UK Visa sponsorship for employers: new requirements for EU nationals following Brexit

One of the major changes following the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 December 2020 is that employers will in most cases need a sponsor licence in order to employ an EU national because the free movement of EU labour has now ended. Here we take a look at the impact of the changes and the requirements for employers looking to sponsor employees from outside the UK.

Who is affected by the changes?

The changes don’t only impact paid employment but also unpaid work such as voluntary charity work, so will impact all employers who regularly recruit from outside the UK. While licences are not required to sponsor certain groups, such as Irish citizens, individuals with settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme and those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, other EU citizens (as well as citizens of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) will now need their potential UK employer to have a sponsor licence in order to support their visa application to work in the UK.

Which entities are eligible to apply for a licence?

All employers can apply for a licence but to be eligible they cannot have unspent criminal convictions or had a sponsor licence revoked in the previous twelve months. Employers must also have appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees to ensure ongoing compliance.

What types of licence are available?

There are two types of licence available.  These are the “Worker” licence which allows an employer to employ people long-term or permanently and the “Temporary worker” licence for employment on a temporary basis, such as for seasonal farm work. Employers can apply for a licence which covers either one or both types of worker as necessary.

How to apply for a licence?

Applications for a licence must be made online through the home office website, which can be found here

As part of the application process most employers will need to submit at least four supporting documents when applying. The documents required will depend on the relevant circumstances and an extensive list of these can be found online here. For a trading company they will include copies of accounts, tax returns and other evidence of business, such as VAT certificate and PAYE registration details.

Employers will also need to appoint people within their business to manage the sponsorship process when applying for a licence and provide their details to UKVI.

How much does the sponsor licence cost?

The licence fee payable is dependent on the size of the organisation. The fee for a Worker or Temporary Worker licence for a small or charitable employer is £536. For larger organisations the Worker licence fee is £1,476 while the Temporary Worker licence fee remains at £536.

Employers will normally qualify as a small sponsor if two of the following apply:-

  • annual turnover is £10.2 million or less;
  • total assets are worth £5.1 million or less;
  • there are 50 employees or fewer.

How long does the application process take?

The government advises that 8 out of 10 applications should be dealt with in less than 8 weeks though UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) may need to visit the business as part of the application process, which could increase the time taken significantly. Employers may be able to pay an additional £500 fee to get a decision within 10 working days, but will only be told if they are eligible for this option after the application has been made.

How long is the licence valid for?

The licence is valid for a period of four years following approval, as long as the employer continues to meet their sponsor duties.

What are the sponsor duties?

An employer’s responsibilities as a sponsor are to:-

  • check that foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditations to do their jobs, and keep copies of documents showing this;
  • only assign certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship;
  • tell UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if the sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa.

If employers do not meet their responsibilities the licence may be downgraded, suspended or withdrawn.

Employers are required to have systems in place to monitor sponsored employees, including immigration status, attendance at work and contact details. Employers also need to report to UKVI if there is a problem, such as if the employee stops attending work.

Are there any other costs of sponsorship?

Once employers have received their sponsorship licence, they will need to assign a certificate of sponsorship to each foreign worker employed, which they will need to support their visa application.

While these certificates are currently free to issue to EU citizens, for citizens of other countries there is a cost per certificate of £199 or £21 for a Worker or Temporary Worker respectively.


The visa sponsorship requirements for employing EU citizens will see increased costs and compliance requirements for employers. The implementation of systems for monitoring of employees and reporting to UKVI needs careful consideration, as does ensuring people within the organisation are aware of their duties and suitably trained, given the impact non-compliance would have on licence status and ability to recruit non-UK employees in the future. 

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