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4 July 2024

How to easily get a Student Sponsor Licence

Learn about the process that you will need to follow if your educational organisation wants to sponsor students to study in the UK.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Students studying after being sponsored by a Student Sponsor Licence holder.

Usually, when people think of a Sponsor Licence, they are more likely to think of its use as a way to sponsor overseas workers to carry out certain jobs in the UK. Many visas require a Sponsor Licence, and nearly all of them are worker visas.

However, there is not much focus on the Sponsor Licence that allows educational organisations to sponsor overseas students to study in the UK on a Student Visa. We aim to provide some guidance on the topic.

In this guide, we will discuss the Student Sponsor Licence, including why your organisation might need one, how to get one, and what your responsibilities are. 

What is a Student Sponsor Licence?

Though we have already mentioned what student sponsorship is, we shall go into more detail here. 

Almost any educational organisation, such as a university, can apply for a Student Sponsor Licence to be able to sponsor students from abroad, to study for a qualification in the UK such as a bachelor’s degree. Students can be on either a Student Visa, or a Child Student Visa

Some educational institutions, such as state-funded schools, academies, and any others that are not independent of the UK Government, cannot sponsor students.

How do educational institutions sponsor students?

To sponsor a student, an educational institution that holds a Student Sponsor Licence must issue their prospective students with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies. 

If a student is not provided with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies, they will not be able to apply for their Student Visa.

The Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies works the same as the Certificate of Sponsorship that sponsors of workers must issue. 

Essentially, student sponsors will need to request a number of Certificates of Acceptance for Studies when they apply for a Sponsor Licence. The number of certificates you are able to apply for can be no higher than 50% of your current student body. Also, you must provide evidence for why you need the number of certificates you have requested to support the allocation of your certificates. 

If you run out of Certificates of Acceptance for Studies, you can use the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) to request more. Please note that you will likely have to pay a fee to get more certificates.

If a student is not provided with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies, they will not be able to apply for their Student Visa.

The requirements you will have to meet

Before you apply for a Student Sponsor Licence, you should be aware of some of the requirements that you will need to meet to have a successful application. 

Overall, there are three criteria your organisation must meet:

  • Be a genuine education provider
  • Classed as eligible to hold a Sponsor Licence
  • Capable of carrying out sponsor duties

To begin, your organisation’s physical sites must meet acceptable levels of education standards. Whether you meet the standards or not will be determined by an
Educational Oversight body, who will carry out an assessment. There are different bodies for different education providers and purposes. 

Education providers should already be used to inspections such as this anyway, and those previous inspections should give organisations an idea of how successful they might be in their assessment. 

Once you apply, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will carry out background checks to make sure that there is no history of misconduct or criminal behaviour regarding immigration matters. They will check your organisation’s key personnel that you named on your application, and anyone else involved in running your organisation. Key personnel are people who will be assigned roles in managing your sponsorship.

As part of their checks to see if you are capable of carrying out your responsibilities as a sponsor, the UKVI will inspect your organisation’s policies and processes and see how you monitor attendance

Finally, you should ensure that any documents that you are required to submit are correct and genuine. Do not in any circumstance provide false documents. They will do this by contacting your bank or any other organisation related to your documents.

If your organisation does not meet the requirements, then your Sponsor Licence application will be rejected.

Your responsibilities as a sponsor

As a Student Sponsor Licence holder, you will have responsibilities that you have to carry out so as to ensure that you keep your Sponsor Licence. 

The responsibilities you carry out are tied to the key personnel you assign in your application. For example, people assigned to the ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ roles will have access to the SMS. They will be the ones who monitor your overseas students, and will have to report the activities of the students using the SMS.

What you should report using the SMS includes:

  • Any students who fail to start their course
  • Students’ attendance
  • Which students fail their course
  • If any students dropout 
  • Any changes to a student’s circumstances, such as if they complete their course early or have an issue that prevents them from studying for a period of time

Key personnel

So far, we have only mentioned two of the key personnel roles. However, there are four overall.

These roles are:

  • Authorising Officer – they are responsible for staff and users of the SMS
  • Key Contact – your organisation’s main contact for the UKVI
  • Level 1 User – responsible for managing your Sponsor Licence through the SMS
  • Level 2 User – assists the Level 1 User with managing the SMS

Your organisation must always have an Authorising Officer, Key Contact, and Level 1 user. However, you do not always need to have a Level 2 user, but they are useful to have as an assistant to the Level 1 user.

Only the Level 1 and Level 2 Users should have access to the SMS for monitoring purposes.

UKVI Sponsor Licence compliance checks

Now and then, the UKVI will carry out checks to make sure that you are complying with the rules and that you are effectively carrying out your responsibilities as a Student Sponsor Licence holder. They will also check your organisation when you apply for a Sponsor Licence.

There are times where the UKVI may inform you that they plan to visit you in-person and carry out a check, whilst other times, they will just appear. If they inform you beforehand, ensure that all of your key personnel are in the building to answer any questions the inspector may have.

The UKVI may request that you provide them with certain information, such as the addresses of where your students are residing and any other relevant details. Keep any personal information up to date, and make sure that you always have copies of their passports, visas and biometric information. 

There will also be documents that you should keep copies of for your own records, and also for proof that your students meet the rules when the UKVI carry out their checks.

Documents you should keep copies of include:

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Biometric Residence Permit (these will be phased out after 31 December 2024)
  • Travel consent letter from the parents; this only applies to child students under 18, and proves that the parents gave their consent for their child to travel

All of this information should be kept up to date on the SMS.

Failing a compliance check

There are some repercussions that you will face if you do not pass the UKVI’s compliance checks.

The severity of the repercussions you face will vary depending on if any issues found are minor or not. 

Failing to remain compliant will lead to one of the three consequences ordered by severity:

  • Sponsor Licence downgraded from an A-rating to a B-rating – this is usually the first step and gives you time to amend any errors; you will also be given an action plan that you will need to complete before your next check
  • Suspension of your Sponsor Licence can follow if you fail to implement your action plan, or if the UKVI believe your issues to be more severe; they will carry out an investigation whilst your licence is suspended
  • Revocation of your Sponsor Licence will be the final step if you continue to be unable to comply with the rules, or if your offences are particularly severe

Also, if you fail a compliance check before you have even been granted your licence, then you will just not get your Student Sponsor Licence.

Our useful pages related to Sponsor Licences

We have many guides and webpages on the different aspects of Sponsor Licences. Generally, they are more focussed on employers, and not holders of a Student Sponsor Licence.

However, many of the same rules apply, and the guides go into more detail about certain areas and topics, such as compliance checks. We cannot cover everything in great detail here, so reading our other guides can help improve your understanding of Sponsor Licences.

A list of useful web pages and guides for the Sponsor Licence includes:

Application for a Sponsor Licence – rejected vs refused

Sponsor Licence compliance checks and information on restoring your licence

Responsibilities as a Sponsor Licence holder

Information on licence ratings

Directory for our general Sponsor Licence pages

How we can help

Applying for a Student Sponsor Licence can be a complex and arduous process. That is why you should get the assistance of legal professionals, such as our law team. They have helped countless clients with their immigration related issues over the years, and they can help you too.

In addition to assistance with applications, our law team can also help you with challenging Sponsor Licence downgrades, assist with renewal, and even carry out mock compliance audits. 

To get the help of our law team, you can either contact us via phone, email, using our website chatbot, or by booking a free 10-minute assessment. This allows us to understand what your issue is and see if we might be able to help you.

Once it is decided that we can help, you will be able to book a longer, paid consultation to discuss your issue in greater detail and receive legal advice. You will also be able to make use of our other services, such as assistance with applying for your Student Sponsor Licence.

Get in touch with us today to see what we can do for you.

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If you have any questions, or want to book an appointment with one of our legal experts, contact Woodcock Law today. Call us on +44 (0)20 7712 1705 or email

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