A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a virtual document which an employer must assign to a non-settled worker in order to sponsor them.

At Truth Legal, our Immigration experts can assist you with the Certificate of Sponsorship stage from start to finish.  Read on for an overview of this important part of sponsorship, including a summary table at the end.

The Two Types of Certificate of Sponsorship

There are two types of Certificate of Sponsorship: defined and undefined.  It’s important to understand which one you need, as assigning the wrong type is a specific basis on which the Home Office can revoke your licence.

Before the sponsorship system was overhauled in December 2020, defined and undefined certificates were known as restricted and unrestricted certificates, respectively.

The Defined CoS

As a sponsoring employer, you need a defined CoS if your migrant worker will be overseas when they apply for their work visa.  You can only apply for a defined CoS after the licence is granted, and you do so using the Sponsor Management System (SMS).  Defined certificates are not subject to an annual allocation, and you can apply for them at any time during the life of the licence.

It normally takes up to a week for the Home Office to decide an application for a defined CoS, and often only a day or two.  That said, we’ve seen decisions take as long as five to six weeks, especially if the Home Office requests further information before making the decision.  This seems to be increasingly common, particularly for your first defined CoS application.  Thankfully, subsequent requests then appear to go through within a matter of days.

The Undefined CoS

You need an undefined CoS if your migrant worker will be in the UK when they apply for their work visa.  This is usually the case where your migrant worker is here on a different visa (e.g. student), and switches into the Skilled Worker route.

The worker’s existing visa must be of a type eligible for switching.  Most visas are eligible, with the notable exception of the Standard Visitor visa.  Non-visa nationals visiting the UK without a visa are also ineligible to switch into the Skilled Worker route.

Back to undefined certificates – these are subject to an annual allocation.  Your first apply to set your annual allocation when you apply for the licence itself, and this allocation can then be ‘renewed’ if needed.  You can also apply to increase your annual allocation at any time during the life of the licence, although there’s a standard wait time of 12 to 13 weeks for a decision on increasing your allocation.  A priority option will cost an additional £200, and will bring the wait time down to five working days.

Using a Certificate of Sponsorship

Once the CoS has been granted to the employer, whether defined or undefined, the next step is for the employer to assign the CoS to the worker.  Again this is done using the SMS.

As soon as the CoS is assigned, the SMS immediately generates a unique code, known as a ‘CoS number’ which the employer should pass to the migrant worker.  The worker will be prompted for the CoS number when they complete their application for a Skilled Worker visa.

To make a valid visa application, the worker will need their employer to have assigned the CoS to them, and they will also need to input their CoS number into the online application form.

A Bit About Deadlines

There are some fairly complex rules about the timeframes and deadlines applicable to each type of Certificate of Sponsorship.

A defined CoS must be assigned within three months of its being granted.  By contrast, and because undefined certificates are subject to an annual allocation, an undefined CoS can be assigned at any time during the cycle of your ‘CoS year’.  Your CoS year normally starts from the date you were issued your sponsor licence.  For licences granted prior to November 2020, the CoS year is normally April to April.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that once a CoS of either type is assigned to a worker, they must submit their visa application within three months of the assignment.  The start date of the worker’s employment, which must be entered by the employer when applying for the CoS, also cannot be more than three months ahead of the assignment.  That said, it’s possible to amend the start date after you have assigned the CoS.

If you want to amend the start date after assignment but before the visa application is submitted, you inform the Home Office of the changed date by adding a ‘sponsor note’ on the SMS.  The process is different if your worker’s visa application has already been submitted and approved.

Depending on your business needs, the timing of these CoS steps can be crucial, and Truth Legal’s Immigration experts can guide you through it.

Summary Table

Defined CoS Undefined CoS
Which CoS do I need? Needed when sponsoring someone based overseas Needed when sponsoring someone who is in the UK on a visa eligible for switching
Key CoS features
  • Applied for after the licence is granted
  • Not subject to an annual allocation
  • Usually a week for a decision, can be longer especially for the first request
  • Subject to an annual allocation
  • Can be applied for when applying for the sponsor licence, or can apply to increase during the life of the licence
  • An application to increase during the life of the licence will take 12-13 weeks to be decided, although there is a priority option to bring this down to five working days, for a fee of £200

Share this article...

Truth Legal team photo

Make An Enquiry

Contact the Truth Legal team today.

"*" indicates required fields

Catherine Reynolds
Never miss a post again

Sign up to our mailing list today and we’ll deliver our latest posts straight to your inbox.

Paper Plane

Unsubscribe at any time. Read our privacy policy.

Further Reading

From one of the UK’s most read legal blogs.