What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a virtual document provided by a sponsoring employer to prospective employees who do not have the right to work in the UK, i.e. they do not hold British Citizenship, Settled Status, or a valid work visa such as an Ancestry Visa. The CoS alone doesn’t give the employee permission to work in the UK and is just the first part of a multi-stage process to granting the prospective employee a work visa.

The Certificate of Sponsorship itself is not a physical document but a reference number. Applicants use this number when applying for their visas, and it confirms that they have been offered a genuine position by a firm holding a valid sponsor license. The certificate contains key information about the role that helps immigration authorities assess the applicant’s eligibility for entry into the UK under specific visa categories. In most cases, the certificate will include the proposed start date, length of employment, job title, salary, and various other details.

It’s important to note that Certificates of Sponsorship can also be issued by Universities and Colleges to International students. However, in this guide, we will focus solely on work visas.

Who can Issue a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A Certificate of Sponsorship can only be issued by a firm with a valid Sponsor License. A number of different sponsor licences can be issued, but the two main licences are a worker licence and a temporary worker licence. The application process for both is similar, with businesses needing to meet a number of eligibility and suitability criteria. These checks aim to assess the legitimacy of the business, its financial resilience, and that appropriate processes are in place. As part of the process, responsible people need to be assigned to different roles, including an authorising officer and a key contact role.

The authorising officer is the individual who is responsible for issuing the Certificates of Sponsorship. They do this by using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), an online administrative portal to view existing certificates and issue new ones. The issuance of new certificates is subject to a maximum allowance, which is discussed in further detail below.


Which Visas Require a Certificate of Sponsorship?

The following visa types all require a Certificate of Sponsorship to be issued as part of the application process:

Different Types of Certificates of Sponsorship

There are two categories of Certificate of Sponsorship – ‘defined’ and ‘undefined’ certificates.

Defined Certificates of Sponsorship (formerly referred to as ‘restricted certificates’) are granted to Skilled Worker visa applicants applying from overseas. Applications are made through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), which is accessible upon obtaining your sponsor license. Typically, applications are approved within a single working day, though if UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requires additional scrutiny of your application data, the process might take longer. Once approved, the defined certificates will be visible in your SMS account, allowing you to allocate them to a specific worker.

Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship (previously identified as ‘unrestricted certificates’) are used to sponsor Skilled Worker visa applicants already residing in the UK and applicants for all other sponsored visa pathways. During the sponsor licence application process, you must estimate the number of undefined certificates required in the first year. If you use up your initial allocation within the 12 months, you can apply for additional certificates through the SMS.

How Much Does a Certificate of Sponsorship Cost?

The cost of a Certificate of Sponsorship varies based on the type of licence you hold. The licence will also dictate what visa you are able to issue CoS for. The following costs apply per certificate issued:

Type of LicenceCost Per Certificate
Worker (except workers on the International Sportsperson visa) £239
Temporary Worker£25
International Sportsperson – where the certificate of sponsorship is assigned for more than 12 months£239
International Sportsperson – where the certificate of sponsorship is assigned for 12 months or less£25

Once a Certificate of Sponsorship has been generated, a full visa application must be made within three months. If you apply after this time, the application will not be processed and the fees paid will not be refunded.