Understanding Certificates of Sponsorship in the UK

The Certificate of Sponsorship is a vital step in the immigration process allowing foreign nationals to migrate to the UK. For all work-related visas and entry permissions, overseas applicants must have a sponsor to legally work in the country, this is usually a prospective employer. The skilled worker visa is greatly used by employers to attract skilled professionals from outside of the UK to fulfil job positions in the nation.  

With the rising skill shortage crisis across many sectors, there are numerous advantages of employers broadening their recruitment pool to include eligible overseas candidates with the necessary skills, qualifications, and experience. A growing concern with the existing local talent pool is an inability to attract the right candidates and subsequently poor employee retention rates. If you are considering hiring migrant workers, read on for a comprehensive guide on the Certificate of Sponsorship and its importance in the Skilled Worker immigration process. 

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a mandatory document required for employers to issue to prospective hires that will migrate to the UK via Skilled Worker route. The CoS is an electronic document assigned to a specific individual by a licenced sponsor. This serves as evidence that the candidate and their role / salary have met the necessary Skilled Worker visa requirements.

The Types of Certificates of Sponsorship

There are two main types of Certificates of Sponsorship in the UK, these are:

  1. A defined Certificate of Sponsorship issued to skilled workers applying for entry clearance from outside the UK. 
  2. An undefined Certificate of Sponsorship used for candidates that are already in the UK under another immigration route.

Who Needs a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship is required by individuals who are applying for a Skilled Worker visa (previously called the Tier 2 visa). 

To be eligible for sponsorship, international workers must be assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship by their employer. 

Non-compliance with the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) can result in a visa refusal or rejection, the revocation of a sponsorship licence, fines and further consequences. Therefore it is crucial to adhere closely to the rules and regulations of the Home Office regarding immigration processes. 

How to Use Assign Certificate of Sponsorship

The Sponsorship Management System (SMS) is an online portal provided by the UKVI that allows licensed sponsors to manage their sponsorship duties and issue Certificates of Sponsorship to their preferred candidates.  

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use SMS to assign CoS:

  1. Obtain a Sponsor Licence: Employers must first apply for and obtain a sponsor licence from the Home Office. The application process involves demonstrating that the employer is a legitimate organisation, meets the necessary requirements, and is able to fulfil their duties as a sponsor.
  2. Get CoS allocation: (a)Undefined CoS allocation. Once the sponsor licence is granted, the initial / pre-approved number of Undefined CoS will be allocated to the sponsor to use, e.g. it is called an annual CoS allocation. (b)Defined CoS request: There is no annual allocation for Defined CoS, employers must make a request in SMS on the ad-hoc basis each time the new candidate is identified. The the Home Office assesses these requests and grants the Certificates of Sponsorship accordingly. It typically takes up to 2 working days to get an approval, however if the Home Office caseworker asks for more information, it might take longer.
  3. Assign CoS: Once CoS allocation is in place, the Certificates of Sponsorship can be assigned to the prospective employee. This includes providing relevant details about the employee, the job role they will fulfil, and the salary offered.
  4. Certificate of Sponsorship usage: Once the CoS is assigned, the prospective employee has three months to use their unique CoS reference number to apply for their skilled worker visa.

The Costs Associated with sponsoring via Skilled Worker route

Sponsoring a candidate via Skilled Worker route comes at costs that employers must be aware of. Please see the table below for a breakdown of all the Home Office fees associated with the Skilled Worker visa sponsorship process.

Fees0.5 Years1 Year2 Years3 Years
Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)£199£199£199£199
Skills Charge (£364 per year for Small Org / Charity)£0£364£728£1,092
Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (£624 per year)£0£624£1,248£1,873
Visa Application Fee£719£719£719£719
Visa Priority Service (Optional)£500£500£500£500

Sponsors must cover the Skills Charge fees themselves (e.g. these fees can’t be pass on to the candidates to pay) for each year they are sponsoring an employee, and the fee amount is dependent on the size of your organisation – Small / Charity organisations pay £364 per year, while Medium / Large organisations are subject to £1,000 fee per year.

For further information regarding this cost please refer to our article regarding the costs of sponsoring skilled workers, here.

How can Nation.better assist you?

Our team of immigration experts is ready to help you with assignment of a Certificate of Sponsorship. Our professional team can also assist employers in obtaining a sponsorship licence and begin hiring eligible talent from around the world by providing recruitment assistance and visa application services. 

Additionally, we can help employers with sponsorship compliance after candidates have migrated to the UK.  We make sure our sponsors remain compliant with the ever-changing Home Office regulations and procedures.


The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is allocated and assigned in the Sponsor Management System (SMS) portal. Candidates applying from within the UK will require an undefined CoS, whilst candidates applying from other countries will need a defined CoS. There are different CoS allocation processes for each type of CoS, please consult this guide for further details. In case an organisation doesn’t have enough undefined allocated certificates in SMS, they can apply for in-year CoS allocation increase by submitting a request via SMS. 

The employer is responsible for obtaining and assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship. They must hold a valid Sponsor Licence to assign the CoS to the prospective employee via the SMS portal.

A Certificates of Sponsorship is valid for up to 3 months from the start date (e.g. issue date). The candidate must apply for a visa within this period otherwise the new CoS will be need to be issued.

A Certificate of Sponsorship is not transferable to another employee once it has been assigned. If a sponsor wishes to re-assign the valid CoS to another person, they must issue a new Certificate of Sponsorship and follow the necessary sponsorship procedures.

If a Certificate of Sponsorship is not used within the specified timeframe, it will expire and become invalid.

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