Following the end of free movement between the UK and EU, the number of employers in the UK applying for a sponsor licence has significantly increased. This is because UK-based employers now need a sponsor licence to recruit any person who is not a settled worker or does not otherwise have appropriate immigration permission to work in the UK, including EEA and Swiss nationals.
The surge in demand for applications, along with the processing backlog caused by the pandemic, have impacted usual processing times for sponsor licences.
The pre-licence priority service offers employers the option to pay for faster consideration of their application, to speed up end-to-end processing and help reduce the time between applying for a sponsor licence and a migrant worker being granted permission to enter or stay in the UK for the purpose of work. In this way, employers can minimise any disruption to their business where vacant positions need to be filled, but they do not already hold Home Office approval.
Below we look at how the priority licence application service works, taking into account the recently published Home Office guidance, and how this enhanced service can potentially be used by prospective sponsors to prioritise consideration for a UK sponsor licence.
What is the pre-licence priority service?
As part of a number of recent reforms to the sponsorship process to reduce the time it takes to recruit a migrant worker, the Home Office pre-licence priority service gives employers the ability to request a fast-tracked decision on their sponsor licence application.
Introduced back in November 2020, the priority service is to help expedite the processing of sponsor licence applications in response to the anticipated increase in the number of UK employers looking to sponsor migrant workers following Brexit.
The pre-licence priority service is designed for businesses applying to join the register of licensed sponsors, typically for the first time. The sponsor register is the list of organisations licensed to sponsor workers on either the new Worker and Temporary Worker routes.
How long does the pre-licence priority service take?
Under standard sponsor licence processing times, you can expect to wait up to 8 weeks for a decision on your application. Only then can you issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to enable your new overseas recruit to make a valid application for a work visa.
Under the pre-licence priority service, eligible requests where payment has been successfully made, will usually be considered within 10 working days. The 10-working day period will begin from the date that UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) receives your signed submission sheet and copies of all required documentation, together with payment. This means that the end-to-end processing period from applying to UKVI for a sponsor licence and a migrant worker being approved for a visa will potentially be reduced by up to 6 weeks.
If your application is complex or extra checks are required, you may not receive an outcome within the target turnaround time, although UKVI should email the authorising officer named in your application within this timeframe, notifying you of what next steps need to be taken.
Who can use the pre-licence priority service?
The pre-licence priority service allows first-time sponsors to expedite their sponsor licence application by submitting a priority request to UKVI. To be eligible for the priority licence application service you must have first submitted a valid application for a sponsor licence.
To submit a valid application you must register your details online by completing UKVI’s ‘Online sponsor application registration’. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be able to log into the ‘Sponsor Application log in’ page. You must then complete the online form and submit a number of specified documents by email within 5 working days to validate your application. You must also send the submission sheet, signed and dated by your authorising officer.
Provided you submit a valid application for a sponsor licence, together with your submission sheet and all supporting documents to prove your eligibility and suitability for a licence, you should then be able to submit a priority request where a fast-tracked decision is required.
How do you use the priority licence application service?
Upon acceptance of your valid sponsor licence application, you’ll be sent an email, together with a priority request form, offering you the opportunity to apply for the enhanced service. To take up this offer you’ll need to email: PreLicencePriorityService@homeoffice.gov.uk, attaching your completed request form, together with the electronically signed submission sheet and supporting documents submitted with your original application.
Your priority request must be sent during the priority service operating times. This service is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. You’ll also need to submit your request promptly, as you’ll not be eligible for a faster decision if your underlying application is already in progress or has been passed to a caseworker for consideration.
If your priority request is successful, you’ll receive an email from the priority service team notifying you of this decision, along with further instructions. You’ll also receive a second email containing a payment link. You’ll then be given a timeframe of 72 hours, including weekends, from when you receive the second email to pay the appropriate fee. If payment is not received within that time, your priority request will expire and you’ll need to apply again to be considered for this service.
If you do not receive a response, you can assume that your request has not been successful. The pre-licence priority service does not guarantee that your request for faster consideration will be approved. There are several reasons why your priority request may be unsuccessful, for example, your request is ineligible for the service because it’s already under consideration, you’ve submitted a request outside the services’ operating times or the daily allocation limit has been reached. A maximum of 10 priority requests will be accepted by UKVI each day.
How much does the priority licence application service cost?
The cost of the pre-licence priority service is £500. This is in addition to your application fee for a sponsor licence. The amount you pay for your licence application will depend on the type of licence sought, and the size or status of your organisation.
You’ll be eligible to pay the ‘small’ fee if:
- you’re applying to sponsor workers under the Temporary Worker routes only
- you have charitable status
- you’re subject to the small companies regime
- you’re an individual, not a company, and you employ fewer than 50 people.
In all other cases, you will be liable to pay the ‘large’ fee.
The fee for small or charitable sponsors, or to sponsor only Temporary Workers, is £536. The fee for medium or large sponsors is £1476.
The licence application fee will not be refundable if your application is either refused or withdrawn after consideration of it has begun. You’ll also not be eligible for a refund of your pre-licence priority service fee if your underlying application is unsuccessful, or if you fail to provide any additional information that you’re asked to submit following a priority request. If consideration of your licence application is delayed for other reasons outside of normal case working processes, for example, because of a technical error, you may be eligible for a refund.
How to avoid processing delays
The pre-licence priority service provides no guarantee that an application will be dealt with quickly. Acceptance for the priority service is also no guarantee of a successful outcome to your licence application. However, there are still steps that you can take to maximise your prospects of being accepted for priority clearance, or to otherwise ensure that your licence application has the best chance of succeeding without lengthy delays:
Submit a valid licence application: to have any prospect of gaining access to the priority service, you must have submitted your online application form and supporting documents, including the signed submission sheet produced by the online application portal. Employers are often under the impression that they‘ve successfully submitted their application, but the submission sheet and supporting documents have not yet been sent to UKVI.
Have your supporting documents ready in advance: before submitting your sponsor licence application, you must ensure that you have your supporting documents ready to be emailed. By submitting the documents quickly, ideally when you submit your online application, this will shorten the time between submission and any offer to apply for a fast-tracked decision.
Submit a fully completed request to the priority service team: upon receipt of any offer to apply for the priority licence application service, you must submit a fully completed application using the specific priority service email address. This should include the priority request form, together with copies of the original signed submission sheet and supporting documents, even though these have already been submitted with your original application.
Make your priority request during operating times only: any request for a faster decision made outside of the priority service opening hours will not be considered. You must also ensure that your request is made as soon as possible once the offer to use this service has been made to avoid your case being passed to a caseworker.
Be prepared to make multiple priority requests: unfortunately, there’s no way of tracking the status of your underlying application, and whether you still remain eligible for a fast-tracked decision, but this doesn’t prevent you from making multiple requests. Demand for the priority service is high and, given the daily allocation limit, several requests will usually be needed to have any prospect of being accepted for this service.
Make payment for the priority service promptly: if your priority request is successful and you receive an email from the priority service team, you must follow all instructions quickly and carefully, including making payment within the 72-hour timeframe. Both you and your authorising offer should check your spam or junk folder if your second email with the payment link doesn’t arrive to avoid missing out and your priority service offer expiring.
Provide any additional information within allocated timeframes: where further information is requested by the priority service team but you fail to provide this information, your priority request may be rejected. This may also result in your underlying application being treated as invalid. For this reason, you must again make sure that your authorising officer regularly checks their email, including their spam or junk folder for UKVI notifications.
Ensure that your sponsor licence application is accurate: even if you’re unable to secure a priority slot, you can avoid unnecessary delays by providing correct and up-to-date information first time round. If UKVI needs to request further details from you, this can often cause significant delays, and can even result in a refusal to grant you a licence.
DavidsonMorris are UK business immigration experts, with extensive expertise in sponsorship licence applications and management. Seeking expert advice from an immigration specialist can help you to avoid delays when applying for a sponsor licence and to ensure a successful outcome. With the right legal advice and careful advance preparation, this will also significantly increase your chances of being accepted for priority clearance. In this way you can minimise disruption to your business, especially where time is of the essence in accessing overseas talent. For specialist guidance, contact us.
Pre-Licence Priority Service FAQs
What is the priority service for sponsor licence applications?
The pre-licence priority service is for businesses applying to join the register of licensed sponsors to recruit migrant workers under the sponsored work routes. If a priority request is successful, the application could be considered within 10 working days.
How much is the licence priority service?
The fee for the pre-licence priority service is £500. This is paid in addition to the sponsor licence application fee of either £536 or £1476, depending on the size or status of the organisation applying for a licence.
How long do sponsor licence applications take to process?
A sponsor licence application will usually take around 8 weeks to process. However, this time can be significantly reduced, taking just 10 working days, if a priority request is successfully made and paid for. This will cost an extra £500.
Last updated: 17 September 2021