Hospitality shortage: Sponsorship Licence to recruit overseas Skilled Workers

Published on: 19/11/2021


UK businesses are currently trading in a time with the highest rate of staff shortages last seen in the late 1990’s. Recent figures from UK Hospitality (the British Hospitality Association) highlight the ongoing crisis in the sector caused by the chronic labour shortage of hospitality staff. Figures show that a quarter of pubs, restaurants and hotels have had no choice but to temporarily close due to the approximate 200,000 vacancies. The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) has predicted that staff shortages could continue for another two years.

A perfect storm of factors has come together to create this pervasive shortage of hospitality workers, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the end of the EU Settlement Scheme in June 2021 seeing many EU nationals return to their home countries. With the Christmas season upon us, businesses in the hospitality sector face great uncertainty, with the hotel and catering sector having the biggest problems in recruiting staff.

The most practical solution for businesses in the hospitality industry is to apply for a Worker sponsor licence, enabling them to recruit skilled workers from overseas and fill their staff shortages. Prior to Brexit, the process to apply for a sponsor licence was far more complicated and restrictive than it is now.

Amongst other requirements, provided a business has registered with Companies House as actively trading and is registered with HMRC as an employer, there should be no reason why a business cannot apply for and be granted with a Worker sponsor licence.

With their sponsor licence application, a business must give information on the vacant roles it intends to fill with sponsored skilled workers. It is not a requirement at the licence application stage to have identified the desired overseas candidates, however this is always helpful.

The previous requirement under the old Pre-Brexit system to provide evidence that a ‘Resident Labour Market Test’ (prescribed recruitment process with strict advertising requirements) was conducted (in order to rule out any eligible candidates already present in the UK) has been scrapped, which of course only eases the application process.

Under the previous sponsorship system, it was extremely difficult (verging on impossible) to sponsor Skilled Workers in certain employment categories, including roles in the hospitality sector. Businesses campaigned heavily prior to Brexit, and on this subject the British Government listened, meaning that most categories of roles within the hospitality sector are eligible for sponsorship as skilled workers.

This includes, but is not limited to, chefs (all levels), catering, kitchen, floor and bar managers, butchers, bakers, maintenance supervisors and managers, service engineers, office managers, events managers, business development managers, and a myriad of other occupations. There are minimum salary requirements for each category of role which must be adhered to and are published by the Home Office alongside the list of occupations eligible for sponsorship.

Once a business has acquired their Worker sponsor licence, they must apply for a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) on the online Sponsorship Management System (SMS), which once granted will be assigned to the overseas worker. Specific information about the role and overseas candidate must be included with a Defined CoS application, which if not provided or if incorrect information is provided, may mean the application is rejected.

As part of the sponsor licence application, a business will have appointed Key Personnel within the business who will manage the sponsor licence via the SMS, including the responsibility of assigning a CoS. There are grave consequences for failing to manage a sponsor licence properly e.g., suspension/revocation of the licence, curtailing/cancelling of a sponsored worker’s Skilled Worker visa, downgrading of a licence rating (meaning overseas workers cannot be sponsored), etc.

Our UK Immigration team specialises in preparing and submitting sponsor licence applications for our corporate clients. We advise on the required supporting documents, the information required in the application, and guide our clients through the process of submitting the licence application.


This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking professional and legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.