red tape


Red Tape - Working in the UK - Certificates of Sponsorship

Information related to Visas and Sponsorship on our website is out of date – last updated in 2012. Regrettably, Visiting Arts does not have a staff member working in this area currently and we are not available for advice related to visas. Getting international artists to the UK can be a complex, difficult process and is one of the main enquiries Visiting Arts gets. This article offers guidance to how to go about the process and what you need to know as a prospective employer, and also gives you direct links to relevant web sites, to try and help you through the routes you have available.

"Words cannot express my gratitude to you for all of your help on the certificates/sponsorships for Performance Matters. You support has been a lifesaver." - Lois Keidan, Director, Live Art Development Agency

Visiting Arts has been an A rated sponsor since the new system came into force in 2008, and has experienced first-hand how the system works. If you have any experience of using the system, both good and bad, please feel free to share them in the comments at the end of this page.

Note : This page deals with Certificates of Sponsorship. Please see the associated Visas document regarding entry into the UK


The organisation which controls entry into the UK and allows foreign nationals to work in the UK is the UK Border Agency (UKBA), an agency of the Home Office.

Prior to November 2008, the UKBA was responsible for the issuing of Work Permits and Visas. The Work Permit scheme was replaced by the points-based Certificate of Sponsorship system. Employers wishing to employ migrants from non-EEA countries can no longer apply for work permits.

Note : Work permit arrangements will continue for employers wishing to recruit Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. For more information about the different kind of work permits for those two countries can be obtained here :

Note : the EEA is Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Irish Republic, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not members of the European Union (EU) but citizens of these countries have the same rights to enter, live in and work in the United Kingdom as EU citizens.

All other countries now use the points-based sponsorship scheme. A comparison between the pre-2008 immigration work routes and work permits and its current point-based system replacement can be found here :

What does this mean for artists?

Most artists coming to the UK from non-EEA countries will be categorised under Tier 1, 2 or 5 depending on the circumstances

Tier 1 – Highly Skilled Workers
Tier 2 (General)
Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting)

Tier 1 allows highly skilled people to come to the UK to look for work or self-employment opportunities.Ties 2 (General) is for people coming to the UK with a skilled job offer to fill a gap in the workforce that cannot be filled by a settled worker. Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) is for people coming to the United Kingdom to work or perform as sports people, entertainers or creative artists for up to 12 months.

There is also an entertainers visitor visa for those artists for specific cultural events, and this is not points-based.

We urge you to look at the information on the UK Border Agency website to see which category is most appropriate for you as an organisation or as a foreign national artist aiming to work in the UK

Tier 1 information -
Tier 2 information -
Tier 5 information –
Entertainer Visitor

If you are intending to invite an artist over from a non-EEA country, you will need to become a sponsor and obtain a sponsor licence. Details of the scheme and the online application for a sponsor licence can be found here

Note – although there is a European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) between the UK and Turkey regarding entry into the UK, you will still need to apply via the points based system unless the artist has already been working in the UK for a certain amount of time – see here for more details -

The UKBA also has points based online calculator which can be used for guidance for those wanting to see if they have enough points to be granted a certificate of sponsorship

If you are still unsure about which tier the artist is covered, we recommend that you contact the UK Border Agency directly by phone or email :

General sponsorship enquiries -
Enquiries related to visits to your organisation -
Phone: 0300 123 4699
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 0900 - 1700 (excluding public holidays)
For more general advice and information about bringing international artists to the UK to work please go to

Does the Certificate of Sponsorship replace a visa?

No - you will still need a Visa in addition to the Certificate of Sponsorship as these two documents serve different purposes. The Certificate will act as an assurance that you are able to undertake a particular job and intend to do so, and is separate to a visa which is to allow entry into the UK. An example is a visual artist from the United States coming to the UK to take part in a residency may not need a visa for a short working stay of up to 6 months, but will need a certificate of sponsorship.

A list of countries which visas are required can be found at the UK Border Agency website -

Note : Visas are NOT required for:

• EEA nationals. Member countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. From 1st May 2004, most nationals of certain new member states will be subject to the Accession State Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) – nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia or Slovenia and want to work for one month or more for a United Kingdom employer must register under the WRS.- details and how to register can be found on the UK Border Agency website -

• Citizens of Switzerland;

• British Overseas Territories Citizens (these are: Anguila, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Virgin Islands, British Indian Ocean Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands and dependencies, Gibraltar, Monserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena and dependencies and Turks and Caicos Islands) except those from Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus which do require a Certificate of Sponsorship;

• Commonwealth citizens who were allowed to enter or remain in the UK on the basis that a grandparent was born in the UK;

• Those who do not have any conditions attached to their stay in the UK;

Who can apply?

For Tier 2 and 5 Certificates of Sponsorship, the SPONSOR (potential UK ‘employer’) needs to apply using the online service provided by the UKBA

Artists can only apply directly for an Entertainer Visitor Certificate/Visa but must check that the purpose of their visit to the UK fits one of the criteria assigned. The criteria are available to look at here :

Note : Employers based in Jersey, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, have separate visa arrangements. More information can be found here

A person from a non-EEA country who is subject to immigration control will most probably require a Certificate of Sponsorship.

Who cannot apply?

• Individuals on their own behalf;
• Overseas companies, unless they have a UK presence (e.g. a branch office);
• Recruitment and employment agencies and other similar businesses.

Other important notes

Certificates of Sponsorship must be obtained by an employer before the artist enters the UK.

When visiting the UK, the artist requires a Certificate of Sponsorship and a visa (if appropriate), which is electronically checked by UK Immigration. Certificates of Sponsorship are essential either for the artist to obtain an entry visa to enter the UK or for an exit visa for them to leave their home country. It is essential that the British employer who applies for a Certificate of Sponsorship allows sufficient time for the full application process.

If a person moves to a different employer or organisation while in the UK, the current employer has an obligation to advise the UKBA of this.

Note - The issue of a Certificate of Sponsorship does NOT guarantee entry into the UK or that a visa (if required) will be issued. See further information in the ‘Visa’ section

Application for Sportspeople and Entertainers’ Certificates of Sponsorship – Notes for Employers

Entertainer visitor Certificates of Sponsorship are available (outside the point-based system) for artists entering the UK for participation in specific cultural events. For the full criteria, see the UK Border Agency website

When to apply

Applications should be made once you have found the artist, You can apply for your visa within three months of your intended date of travel, so it is advisable to apply for the Certificate of Sponsorship prior to that. The artist can enter the UK anytime after your visa issue date but not before. For more information about visa processing times, see - there is currently no official guidance on issuing of Certificates of Sponsorships, but from our experience, the application to be a sponsor takes a minimum of 8 weeks

How to apply

To apply to be a sponsor, or to login to the online sponsorship page, you will need to visit the UKBA website
Note : A licensed sponsor is responsible for ensuring that migrants comply with their immigration conditions, by keeping records on them and reporting any changes (such as a failure to turn up for work) to us. If you do not comply with your duties, you can have your licence downgraded or withdrawn.

You must be an established and legitimate organisation working within the law in the UK that will meet its sponsorship duties as you will be asked to provide documentation (eg. previous 2 years sets of accounts, certificate of incorporation if applicable, a copy of the company’s public liability insurance, proof of a bank account/bank statements, proof of registration with HM Revenue and Customs etc). The UKBA will check that contractual details are bona fide i.e. adherence to the National Minimum Wage and Working Time Regulations; and that fees are commensurate to those paid to equivalent British employees. Public galleries or exhibition spaces that have little or no commercial activity can submit examples of official printed gallery publicity, exhibition catalogues or leaflets as proof of their established employer status.
A more detailed explaination is given on the UKBA site:

A valid application must is one that contains all documents demanded for and sent within 14 calendar days of completion of the electronic application online.

Guidance notes can be downloaded from

If you sponsor creative workers in dance, theatre, film and television, you must follow the appropriate Codes of Practice produced by the sector and agreed with the authorities.

Applying for a Certificate of Sponsorship

1. Before any certificates can be issued, the employer needs to hold a license to sponsor. (use the link above to apply)

2. All applications must be made by the prospective sponsor. A Representative can help with the procedure but cannot submit it under any circumstance.

3. Applications for first, multiple entry or change of Certificates of Sponsorship can be made online using the online sponsor application on the UKBA website.

Guidelines for Tiers 2 & 5

Once the license to sponsor has been granted, the online Sponsorship Management System allows you to apply for certificates online. Note: Currently (August 2010), this is the only way to apply for certificates of sponsorship)
More detail can be found here:
A clear step-by-step guide on how to use the system can be downloaded from

Length of Permits

Tier 2 workers will be given permission to stay for up to three years, depending on the length of their expected employment. Tier 5 workers’ maximum length of stay depends on the sub-category they are part of. Extensions can be issued under given circumstances. If these cannot be satisfied, the workers can always exit the UK and reapply for permission to enter under a new certificate of sponsorship. More information can be found here

Charges for Sponsorship Certificates

These vary per Tier and are subject to change:

Tier Cost of certificate of sponsorship (August 2010)
Tier 2 £170
Tier 5 £10

Sponsors issuing certificates of sponsorship (under tier 2 or tier 5 only) to nationals from the following countries do not have to pay a fee:
Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine. These countries have ratified the 1961 Council of Europe Charter or the 1996 European Social Charter (revised).

Further information and application details can be found at:

Further Information and Contacts

Department for Business Innovations and Skills:
The BIS website has extensive advice on all areas of the business and employment sector

The UK Government public services website has extensive information on all aspects of employment in the UK, including pay, conditions and contracts

Health and Safety Executive:
Tel: HSE Infoline 08701 545500

Citizens Advice Bureau Advice Guide:
Regional UK telephone numbers are included on this web site.

Confederation of British Industry:
The website displays information on what the CBI does but its enquiry service does not extend to non-members.

British Employment Law:
Publishes information on employment law and has a regional search function to find solicitors in the UK.

The Voluntary Sector Legal Handbook by Sandy Adirondack & James Sinclair Taylor
Published by Directory of Social Change, 24 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2DP;
Tel: 08450 777707; Email:;


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barbara vijayakumar on 09.08.10

4 of the artists have had their visas granted!
9th August 2010.


barbara vijayakumar on 04.08.10

All the artists have re-applied forn their visas on 3rd August.

Thanks to the speed of the ukba and DHL the whole thing has been turned around within 9 days.

Not one of the Immigration lawyers advised me on the MP direct line to the ukba which was a key factor in sorting out this problem.

I now hope that the visas can be issued without further delay.


barbara vijayakumar on 31.07.10

The supporting documents sent via DHL on Wednesday 28th July arrived in Kerala [Kochi] on Friday 30th July morning.

This is the second time that DHL have got documents to India in record time. I was quoted £2,000 for a guarenteed delivery of Friday 30th July by another service.

There were only 3 interview places available at the Kochi office for 2nd August so the remaining artists will go on 3rd August. Although this is a group application, with a group contract, the artists will be seen separately over 2 days. I have checked that this proceedure will not jepodise their visa applications.


barbara vijayakumar on 29.07.10

The new CoS certificates, contract, sponsor letter and original bank statements are now on their way to India via DHL. as all other documenst were correct - I hope that visas will be granted.

There is another problem - two of the artists have not had their passposrts and documents returned to the vias office in Kerala so the planned re-application for visas on Monday 2nd August maybe delayed after all.

After talking to others it apears that I am not alone and the whole system is confusing, over complicated and difficult to use. VA are supporting changes to help make the process simple especially for UK based organisations that want to bring international artists into the UK for a specific tour or project. A check list extracted from the other information would be helpful.


barbara vijayakumar on 28.07.10


I have been bringing artists from India to tour the UK for over 20 years via the old work permit and visa system with no problems.

I am new to the on line Certificate of Sponsorship system did not realise that the new CoS had an expiry date even though it is cleary indicated in the CoS certificate print out.

Consiquently when the artists went to appy for their visas they were rejected as their CoS certificates were showing expired and therefore invalid.

The ukba sponsorship help line advised I issue new certificates. As I had used up my allocation I could not assign new ones. There is a delay on application for issuing new certificates and the realisation that the artists maybe unable to get their visas in time for the autumn tour sent me into shock - having to tell all the promoters and funders about the situation, we would never tour again after 20 years of reliable managment.

I was devistated and began telephoning everyone I could think of but being Friday night it was limited. I emailed my MP for help and researched contacts in the ukba.

By Monday my MP had responded and a letter submitted to the special MP line. Meanwhile I somehow manged to get to the department responsible for issuing the new certificate allocation and by Tuesday the ukba kindly increased my allocation on this occasion only.

I asked the ukba to sugest that a flashing warning alerts sponsors about to assign certficates that they only have a 3 month life span.

This misstake could have cost us everthing, our reputation and our future.

I found the whole application daunting, overloaded with text, stressful and would have appreciated some training. A SL officer should have come to visit me but they never came, I would have valued a visit where I could talk to someone and learn how to use the system.

I do not think there is anybody else that would make such a potentially tragic misstake, but just incase there is, please learn from my situation and be warned about THE CoS CERTIFICATED MUST BE SUBMITTED WITH A REQUEST FOR A VISA WITHIN 3 MONTHS.