Allocating certificates of sponsorship: tips and guidance for sponsors

Allocating certificates of sponsorship: tips and guidance for sponsors

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Assigning a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) is a key part of the sponsorship process. It’s therefore important that sponsors monitor their CoS allocations to ensure that they are able to sponsor overseas nationals as and when needed. We set out some tips and common pitfalls for sponsors below.

What is a CoS?

A CoS is issued to an individual whom the employer wishes to sponsor under the Points Based System, most commonly under the Skilled Worker or Senior/Specialist Worker routes. The CoS certifies that the requirements of the relevant immigration route are met, including the skill level and salary, and confirms that there is a genuine vacancy in the UK.

Employers assign the CoS through the online Sponsor Management System (SMS), usually at a cost of £199 per CoS. This cost may not be recouped from the individual.

A CoS must be assigned before the sponsored worker can submit their immigration application. Once the CoS has been assigned, the immigration application must be submitted within three months. The CoS has a unique certificate number which sponsored workers are required to input in their online application form.

There are two different types of CoS - defined and undefined. A defined CoS is used for Skilled Worker applications submitted from outside of the UK (i.e. entry clearance or permission to enter applications). An undefined CoS is used for Skilled Worker applications submitted from within the UK, either by workers extending their leave or individuals switching into the Skilled Worker route from another immigration category. An undefined CoS is also issued to those applying under the Senior/Specialist Worker route, regardless as to whether the application is submitted from within the UK or from overseas.

So how do sponsors ensure they have sufficient CoS available?

Allocation: defined v undefined CoS

Requests for a defined CoS

Defined CoS are requested by the sponsor and allocated on an individual basis for each specific role and worker. Before a sponsor can assign a defined CoS to a Skilled Worker who is applying from outside of the UK, the sponsor must first provide certain details, including but not limited to details of the job and salary, to request a defined CoS from UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI). This request for a defined CoS is submitted via the SMS.

Following a recent change in practice, when applying for a defined CoS, sponsors must now detail the proposed contractual weekly working hours for the applicant in the "Summary of job description" section of the defined CoS request. If these details are not provided the request may be refused. If the number of weekly hours is still being negotiated, sponsors should enter the number of hours they would normally expect employees in a similar role to work each week and state this is "to be confirmed". The sponsor should then provide the correct number of hours on the actual CoS, assuming the defined CoS request is granted.

A request for a defined CoS usually takes around one working day to be processed and approved. The defined CoS is then available to be assigned to the relevant worker. However, UKVI sometimes ask for additional information and if they do, it is important to ensure that you respond within the deadline. We understand that UKVI aims to reach a decision within 20 working days of the sponsor providing the additional information. 

Undefined CoS

In contrast, sponsors have an allocated number of undefined CoS, which can be issued to anyone meeting the eligibility requirements. Sponsors must initially request an allocation of undefined CoS as part of the sponsor licence application and will need to explain why they are requesting the CoS. While there is officially no cap on CoS allocations, UKVI will consider the request carefully and will not grant a request for what it regards as an excessive number of CoS. UKVI may also occasionally request further information about the specific roles and individuals that the sponsor wishes to recruit during the coming year. In most cases the initial allocation of CoS is for a period of 12 months from the approval of the sponsor licence.

Some sponsors will receive an annual automatic allocation of undefined CoS in April every year. Most sponsors, however, will need to submit a bulk CoS allocation renewal request every 12 months. UKVI will email the sponsor to let them know when their annual CoS allocation is due to expire, and sponsors should ensure they submit the request for the next year’s CoS allocation in good time. Sponsors should also provide details explaining why they have requested a certain number of undefined CoS and should explain how many CoS they require for in country Skilled Worker applications and how many they require for Senior/Specialist Worker applications.

Recently, it appears that UKVI is allocating annual CoS based largely on the number of CoS a sponsor used in the previous year. This is often irrespective of how many CoS the sponsor has requested or of any disclosed circumstances that may indicate a higher need in the coming year, such as planned expansion or several approaching extension applications.

If sponsors run out of undefined CoS during the year, they can apply for an extra allocation of undefined CoS at any time. Again, the sponsor will need to provide reasons for the request and UKVI may ask for additional information.

Importantly, these requests can take up to 18 weeks to process on the standard service. While sponsors may pay an additional £200 for the priority service to expedite processing to five working days, there are currently only 60 priority slots released every day. The priority service is oversubscribed, and slots are often filled within the first minute after their release. Sponsors should therefore try to avoid relying on the priority service for CoS allocations and should apply for additional CoS as soon as possible.

Tips for managing your undefined CoS allocation

Relying on the standard service for an extra CoS allocation could cause difficulty for sponsors where they need to issue a CoS to an existing employee whose leave is about to expire, or if they are looking to move quickly to sponsor a new hire who is already in the UK or to transfer someone from an overseas group company to the UK under the Senior/Specialist Worker route.

It is therefore important that sponsors remain on top of their allocations, responding to all Home Office reminders and checking the SMS regularly to ensure they have a sufficient number of CoS available. Particular attention should be paid to the visa expiry dates for any existing sponsored workers. If a sponsor needs to submit a request for an additional CoS allocation, they should ensure they submit the request early to allow for the processing times and possible delays.

Long awaited updates to the SMS are expected later this year and we hope there will also be other procedural improvements, particularly to the priority service. In the meantime, sponsors should plan ahead as much as possible to ensure they always have a sufficient allocation of undefined CoS.

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