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How does a dental practice obtain a sponsor licence?

Article published (or last modified) on 27 June 2024

The short supply of dentists in the UK may mean that as the owner of one or more dental practices, you find yourself needing to recruit from elsewhere. This article will help you navigate what is involved in the process of obtaining and managing a sponsor licence. While the examples used here will be of particular interest to dental practice owners, much of the information will be relevant to any sponsor licence application.

Dentist tray by Ibrahim Boran on unsplash

Who can be employed?

So long as all the relevant requirements are met, you are able to employ the following non-UK dental professionals:

  • Dental surgeon, dentist, orthodontist, periodontist (Standard Occupational Classification ‘Dental Practitioners, 2253’)
  • Dental hygienist & dental therapist (Standard Occupational Classification ‘Dental technicians, 3213’)
  • Dental assistant, Dental nurse, Dental nurse-receptionist, Dental surgery assistant (Standard Occupational Classification ‘Dental nurses, 6133’)

What is a sponsor license?

In order for a dental practice to take on employees who aren’t UK citizens, you will usually need to register as a sponsor with the Home Office. The only exception to this would be if employing Irish citizens, those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or those with Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

Once you have a sponsor licence you can issue an employee with a certificate of sponsorship.

A certificate of sponsorship is an electronic certificate with a unique number on it that will be needed in order for an employee to make their visa application, e.g. Skilled Worker visa (or if you have NHS patients then the Health & Care Worker visa may be more appropriate). One certificate is issued per worker. Once a certificate has been assigned, that person has three months to submit their application. They cannot apply for their visa more than three months before the job start date as listed on the certificate.

In order for a Skilled Worker visa application to be successful certain criteria must be met based on a points system. You can read more about the Skilled Worker visa here but some of the mandatory points are allocated on the basis of having a job at the appropriate skill level (20 points).

The job a Skilled Worker does has to have a suitable rate of pay. Going rates for listed healthcare occupation codes are listed here. You must ensure that the salary you pay matches or exceeds the going rate.

What are the steps to get a sponsor licence and employ a migrant worker?

Step 1: Check your dental practice is eligible

In order to get a sponsor licence:

  • you need to be a genuine organisation lawfully operating in the UK. For a dental practice, this means being registered with the General Dental Council
  • you will need at least one employee who is based in the UK at the point of application
  • your organisation must not have had a sponsor licence withdrawn by the Home Office in the previous 12 months

There are no rules around company structure or about how long you need to have been operating before applying for a sponsor licence but if your business is less than 18 months old then there will be a greater number of checks than for more established organisations.

Step 2: Choose the licence you want to apply for

The licence you need depends on whether you are employing long term workers or temporary workers. You can apply for a licence that covers one or both types of worker.

A “Worker” licence means you can employ people on a long term or permanent basis.

A “Temporary Worker” licence covers those coming for short assignments.

It would be more typical for a dental practice to need a Worker licence. However, bear in mind that if you are hoping to employ a Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) worker, then you will want to apply for a Temporary Worker licence as well.

Step 3: Appoint suitable people to manage your sponsor licence

There are several appointments you will need to make in order to manage the sponsor licence within your practice. These users will all have different levels of access to the online Sponsor Management System (SMS):

  • Authorising Officer (AO) - The AO must be the most senior person within the organisation who is responsible for the recruitment of sponsored workers. The AO is responsible for the activities of all other users of the SMS. Typically the AO is the dental practice owner.
  • Key Contact - This person is the main point of contact with UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI)
  • Level 1 user - This person conducts the day to day sponsorship activities using the SMS. It is mandatory to have a Level 1 User in the organisation but White Rose Visas’ clients also typically delegate this role to us.

You may choose for one person to take on all of these roles or to allocate the roles to separate people.

If you are using a representative such as White Rose Visas, then it would be typical for them to be the Key Contact and a Level 1 user.

Depending on the size of your business a Level 1 User could either be the AO or someone less senior eg/ HR assistant.

If needed, you can also appoint Level 2 users who have a more restricted range of permissions than Level 1 users but who can carry out some of the administrative duties.

There are various criteria you need to consider when appointing someone to a role within sponsorship management. For example, the AO must have no unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes such as fraud or money laundering. For guidance on suitability checks, you can read more here.

Step 4: Apply online

You will need to fill in the online application form. With this you need to include a submission sheet along with various supporting documents, e.g. employers liability certificate, proof of premises ownership or lease.

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Step 5: Pay fee

The fee you pay to the Home Office depends on the type of licence you are applying for and the size of your organisation (small or medium/large). You would be considered a small sponsor if two of the following apply:

  • Annual turnover is £10.2 million or lower
  • Total assets are worth £5.1 million or lower
  • 50 employees or less

The fee for small sponsors is £536 and for medium/large sponsors is £1476. Most dental practices will fall under the small sponsor category.

Step 6: Application approved

Decision letters are sent by email to the Authorising Officer as stated in the application form.

You will be provided with a unique sponsor licence number (SLN) and your organisation will be added to the Register of Sponsors.

Access will be given to the sponsorship management system (SMS).

Successful applications are granted an A-rated licence which means you can start to assign Certificates of Sponsorship to workers who meet the relevant criteria.

Step 7: Assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and pay the Immigration Skills Charge

There are two types of certificate: Defined and Undefined.

Defined CoS

Defined certificates are needed for those Skilled Worker applicants applying from outside of the UK. You must apply for a Defined CoS for the worker before you can assign one.

Applications for Defined certificates are usually approved within one working day, depending on if further checks are required. Once approved you can assign the Defined certificate to a worker.

Undefined CoS

Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship are for Skilled Workers applying from within the UK (and also for workers on all other routes).

When signing up as a sponsor, you are asked to estimate how many Undefined certificates you think you will require each year and provide evidence to support this request.

Unlike Defined Certificates of Sponsorship you do not need to put in a separate application for these. So long as you have enough in your annual allocation, you can simply assign them as and when they are needed.

If you run out of certificates you will need to pay £200 for the priority service or risk a wait of up to 18 weeks so it’s worth giving some serious thought in advance to how many you think you’ll realistically need in any given year. Any unassigned certificates will expire each year.

Certificates are free for citizens of certain European countries. For most citizens, you need to pay £239 for each certificate (defined and undefined).

Immigration Skills Charge (ISC)

You as the employer will need to pay an Immigration skills charge. This is not applicable if the applicant is on an Intra-company Graduate Trainee visa or if they are on a student visa and are switching to a Skilled Worker or ICT visa.

The amount you pay is determined by the size of your business and how long the person will work for you. For the first 12 months the ISC is £364 for small sponsors and £1000 for medium/ large sponsors. Each additional six months costs £182 for small sponsors and £500 for medium/ large sponsors. This fee is due at the time of application.

You’ll get a refund for this if the person’s visa application is refused or withdrawn or if they don’t end up working for you.

Step 8: Worker submits visa application

Once you have assigned the CoS to a worker, they now have 3 months to make their visa application e.g. Skilled Worker visa (or if you are issuing a NHS contract then the Health & Care Worker visa).

Egg timer by Neonbrand on unsplash

How long does it take to get a Sponsor License?

From sponsor licence application to a person being in post we would recommend allowing 9-12 weeks.

If priority services are used at the various stages then this time frame could be significantly reduced and someone could be in post in 1-2 months.

You will want to allow additional time for recruitment and interviews.

Based on our experience of how long the standard process can take, a suggested timeline might look something like this:

Step One (up to 6 months in advance of worker being in post): Advertise and recruit

Step Two (3 months in advance): Submit Sponsor Licence application

Step Three (1 month in advance): Receive Sponsor License

Step Four (1 month in advance): Assign a Certificate of Sponsorship

Step Five (1 month in advance): Worker submits their visa application (either Skilled Worker or Health & Care Worker)

Step Six: Worker receives approval letter and can start job as soon as possible

The process can be quicker if you pay for priority services at the Sponsor Licence and visa application stage. You can read more about UKVI processing times in the section below.

Processing times

The best case scenario is that someone could be in post in 1-2 months from submitting the sponsor licence application.

It’s not always possible to plan ahead but if you know you have dental workers coming up for retirement in 6 months time, then our recommendation would be to start the process of sponsor licence application as early as you can.

Bearing in mind the processing times below for the sponsor licence and visa application, our recommendation would be to submit your sponsor licence application at least 9 weeks in advance of the proposed employee start date.

Sponsor Licence

Once the sponsor licence application is submitted, UKVI aims to make their decision within 8 weeks and our current experience is that this is an accurate estimate.

You may be able to pay to get a faster decision (within 10 working days) by paying an additional £500.

However, there is limited availability for faster decision applications and no guarantee that your request will be granted.

At the time of writing, just 10 requests per day across the whole of the UK are accepted for a faster decision.

Worse, there is no waiting list for these spaces, so it is unfortunately just a matter of contacting the UKVI every day to request a faster decision.

Visa Application

In our experience, the current standard processing time for Skilled Worker visa applications from outside the UK is 1-4 weeks.

Depending on the country you are applying from it may be possible to pay for a priority (5 day) or super priority (next day) service meaning you get a decision more quickly.

Remove  Image of a White Rose Visas immigration adviser meeting clients

What do I need to do once the migrant dental worker starts employment?

Once you have your sponsor licence the main tool you will use for managing tasks is the sponsorship management system (SMS).

Sponsor duties include:

  • Reporting duties (e.g. if a sponsored worker is absent for more than 10 days without permission or an employee contract ends earlier than what is stated on their CoS, you must report these changes within 10 days)
  • Record-keeping (e.g. keeping a copy of sponsored worker’s current passport & BRP, along with up to date contact details)
  • Complying with immigration law (e.g. only assigning a CoS where there is a genuine vacancy or only employing appropriately qualified & registered workers).
  • Complying with wider UK law (e.g. employment law)
  • Not engaging in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good (e.g. fostering hatred or inter-community division or discriminating against individuals)

It is common for the Home Office to conduct a compliance visit to a business where a sponsor licence is held. They will be looking to make sure you have good Human Resource systems in place to ensure that all sponsor duties are fulfilled and that you are effectively monitoring a person’s immigration status.

Remove  Filing by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

For each worker make sure you have:

  • copies of the necessary qualifications or professional accreditations (e.g. for dentists this would be a bachelor’s degree (either BDS or BChD) and registration with the GDC)
  • copies of relevant documents including passports and visas
  • copies of contract and payslips
  • up to date attendance records
  • up to date contact details

If a worker is not complying with the conditions of their visa or if there is a problem in terms of someone no longer turning up for work, you must inform UKVI.

If there are significant changes to your business, such as address or allocated roles, the nature of your work, stopping trading or merging with another business, you should let UKVI know within 20 working days.

You can find further details and guidance for sponsors here.

What to do if things go wrong

What happens if you have a Sponsor Licence application rejected?

An application can be deemed invalid and therefore rejected if relevant supporting documents are not submitted in time or an incorrect application fee is paid.

In such circumstances your application fee will be refunded and you are able to reapply.

What happens if you have a Sponsor Licence application refused?

An application can be refused if you do not meet all of the eligibility and suitability criteria.

If you think a mistake has been made by a caseworker or supporting documents have been overlooked then you can request a review of your application.

If you have no right of appeal then you will not be able to reapply for a sponsor licence until a specific period of time has elapsed.

The length of the ‘cooling off period’ is a minimum of 6 months and is determined by the reason for the refusal which will be outlined in the refusal letter.

What happens if there is a big delay to the decision?

In our experience, it is unlikely that you will encounter delays with the sponsor licence application.

If you have been waiting longer than the current advertised service standard time of 8 weeks then you can submit a Home Office complaint.

If you paid for a faster decision to be made then you can request a refund but it would be rare to be in that position.

What happens if a worker doesn’t get their visa?

If a visa application is handled correctly, then it would be highly unlikely for it to be refused as there are no elements of discretion in the application process.

In the unlikely event of the visa being refused you’ll get a refund for the Immigration Skills Charge but no refund on the CoS or the visa application. You cannot re-assign the CoS.

What happens if a worker doesn’t take the job?

You will need to report that the person has not started their job, using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

You’ll get a refund for the Immigration Skills Charge but no refund on the CoS or the visa application. You cannot re-assign the CoS.

What happens if an employee leaves?

If a worker resigns or you need to dismiss them - meaning their contract of employment ends earlier than shown on their Certificate of Sponsorship - then you need to report this change within 10 days, using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

What happens if you fail to meet sponsor duties?

Failing to meet sponsor duties, as outlined above, can result in your sponsor licence being downgraded, suspended or revoked, depending on the seriousness of the breach.

Downgraded licence

If the Home Office believes you do not have sufficient processes in place in order to comply with your duties then you may be downgraded from your A-rated licence to a B-rating.

What this means is that you would not be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship, although you would still be able to issue certificates to existing workers wishing to extend their stay in the UK.

In order to be upgraded to A-rated again you would have to prove that you have implemented changes and made improvements via an action plan.

Suspended licence

If the Home Office thinks you are breaching your sponsor duties and/or pose a threat to immigration control, or are engaging in behaviours that are not conducive to the public good, they may suspend your licence while they investigate.

Revoked licence

Certain circumstances can lead to your licence being revoked, including failing to adhere to the action plan following your licence being downgraded.

There is no right of appeal against this decision and you will not be able to reapply for a sponsor licence until at least 12 months has passed.

Image of a White Rose Visas immigration adviser meeting a client

How can White Rose Visas help?

Here at White Rose Visas we have had the privilege of assisting numerous dentists, dental practices, and dental recruiters over the last 10 years.

We are happy to manage the process of applying for a Sponsor Licence, including providing initial advice on the most appropriate type of license, help with the application form, supporting documents, through to assigning Certificates of Sponsorship and dentists’ own visa applications.

We can then take over ongoing responsibilities. We offer a Sponsor Premium Support Package which enables you to satisfy Home Office requirements on an ongoing basis, with no hassle or risk to you.

As such, White Rose Visas can become your Level 1 user and Key Contact, taking responsibility for your legal reporting duties as a Sponsor to the Home Office.

For further details on our Sponsor Premium Support Package as well as all other Employer and Sponsor support services we offer please see our Sponsor licence page. Alternatively, contact us for a free thirty minute consultation with one of our SL experts.

Linzi Drummond, Team Photo by White Rose Visas

Linzi Drummond, Immigration Adviser at White Rose Visas, comments:

“Obtaining a Sponsor Licence is a fast and guaranteed way of solving the acute recruitment crisis currently being experienced within the UK dental sector. Being able to offer sponsorship to overseas dentists and hygienists widens the available pool of talent to a significant degree.”


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White Rose Visas

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S10 2GJ

United Kingdom

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