the employee’s documents, to benefit from a statutory defence given under the Act.

The Act was tightened in 2004, but it did not have the desired effect (i.e. to reduce illegal working in the UK), and we were only aware of a handful of cases that resulted in fines to employers.

In February 2008 new legislation came into force which allowed the Secretary of State to serve an employer with a notice requiring payment of a penalty of a specified amount where they employ a person aged 16 or over who is subject to immigration control unless:

  • That person has been given valid and subsisting leave to be in the UK by the government, and that leave does not restrict them from taking the job in question; or
  • The person is in a category for which employment is also allowed

The current state of affairs: Massive fines for non-compliant employers

A further code of practice was issued in 2017 under section 19 of the Act, which updates the ones issued in 2008 and 2014 to specify the factors that are to be considered by the Home Office in determining the amount of the civil penalty for employing an illegal worker.

Offences are divided into two areas:

  1. Civil penalties for those employers who employ illegal migrant workers as a result of negligent recruitment and employment practices
  2. A new criminal offence for those employers found to be knowingly employing illegal migrant workers

The civil penalty scheme is designed to encourage employers to comply with their duty as an employer to prevent illegal working by carrying out complete document checks. It also means that you will face a sanction if you have failed to act with due care and diligence in doing so.

The civil penalties that the Home Office impose are intended to be proportionate to the level of non-compliant behaviour and are therefore calculated on a sliding scale. The fine for employing an illegal worker in its basic form is presently £20,000 and the fine for knowingly employing an illegal worker is £50,000.

How we can help

At Sable International we offer a service to audit the personnel files of your employees. We will do this on-site for you and confirm whether each employee has the right to work in the UK, ensuring your compliance with the legislation on the prevention of illegal working and sponsor duties from the Home Office.

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Sable International is a trading name of 1st Contact Money Limited (company number 07070528), registered in England and Wales. We are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK (FCA no. 517570), the Financial Services Conduct Authority in South Africa (1st Contact Money [PTY] Ltd - FSP no. 41900) and hold an Australian Financial Services Licence issued by ASIC to deal in foreign exchange (1st Contact Group - AFS Licence number 335 126).

Please note: Sable International is a trading name of Philip Gamble and Co. Ltd. Philip Gamble and Co. Ltd is registered in the UK with the Office of the Immigration Service Commissioner (OISC) under no. F2001-00004. Our staff based outside of the UK are not regulated by the OISC and may be involved in some client casework. However, they work to the same high standards as our UK staff and clients receive the same service regardless of which office they engage with.

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