Working in the UK

Certificate of Sponsorship

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is an official document issued by a sponsoring employer in the United Kingdom to enable an individual to apply for a work visa. It proves that the employer has fulfilled specific requirements and offered the applicant a genuine job opportunity. 

The CoS contains essential details such as the applicant’s personal information, job title, salary, start date, and duration of employment. It is a crucial component of the visa application for individuals seeking to work in the UK under various immigration routes, such as the Skilled Worker, ICT and T5.

Before an employer can sponsor a migrant worker, they must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to confirm that the relevant visa conditions have been met. The worker then uses the CoS to make their sponsorship visa application.

Strict conditions and timings apply when assigning the CoS, which employers must be aware of and comply with. There are also two classes of CoS, and employers must ensure that in each instance, they are using the correct type of CoS correctly.

There is much to consider when issuing the CoS, and any errors can result in a refused visa application for the worker and Home Office enforcement action against the employer, such as a sponsor licence downgrade, suspension or revocation.

certificate of sponsorship

Table of Contents

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship? 

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is an electronic record issued by a sponsor licence holder to an applicant for a sponsored work visa. Instead of a physical document, the CoS is a self-certifying document with a unique reference number.

The CoS is mandatory for visa applications in the categories of Skilled Worker, ICT, and T5. By assigning a CoS to an individual, the sponsor confirms to the Home Office that the proposed employment conditions meet the requirements of the relevant visa route.

There are strict rules governing the issuance of the CoS. For instance, the worker must use the CoS to make their visa application within three months of issuance. Additionally, the worker can apply for their visa only up to three months before the job’s start date mentioned on the CoS.

Types of Certificate of Sponsorship

There are currently two types of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) following the changes to the Immigration Rules in December 2020. These two types are defined and undefined certificates of sponsorship.

Defined certificates of sponsorship, previously known as restricted certificates, are issued to Skilled Worker visa applicants applying from overseas. Employers who have obtained their sponsor licence use the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) to request and manage these certificates. Once approved, the defined CoS will be visible in the employer’s SMS account, and they can assign it to the worker.

On the other hand, undefined sponsorship certificates, formerly unrestricted certificates, are required for employing Skilled Worker visa applicants already present in the UK and applicants for other visa categories. When applying for a sponsor licence, employers must provide an estimate of how many undefined certificates they will need in the first year. Additional certificates can be applied via SMS using the total allocation for 12 months.

How to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship

To allocate a Certificate of Sponsorship, your organization must hold a valid sponsor licence and have access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS).

The sponsor’s nominated Level 1 or Level 2 user should submit the relevant information about the role into the SMS, and a unique reference number (the CoS) will be issued.

Applications for a defined certificate are generally approved within one working day but can take longer if the UKVI needs to check further information in the application.

Defined certificates will appear in the SMS account once approved, which you can assign to your worker.

The worker then uses the Certificate of Sponsorship to apply for their visa within three months.

Certificates of Sponsorship are not transferable. Reassigning the CoS to another individual would be considered a breach of your sponsorship licence duties, exposing the organization to punitive Home Office action.

Applying for a sponsorship licence

Your organisation must have the correct type of sponsor licence in place to hire a sponsored worker and assign the relevant Certificate of Sponsorship.

There are two types of sponsorship licence which largely depend on whether the workers you need to fill your vacancy are:

  • “Workers” with long-term job offers, which include Skilled Workers, Intra-Company Transfer and some T2 visas, or
  • “Temporary Workers” under some T5 categories

 You can apply for one or both licences.

To obtain a sponsorship licence, you must show you are a genuine organisation operating lawfully within the UK. You will also need to prove you can carry out visa sponsorship duties and have appropriate HR and recruitment practices and systems in place.

Once you have obtained a sponsorship licence, you can lawfully employ overseas skilled workers via your online Sponsor Management System (SMS) account, which assigns a certificate number the employee must use when submitting their visa application.

Who needs a Certificate of Sponsorship?

Individuals applying for UK leave need a Certificate of Sponsorship to enter or remain under the temporary sponsored work visa categories, including the Skilled Worker, ICT and T5 visas.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility applicants do not need a CoS.

How much does a Certificate of Sponsorship cost?

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) costs vary depending on the category. For Skilled Workers or ICT workers, excluding the International Sportsperson route, the cost is £199. However, temporary workers can obtain a CoS for £21.

It’s important to note that nationals from certain countries are exempt from any charges associated with obtaining a CoS. These countries include Turkey, Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, Portugal, Poland, Norway, North Macedonia, Netherlands, Malta, Luxembourg, Latvia, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Republic of Cyprus, Croatia, Belgium, and Austria.

Further costs may apply depending on the application type, for example, the Immigration Health Surcharge and the visa application fee.

Certificate of Sponsorship FAQs

A Certificate of Sponsorship is an electronic document issued by the sponsoring employer to enable a worker to apply for a visa and join the organization. It is a self-certifying document that sponsors must provide to every foreign national they employ.

A sponsor licence holder (employer) assigns a Certificate of Sponsorship to every prospective employee to enable them to apply for a sponsored worker visa.

The worker's sponsor will issue the Certificate of Sponsorship through the online Sponsor Management System (SMS).

Sponsored workers from overseas, in most cases, need to be assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship from their sponsor and can only work with one. Each certificate has a unique number allocated to it, which the worker can use to apply for a visa. The certificate is valid for three months.

Approval for a defined CoS generally takes around one working day, although it can be longer if the Home Office requires further clarification of the information provided

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