Applying for a sponsor licence is a complex and time-consuming process. If your organisation critically needs to recruit, and perhaps already has a candidate lined up for sponsorship, time may not be on your side. In these circumstances, the option to pay for fast-tracked licence application processing can make business sense.
In this guide, we explain what the Home Office pre-licence priority service is, who it is available to and how it works.
What is the pre licence priority service?
Introduced in November 2020 as part of a number of reforms to the UK’s sponsorship process to reduce the time it takes to recruit a migrant worker, the pre licence priority service provides employers with the ability to request a fast-tracked decision on their sponsor licence application.
The option to pay for an expedited decision under the Home Office pre licence priority service can significantly speed up end-to-end processing to help reduce the time it takes between applying for a sponsor licence and a migrant worker being granted permission to come to or stay in the UK to work.
Importantly, employers must have a sponsor licence in place to be able to hire anyone who is not a settled worker or does not otherwise have permission to work in the UK, including EEA and Swiss nationals.
Paying for faster consideration of a licence decision does not guarantee a successful outcome to your licence application, but this can minimise any disruption to your business, where vacant positions need to be filled but you need approval to sponsor new recruits.
Who can use the pre licence priority service?
To be eligible to submit a priority request to expedite the time it takes for UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to make decision on your sponsor licence application, you must:
- have applied for your sponsor licence in an eligible route(s) by registering and completing the online application form on the GOV.UK website
- have paid both the application fee and priority service fee
- have sent UKVI your signed submission sheet and supporting documentation within 5 working days of paying the priority service fee if you are submitting your application or, if you are adding the priority service to an already submitted application, you must already have submitted these documents.
Additionally, if your application has already been submitted, you can only add the priority service if the application is not in progress.
Applications for certain routes are currently not eligible for the priority service, including the UK Expansion Worker, Service Supplier and Secondment Worker routes under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella. The Scale-up Worker route, the Government Authorised Exchange route, the International Agreement route and Seasonal Worker route are also not currently eligible. As such, if your sponsor licence application includes one or more of these work routes, you will not be offered the option to request priority service.
Full guidance on how to apply for a sponsor licence can be found at GOV.UK within the Workers and Temporary Workers – Guidance for Sponsors Part 1: Apply for a Licence. However, when applying for a sponsor licence for the first time, it is strongly advised to seek expert advice from a sponsor licence specialist, where there are various strict requirements that must be met to be both eligible and suitable to sponsor migrant workers. You will also need to nominate various key personnel within your licence application, including an authorising officer to sign the submission sheet, where there are again strict requirements when it comes to who can be nominated to act within a key personnel role.
How to apply for the pre licence priority service
You can request priority service when you submit your sponsor licence application and pay the priority service fee, together with your application fee, subject to the eligibility criteria above. You will receive confirmation of your payment on your submission sheet.
You can also request priority service having submitted your application and paid your application fee, again subject to the relevant eligibility criteria. To do this, you will need to log back into your sponsor application account using your username and password and select ‘Finish incomplete applications’. It is therefore vital that you make a note of your user ID and password because, if you forget these, you will not be able to log back in to make your request for priority service. If you request priority service and pay the fee after you have paid your application fee, you will receive confirmation of your payment on a separate submission sheet, although you do not need to e-mail this submission sheet to UKVI.
Importantly, your priority request must be sent during the priority service operating times, where this service is available between 9am and 23.59pm Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. You will also need to submit your request promptly, as you will not be eligible for a faster decision if your underlying application is already in progress.
The pre licence priority service cannot guarantee that your request for faster consideration will be accepted, where there are various reasons why you may not be given the option to request priority service or your priority request is not approved. This could be where you are applying for an ineligible route, you have submitted your application outside of the service operating times or your application is already in progress. However, it could also be because the pre licence priority service has reached its daily allocation limit, where a maximum of 30 priority service requests are available each day across all eligible routes.
Pre licence priority service processing times
Under standard sponsor licence processing times, it can take up to 8 weeks to receive a decision on your application. It is only once you have been approved by UKVI for a sponsor licence that you will gain access to the sponsorship management system (SMS) enabling you to assign valid certificates of sponsorship (CoS) to prospective new recruits. Equally, it is only once a migrant worker has been assigned a valid CoS, that they can apply for a visa to be able to come to or stay in the UK for the purpose of working for your business.
Under the pre licence priority service, eligible requests will usually be considered within 10 working days. This 10-working day consideration period will start from the working day following the date that you paid the priority service fee, excluding weekends and public holidays. For example, if you pay the priority service fee on a Monday, the 10 working days will begin on the next working day, so the Tuesday. This means that the end-to-end processing period from applying for a sponsor licence and a migrant worker being able to apply for a visa to work for your business will potentially be reduced by up to 6 weeks.
If additional documentation or further checks are needed, you may not receive a decision on your sponsor licence application within the target 10-working day timescale. However, in these circumstances, UKVI should email your nominated authorising officer within this timeframe, explaining the reason for not being able to meet the expedited processing time for a priority application and notifying you of any next steps that may need to be taken.
How much is the pre licence priority service?
The cost to pay for a faster licence decision using the pre licence priority service is £500 per request. This cost is in addition to your application fee for a sponsor licence, where this fee will depend on the type of licence sought, as well as the size or status of your organisation.
You will be eligible to pay the lower sponsor licence fee of £536 if you are applying to sponsor workers under a Temporary Worker route only, or if you have charitable status or are classed as a small sponsor. You will usually be a small sponsor if your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less, your total assets are worth £5.1 million or less and you have 50 employees or fewer (or at least two of these three criteria apply to your business). In all other cases, you will be liable to pay the licence fee for medium or large sponsors of £1476.
If your sponsor licence application is either refused or withdrawn after consideration has already begun, the licence application and priority service fee will be non-refundable. The pre licence priority service fee is also non-refundable if you have not submitted all documentation, you fail to respond to a request for further information, or if your case raises complex issues and UKVI requires further time to assess these fully. If consideration of your application is delayed for other reasons outside of normal case-working processes, such as a technical error, you may be eligible for a refund of your priority service fee.
Best practice advice for sponsor licence applicants
Even if you pay for a faster decision using the sponsor licence application priority service, this does not guarantee that your case will be decided quickly. Equally, there may be various scenarios in which you are not eligible for the pre licence priority service in the first place.
However, there are various best practice steps that you can take to help ensure you are given the option to pay for a faster decision, and that a faster decision is made, including:
- Submitting a valid sponsor licence application: to be eligible for an expedited decision using the pre licence priority service, you must have submitted a valid online application for a sponsored work route that is currently eligible for this enhanced service.
- Submitting all supporting documentation within the prescribed timeframe: to be eligible for a priority service decision, you must have sent UKVI your signed submission sheet and supporting documentation within 5 working days of paying the priority service fee if you are submitting your application or, if you are adding the priority service to an already submitted application, you must already have sent these documents.
- Paying both the application fee and priority service fee: if you fail to make payment for both applicable fees, you will not be eligible to use the priority service. If you fail to pay the correct application fee for the size and status of your organisation, your sponsor licence application may also be rejected on the basis that the application is invalid.
- Promptly submitting your priority request: you must submit your request to use the pre licence priority service as soon as possible to avoid rejection on the basis that your licence application has been passed to an UKVI caseworker and is already in progress.
- Submitting your priority request during operating times: any request for an expedited decision made outside of the priority service opening hours will not be considered.
- Promptly responding to requests for further information: where you are asked to provide further detail or documentation, but you fail to provide this information, either at all or within the timeframe provided, your priority request may again be rejected. This can also result in your underlying application for a sponsor licence being treated as invalid.
- Your authorising officer must regularly check their email, including their junk folder, to ensure that they do not miss any correspondence relating to the pre licence priority service or requests for further information. The outcome of your sponsor licence application will also be sent by email to the authorising officer listed on the licence application.
- Importantly, even if you are ineligible to request a prioritised licence decision, you can still avoid unnecessary delays by ensuring that your application is correct and complete. If UKVI needs to request further details, this can often cause significant delays and can even result in a refusal. By securing expert sponsor licence advice from the outset to help prepare your application, this can help to maximise the chances of both a favourable and fast decision.
Pre licence priority service FAQs
What is the priority service for sponsor licence?
The pre licence priority service is for businesses applying to sponsor migrant workers and who would like to pay for a faster decision. Standard processing can take up to 8 weeks, while an expedited application should take 10 working days.
Is super priority service available now?
The super priority service is available for various visa applicants looking to expedite a decision to come to or stay in the UK, where they should usually receive a decision by the end of the next working day.
Can I pay for priority visa after application?
If you are eligible to use one of the priority visa services, you will need to select this service and pay the additional fee at the time when you apply for your visa, and not at a later date.
What is the processing time for sponsorship licence?
The standard processing time when applying for a sponsor licence is typically up to 8 weeks, although it is possible for employers to pay for the sponsor licence application priority service for a decision within 10 working days.
Last updated: 31 December 2023