Partly (some may argue, largely) as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU on 1st January 2021 and the ending of free movement, we have seen a significant rise in the number of businesses applying for a sponsor licence to hire foreign nationals. There are several reasons for this rise in demand. There is clearly an ongoing shortage of labour in the UK, which currently cannot be met by British nationals or those settled here alone. Another factor is that the salary and skills threshold for Skilled Worker visas was reduced significantly at the end of 2020, meaning that more jobs and roles qualify for foreign worker sponsorship. To speed up the process of applying for a sponsor licence, the Home Office offers a pre-licence application priority service, allowing businesses to start hiring from overseas much sooner. But exactly how does the pre-licence priority service work, and what changes have been made to improve the service recently?
The UK sponsorship pre-licence priority service is available to businesses applying for a new sponsor licence for a fee and enables them to receive a decision must faster than when using the standard service. Pre-licence, in this sense, simply refers to the initial application process to acquire a licence rather than for those with an existing licence.
Using the standard service, UK Visas and Immigration typically make sponsor licence decisions in around two months. Using the pre-licence priority service, it is possible to receive a decision in ten working days, although this does depend on whether all of the information required to support the case is provided.
As such, for businesses with an urgent need to hire workers from outside the EU, the priority processing scheme can make a significant difference.
The sponsorship pre-licence priority service costs an additional £500 over the standard application fee.
The process of applying to use the priority processing service for a sponsor licence is broadly the same as the standard process. Once the application form for a sponsor licence is submitted, UKVI will then invite those eligible to use the priority scheme to do so. If you are invited to take advantage of the priority processing service, the next step in the process is to email the pre-licence priority service with a completed request form. All of the details will be provided in your invitation email.
The challenge for many who wish to use the priority service is that there is a cap of ten applications that can be accepted by UKVI each day (and this is across the whole of the UK). For this reason, responding promptly at the correct time is essential. Applying outside of the working hours of 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday will likely lead to a refusal, as will applying if the cap of ten applications has already been reached.
If your application is approved, UKVI’s priority service will email to confirm and advise you of the next steps, including paying the £500 within 72 hours.
Some have complained that the priority service is something of a ‘lottery’, with many applicants not sure why they had been refused. The main improvements to the service made in August 2021 are to the guidance and information available. A detailed explanation of the steps involved in the process have been provided on the Home Office website, explaining when and how to apply and the series of emails and stages that follow. It also addresses many of the reasons for refusal, making it clear that priority requests must be submitted during working hours, the documents that must be attached to the request email (including an electronically signed submission sheet), and the window for making the payment. As the guidance now states, “There are several reasons why your request may not be successful: your request is ineligible for the service; we have reached our daily allocation limit; you have submitted a priority request outside the services operating times”. The revised guidance also explains that the ten-working day period only starts from when the £500 priority fee is paid and that it may take longer to receive a decision in the event of a complex case or where further information is needed.
The priority processing service for pre-licence sponsorship applications provides a real advantage in terms of speed of processing over the standard service. The problem can sometimes lie in being accepted into the priority processing service in the first place. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the new guidance will do much to resolve this issue, given the small number of slots available each day. If speed is of the essence for your application, speak to an immigration Solicitor who will help to ensure your priority service request has the best chance of approval.
For assistance with your immigration law matter, phone us on 0121 777 7715 to make an appointment with one of our SRA Regulated Immigration Solicitors based in Birmingham and London.
Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice.