What is a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)?

Aug 05, 2021
Last Updated on Mar 14, 2024

A Certificate of Sponsorship is a critical piece of evidence required for UK visa applicants applying under one of the sponsored employment routes.

Sponsored Worker routes include the Skilled Worker, Intra-Company Transfer, Minister of Religion (T2), Sportsperson (T2). Applicants can also be sponsored under various Temporary Worker (T5) subcategories.

A UK employer must assign their overseas recruit a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) in order for the person to make a valid visa application as a directly sponsored employee.

The Home Office exercise strict and rigorous rules around how and when to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). Failure, by the employer, to comply with these rules can lead to their sponsor licence being revoked or suspended by the Home Office.

This blog explains, in detail , the types of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) that exist, and how employers can assign a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to their workers.

Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): A detailed explanation

A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is an electronic document issued (or “assigned”) by a UK employer to each skilled worker they sponsor. The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is assigned through an online portal called the Sponsor Management System (SMS).

Each Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) has a Unique Reference Number (URN), with which the sponsored employee applies for a working visa.

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a form of validation, uniquely issued by the employer, that confirming the migrant worker’s sponsorship is genuine and meets the requirements of the rules. 

Once the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) has been assigned to a candidate by the sponsor, the URN must be used in support of a visa application within three months of being assigned, or else it will expire.

Home Office actively monitors the sponsor’s use of sponsor management system, sometimes even conducting rigorous audits to check whether the employer is using their sponsor licence lawfully, to assign valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).

What does it mean when an employer assigns a CoS?

Paragraph S2.3 states that:

A CoS is a confirmation from you, as a licensed sponsor, that you:

  • wish to sponsor the worker
  • are satisfied the worker can meet the relevant immigration requirements
  • are eligible to sponsor the worker on the relevant route
  • agree to abide by the terms and conditions as stated on the SMS (Sponsorship management System)

How can an employer assign a CoS?

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is ‘database record’ of the sponsored migrant’s employment, which is accessible to the Home Office. It is not a physical or paper document.

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) itself does not represent any contract or agreement between the employer and employee and any offer letter or contract of service must be made and recorded by the employer separately.

The CoS confirms, for Home Office purposes, the employer’s intention to hire a skilled worker. 

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is critical and central to a person’s sponsored employment and the employer should assign the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) responsibly.

You will assign the CoS using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

Practically, this involves filing a form on the system with relevant information asked by the Home Office. The Home Office can view all the data you have entered and submitted.

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is assigned by staff with access to the portal (also known as “key personnel”. 

Specifically, “Level 1” and (in limited instances) “Level 2” users have access to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) and can assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS).

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) form contains mandatory fields such as the migrant worker’s personal information, contact details, work address in the UK, job description, job location, number of hours, salary, and start and end date of the job role. 

The information on the Certificate of Sponsorship must reflect the migrant worker’s current circumstances and identity information, including their current passport details.

Do you have a way to calculate the sponsor licence UK cost?

Yes! Use our calculator below to calculate your sponsor licence visa cost.

Please answer the questions and you will be able to calculate the approx cost for The sponsor licence –

Key points to remember 

There are a few key points that should be kept in mind by the sponsor, when assigning the CoS. Plus, there are a few key points that should be kept in mind by the migrant, when they receive their assigned CoS, from the sponsor.

  1. Assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) does not mean that the worker has been granted a visa.
  2. The worker must be eligible for the visa to be successful in the application.
  3. The employer must always speak to the worker about their immigration status before assigning the CoS.
  4. The immigration status of the worker can affect the visa application for which they are applying (for example due to strict Home Office rules on eligibility for “switching” visa category. There may also be prohibitive rules on the maximum time limit for applying for the visa).
  5. Employers must always comply with the Sponsorship duties and responsibilities as laid down in Part 3: Sponsor duties and compliance
  6. The Home Office can take strict enforcement action if sponsor duties are not being fulfilled. Action can include Sponsor Licence suspension, revocation, and downgrading. The sponsor may also be charged with heavy penalties for significant breaches of the law.

Types of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)

Under the new points-based immigration system, introduced on 1 December 2020, the Home Office has also re-branded the types of Certificate of Sponsorship CoS that can be assigned.

“Defined CoS” were previously known as “Restricted CoS” and “Undefined CoS” were previously known as “Unrestricted CoS”.

Defined CoS

Defined CoS are required for overseas nationals and making an entry clearance application as a Skilled Worker.

You can apply for a Defined CoS on the SMS, and the Home Office usually aims to decide the request within one working day. 

If additional information is sought from the sponsor, to decide the application, the processing time could be closer to 10-15 working days.

These are general guidelines and applications are decided on a case-to-case basis.

Before the new points-based system was introduced, sponsors were required to submit their request for a (Restricted) CoS by the 5th of each month, in anticipation of receiving a decision by the 11th day of that month. Most importantly, there was an overall cap on the number of annual CoS the Home Office could grant to sponsors. 

Do you have a way to calculate the Visitor Visa UK cost?

Yes! Use our calculator below to calculate your Visitor Visa Visa cost.

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This cap has now been removed, which means that all CoS applications are now considered on their individual merits, and no application should be rejected because the sponsorship system is oversubscribed. 

Undefined CoS

Undefined CoS are required for those who are applying for a visa from within the UK (also known as Leave to Remain). This can include people extending their visa with their current employer, changing sponsor or “switching” visa category altogether (from an eligible route), for example switching from a student or Tier 5 visa. 

CoS allocation

When you first apply for a Sponsor Licence, the Home Office will give you the opportunity to estimate of the number of the Undefined CoS you plan to assign in the first year, in each of the routes you are applying under. 

If and when the Home Office approves the initial allocation, you get confirmation of your “annual” allocation on your approval letter.

Once you receive your allocation in your SMS account, you will have 12 months to use the allocated CoS. 

This is referred to as a ‘CoS year’ or the allocation year.

The “CoS” year is different for those who already held a sponsor licence before the new points-based system was introduced.

Paragraph S2.18 of the Workers and Temporary Workers Guidance for sponsors – Part 2 [05/21] clarifies: 

  • if you held a valid Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) licence on 30 November 2020 and this was converted into a Skilled Worker or Intra-Company routes licence on 1 December 2020: from 6 April in one year to 5 April the following year
  • in all other cases: 12 months from the date your licence was granted and, in subsequent years, 12 months from the date an allocation renewal request is granted

Reducing, Renewing and Increasing the CoS allocation

The Home Office has liberty to deny a CoS allocation request or refuse it altogether (grant zero CoS) and can reduce or remove an existing CoS allocation if it finds out that the employer is posing a direct or indirect threat to the immigration control.

As an employer you can request an increase in the number of annual CoS allocated through the SMS. You must give reasons (in some cases backed by evidence) to the Home Office, stating why the allocation should be increased.

It’s best to consider what CoS allocation you need, ahead of time, and make a timely request towards the end of each CoS year. You can normally make a manual request up to 3 months before the end of your CoS year. Some sponsors’ allocations are “automatically” renewed, which means that the Home Office will decide their annual allocation on their behalf. When the CoS has been automatically increased, sponsors are required to make a further manual CoS allocation increase request, if the allocation granted does not meet their needs for the year.

CoS fee

The Certificate Of Sponsorship (COS) fee is £199 for:-

  • Skilled Worker
  • T2 Minister of Religion
  • T2 Sportsperson
  • Intra-company Transfer
  • Intra-company Transfer Graduate Trainee 

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) fee is £21 for Temporary workers (T5)

There is no fee for CoS assigned to CESC nationals. This includes CoS assigned to nationals of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden and Turkey.

Conclusion: Employers must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) in order to sponsor a skilled worker. This blog has summarized key information about CoS. It is imperative that the employers thoroughly understand the guidelines around assigning CoS, as, failure to assign CoS responsibly could lead to Home Office action against the organization which would in turn impact the business as a whole.

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