Mastering the UK’s Self-Sponsorship Visa Process: Your Step-by-Step Guide
If you are exploring avenues to establish a business in the UK or have an existing UK business, you could be eligible for a “Self-Sponsored Visa UK” by securing sponsorship from your own UK business. Prior to applying for a “UK Self Sponsorship Visa“, your UK business should acquire a Skilled Worker Home Office Sponsor Licence.
Opting for the “UK Self-Sponsored Visa” pathway can lead to settlement in the UK and you can bring along dependent partners and children. It’s worth pointing out that there isn’t a UK visa designated as the ‘Self Sponsorship Visa’. Instead, this terminology refers to a permissible pathway available under the Skilled Worker Visa category in the UK.
Eligibility for a UK Self Sponsored Visa
The precise requirements to self-sponsor for a Skilled Worker visa may vary based on your situation. An immigration specialist such as Immtell can provide expert advice tailored to your circumstances.
However, on a high level, to self-sponsor for a Skilled Worker visa, you must meet specific requirements set by the Home Office, such as:
Steps to Apply for a UK Self Sponsored Visa
Applying for a Skilled Worker visa via self-sponsorship involves four key steps:
Step 1: Setting Up a UK Company
To qualify for a “Self Sponsored Visa UK”, you need to either register a new UK company or already have a registered UK company.
Can You Register a UK Company from Abroad?
Yes, you can register a UK company from overseas. There are no regulations that mandate a UK company director to be a UK resident or British citizen. But, all directors, including non-UK residents, should fulfil certain requirements and obligations. If a non-UK resident director cannot fulfil their duties, they can designate a UK-based representative, in practice many people looking to set up a business find it easiest to have a UK director initially.
If you’re unfamiliar with the UK company registration process or UK laws, consider hiring a professional company formation agent to guide you through the procedure and ensure all requirements are met. We can connect you with specialists who can help you with this.
Step Two: Procuring a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence Criteria for Securing a Skilled Worker Sponsorship Licence
Following the registration of your UK company, the subsequent move towards securing a Skilled Worker visa through self-sponsorship involves your UK business applying for and obtaining a Home Office Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence.
In brief, the Home Office requires assurance that:
- Your UK company is a genuine entity conducting legal operations in the UK.
- Your UK company can efficiently execute its sponsor obligations.
- Your UK company is providing legitimate employment that satisfies the income and expertise prerequisites of the Skilled Worker route.
Genuine Business Conducting Legal Operations in the UK
To convince the Home Office that your business is an genuine operation in compliance with UK law, you must supply at least four particular documents as laid out in Appendix A of the sponsor guidance.
The precise documents needed will depend on your application’s circumstances, hence the necessity for professional advice. In cases where the business has operated in the UK for less than 18 months (qualifying as a start-up business), a Home Office sponsorship licence application will generally need to incorporate the following documents:
- Evidence verifying that the business maintains an active corporate bank account with a UK bank authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.
In addition to any three from the list below:
- Verification of the business’s registration with HMRC as an employer for PAYE and National Insurance, or
- Documentation that the business is VAT-registered, or
- Evidence of the business’s employer’s liability insurance cover of at least £5m from an insurer sanctioned by the Financial Conduct Authority, or
- Documentation of the business’s ownership or leasing of business premises, or
- The business’s most recent annual accounts.
Can a Non-UK Resident Establish a UK Business Bank Account?
Non-UK residents can establish a business bank account in the UK, but the requisites and procedures may differ according to the bank and personal circumstances.
To set up a UK bank account as a non-UK resident, typical requirements include identity documents such as a passport or national ID card, proof of address (which might be harder for non-residents to obtain), and evidence of income or funding source.
Certain banks may require you to possess a UK address or be a UK tax resident. Additionally, some banks might offer only specific types of accounts to non-UK residents, such as basic bank accounts.
Notably, some banks might mandate a personal branch visit to open an account, while others permit online account opening.
It’s advised to explore various banks and their prerequisites for non-UK residents, and directly engage with them to find out what documents and information are necessary to establish a business bank account. Consulting a professional who can explain your options and help meet the bank’s requirements could be beneficial.
Many banks enforce rigorous policies, making it challenging for individuals not yet residing in the UK to set up the necessary financial infrastructure for their businesses. For this reason, many non-residents employ the services of UK residents who can serve in a directorial role during the start-up phase. Once you’ve obtained your Skilled Worker visa and become a UK resident, the process should be considerably easier and more straightforward.
Is Active Trading a Requirement for a UK Business?
While your UK business should be registered with Companies House, maintain a UK business bank account, and in most situations, be registered for PAYE/NI and VAT, there is no requirement for it to be actively trading or generating any UK-based revenue. However, official guidance states that the business should have “an operating or a trading presence in the UK”. They go on to say, “are genuine and are operating or trading lawfully in the UK (an organisation is deemed to have been ‘operating or trading’ in the UK from the point at which it was incorporated)”.
Convincing the Home Office of your UK business’s legitimacy and its legal operations within the UK is often easier under certain circumstances. For example:
- If you already have an active overseas business for which there’s a valid business case to establish a branch in the UK.
- If you’ve created a detailed business plan for your UK business.
- If you possess adequate investment funds to operate your UK business, especially for staffing costs.
- If you’ve initiated early-stage business activities in the UK, like establishing a functioning website, telephone number, and email address.
At Immtell we have successfully helped obtain Home Office sponsor licenses for start-up businesses with an existing overseas business connection, as well as for new UK businesses without any such link. Our experienced immigration specialists can guide you on the best options and success prospects.
Business Capable of Fulfilling Sponsor Duties
Every licensed sponsor is obligated to fulfil specific duties. These duties as a licensed sponsor encompass recording duties, record-keeping duties, and adherence to UK immigration laws.
The Home Office will evaluate your business’s capability to perform its sponsor duties by reviewing your existing human resources, recruitment systems, and practices. For instance, they would be interested in whether you have systems that enable you to track a sponsored worker’s absence from work or recognise when their current permission is nearing expiry. They may also execute a compliance audit either before deciding on your application or after your licence is granted.
Legitimate Employment That Satisfies Salary and Skill Level Requirements
In addition to assessing your UK company’s documents, the Home Office also seeks to confirm that:
- Your UK company offers employment that satisfies the Skilled Worker route’s skill level requirement (usually RQF Level 3 or higher).
- Your UK company provides employment that meets the salary level requirement of the Skilled Worker route (typically at least £26,200 per year, but it could be at least £23,580 or £20,960 per year if you, as the worker, score alternative ‘tradable points’).
- The job you aim to sponsor is genuine.
- A direct employer-employee relationship exists between the sponsoring business and the worker. However, overseas employment and self-employment are permissible in some situations.
- The business isn’t planning to sponsor a role that will result in hiring a worker for an ongoing or routine role to a third party. You can find more details about the skill level requirement and the salary threshold requirement on our primary Skilled Worker visa page.
As part of your company’s Home Office Sponsorship Licence application, you will also need to provide the Home Office with:
- A rationale for why your company is applying for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, detailing the sector in which you operate and your business hours.
- An up-to-date organisational chart detailing any owners, directors, and board members.
- A list of employees, including their names and titles (if your business has 50 employees or fewer).
- Information about the jobs your company seeks to fill and for which it plans to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), including the job title, occupation code, duties, the job’s position in the organisational chart, the minimum salary guaranteed if the job.
Designating Key Personnel
Before your Home Office Sponsor Licence application, you must designate three key personnel:
When considering self-sponsorship, take note of these specific requirements for key personnel:
- A single person or a combination of different people can fulfil these key personnel roles.
- Each of the key personnel (or the singular key person, where all roles are filled by one person) must be based in the UK both at the time of appointment and throughout their tenure.
- The Authorising Officer and initial Level 1 User must be a director, employee, or office holder (such as a company secretary) of the UK entity at the time of application.
- The Authorising Officer must have sufficient oversight of the UK business to fulfil their responsibilities.
- At least one Level 1 User must be a UK citizen or have settled status in the UK.
Practically, these requirements mean that if you want to apply for a Skilled Worker visa through self-sponsorship, you must have a trusted individual based in the UK who is either British or settled in the UK, and whom you are willing to appoint as a salaried director, employee, or office holder of your UK business.
If you’re considering hiring a third-party agent to act as a UK Director and Authorising Officer for a fee, think about how the agent will demonstrate to the Home Office that they have enough involvement and oversight of your UK business to fulfil their responsibilities. Also, keep in mind that the Home Office can and regularly does conduct unannounced compliance visits to the Authorising Officer’s business premises. We collaborate with experts skilled in assuming directorial roles, and these professionals are also well-equipped to serve as Level 1 Users and Authorising Officers when necessary.
Step 3: Issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
Upon approval of your company’s sponsor licence application, your business can then apply for and assign a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
Certificates of Sponsorship are electronic records that must be assigned to each migrant worker you wish to hire. Each CoS carries a unique reference number, allowing the worker to apply for a self-sponsorship Skilled Worker visa. Essentially it is like a digital UK work permit.
Your CoS must not have been issued more than three months before your Skilled Worker application.
Your CoS should include mandatory information, including:
- Your name, job, and salary details;
- A start date no later than three months after your Skilled Worker visa application date;
- Confirmation that the CoS has not been used in a previous application which was either granted or refused and has not been withdrawn by the sponsor or cancelled by the Home Office.
Step 4: Apply for a Self-Sponsored Skilled Worker Visa
Once a CoS is assigned, you can apply for a Skilled Worker visa
To sponsor yourself for a Skilled Worker visa, you will need to complete the following:
- Fill out an online application form. This will include information about your job, your employer, and your Certificate of Sponsorship reference number.
- Pay the visa fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge.
- Prove your knowledge of English. This is usually done by passing an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In some circumstances, you may be able to show that you have a degree taught or researched in English. If you are a national of a country the Home Office considers is majority English speaking, your passport will automatically satisfy the language requirement.
- Provide a current passport or other valid travel identification.
- Provide financial proof that you can support yourself and any dependents. You’ll need to have had at least £1,270 in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply, although this requirement is waived if your sponsor can certify that they’ll support and accommodate you for your first month in the UK.
- Have a tuberculosis (TB) test result if you’re from a listed country where you have to take the test.
- Provide a criminal record certificate from any country you’ve lived in for 12 months or more, in the last 10 years, if you’ll be working with vulnerable people.
When applying for your Skilled Worker visa application from abroad, you can generally expect to receive a response within a period of three weeks. If your aim is to switch to, or extend your stay in the UK under the Skilled Worker category, the standard processing duration typically extends to around eight weeks. Expedited services may also be an option.
If your application is successful, you will get a visa that allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years. After five years, you can usually apply to settle in the UK.
Remember for the most accurate advice tailored to your personal circumstances, it’s always best to consult with an immigration lawyer or professional.
FAQs - Self-Sponsorship Skilled Worker Visa
Indeed, self-sponsoring applicants for the Skilled Worker visa can take on the roles of Director and own up to a 100% stake in their UK-based company.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no obligation for those seeking the Skilled Worker visa through self-sponsorship to demonstrate a specified investment funds level. Nevertheless, proof that your UK business is a legitimate enterprise operating lawfully is required by the Home Office. Evidence of adequate investment funds to expand your business and meet minimum salary levels may be beneficial to substantiate this.
The Skilled Worker visa differs from the Innovator Founder route in that it does not necessitate the sponsoring UK business to demonstrate innovation, viability, or scalability. No endorsement by a Home Office-approved body is required, nor are there constraints on the business activities the company can engage in. The Skilled Worker visa through self-sponsorship is open to all types of businesses.
While not compulsory, a detailed business plan for your UK business can facilitate the process of convincing the Home Office that your business is genuine and operates lawfully.
Self-sponsored Skilled Worker visa holders must receive a salary from their company that meets or exceeds a general salary threshold, the ‘going rate’ for the profession (according to the relevant occupation code), and a minimum hourly rate (if applicable). Our UK immigration consultants can provide advice on the precise amount you should be paid based on your occupation, qualifications, and other criteria.
To qualify for a Skilled Worker visa through self-sponsorship, you must show English language proficiency at least at B1 level (intermediate) on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in all four components (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). There are multiple ways to meet this requirement, which include being a national of a majority English-speaking country, passing a Secure English Language Test, or obtaining a degree taught in English, among others.
Upon approval of your self-sponsored Skilled Worker visa application, you’ll be granted entry clearance or permission to stay until 14 days after the end date on your Certificate of Sponsorship, which can extend up to a maximum of 5 years from the start date of your Certificate of Sponsorship.
Yes, self-sponsored Skilled Worker visa holders can work in the job they are sponsored for. They may also engage in supplementary employment, provided it fulfils the definition of ‘supplementary employment,’ and they continue to work in their sponsored job.
Yes, self-sponsored Skilled Worker visa holders can be eligible for Settlement as a Skilled Worker after a continuous 5-year stay in the UK, provided they satisfy a residence requirement and pass the Life in the UK test (unless exempted).
How Can Immtell Assist You in Your UK Self-Sponsored Skilled Worker Visa Application Journey?
Navigating the landscape of the Self-Sponsored Skilled Worker Visa application can seem complicated due to its unique requirements and processes. However, the challenge becomes surmountable with the expertise of Immtell. Our skilled team of immigration professionals specialises in guiding applicants through the intricate process, providing bespoke assistance at every stage of the application.