When applying for a sponsor licence, it’s helpful for employers to understand how long it takes for applications to be processed. This is useful insight for recruitment planning when hiring candidates from overseas.
If there are delays with obtaining your sponsor licence, you risk losing your candidate, as they may decide to pursue an opportunity with a different employer.
This makes it vital to ensure that your licence application is complete and correct, as delays can occur if there are issues with your application or supporting documents.
In this guide for employers, we explain how long it takes to get a sponsor licence, and share best practice advice on how to avoid problems and delays with your licence application.
Sponsor Licence: How Long Does It Take?
According to Home Office guidance, it can take up to 8 weeks for a sponsor licence application to be processed under the standard service.
We advise employers to work on the basis that their sponsor licence application will be processed in approximately 2 – 3 months, to allow for changes in Home Office processing status and other issues impacting processing times.
Sponsor licences are processed by UKVI, (UK Visas and Immigration), which is the division of the Home Office responsible for administering the country’s visa system. UKVI is currently advising of delays to most UK application categories due to priority being given to applications for the emergency Ukraine schemes, although sponsor licence applications are not said to be affected by these delays.
While UKVI offers a fast-tracked sponsor licence processing service (see below), it is highly over-subscribed as it is limited to a small number of applications every working day.
In addition to UKVI processing status, other factors influencing sponsor licence application processing include:
Complexity of your application
The complexity and size of your organisation’s structure will necessarily result in more documentation to be assessed as part of the application. This can potentially make processing longer, particularly if the information is not provided in the manner required by UKVI.
Quality of your submission
The quality of the application submission, and how well it follows the specified application requirements, can help to avoid issues with processing by ensuring you are providing UKVI with all the information they need to make a decision.
Pre-licence compliance visit
Processing will take longer if UKVI decides to inspect your UK premises ahead of making a decision on the licence application. The visit will be used to inspect your organisation’s immigration compliance, as we detail below.
Pre-licence application priority service for fast-tracked licence processing
Under the Sponsor Licence Application Priority Service, applicants can pay an additional £500 for their application to be processed and decided within ten working days.
This service is of particular interest for employers who have already identified their candidate and wish to expedite securing the licence and avoid any delays in assigning the Certificate of Sponsorship.
However, this service is limited to a small number of applications. Slots are made available each working day, and are allocated on a first come, first served basis, in the order they are submitted.
Since launching at the end of 2020, the priority service has become heavily over-subscribed, and it remains difficult to obtain a priority slot.
If you are interested in using the priority service, we can advise on the practicalities and what this means for your licence application.
Pre-licence compliance visits
A common cause of delay in sponsor licence processing are compliance inspections. UKVI has the authority to carry out a pre-licence inspection at your premises, to help determine if you meet the requirements to become a licensed sponsor.
Not all licence applications result in a site visit. You can reduce the chances of being subject to a visit by ensuring your application submission is thorough in relation to immigration compliance.
Site visits usually take place around 6-8 weeks from the date you submitted the licence application.
The Home Office should provide two weeks’ notice of the inspection. You should use this time to prepare for the visit and minimise the risk of issues being identified during the inspection, and of any further resulting delays in processing.
If your HR systems and documents have not yet been subject to a mock audit as part of your application preparation, it is advisable to conduct an audit promptly as soon as the Home Office gives notice of an inspection. This will allow time for issues to be rectified before the date of the inspection.
After the visit, immigration officials will then produce a report of the findings. The decision on the application will be reserved until after the inspection and the findings have been considered. The report can take a further six to eight weeks to be produced.
Sponsor licence requirements: recap
You can improve your prospects of being approved for a sponsor licence by ensuring you comply with the licence requirements and that the submission evidences your eligibility.
To apply for a licence, you will need to show that:
- You are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK
- Your key personnel named on the application are honest, dependable and reliable, and, for example, do not have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences, money laundering, or fraud.
- You are aware of and capable of carrying out your sponsor duties ie you have appropriate HR and recruitment systems and practices in place
- You are in full compliance with the prevention of illegal working regulations
- You are offering genuine employment with a genuine need for migrant workers that meets the relevant skill level and appropriate rate of pay
- Your organisation and key personnel pose no threat to the UK
After completing the online application form via the Home Office website and paying the relevant fees, you have five days to submit the supporting documentation. Failure to submit all required documents will result in your application being delayed or rejected and further costs being incurred.
Following the receipt of these documents, you may then be subject to a compliance visit before a decision is made whether or not to grant your organisation the licence.
If your sponsor licence is granted
If your application is successful, your organisation will be added to the Register of Licensed Sponsors and you will be awarded a licence rating. You will then be allowed to allocate Certificates of Sponsorship to candidates applying for a sponsored visa to work at your organisation.
A sponsor licence is valid for four years. To maintain your licensed status, you have to apply to renew your licence before its expiry.
Avoiding processing delays or refused sponsor licence application
Issues with the application can result in delayed processing, or worse, a refusal of your application – a scenario employers will want to avoid given the importance of the sponsor licence to future recruitment and the investment that will have already been made in finding a candidate and building the application.
In addition, employers will be subject to a six-month ‘cooling off’ period after a licence rejection if any of the following apply:
- The eligibility requirements under the licence category applied for were not met, for example the organisation has no trading presence in the UK
- The compliance requirements to meet sponsor licence duties were not met
- False or fraudulent documents were submitted with the application
- The applicant has an unspent criminal conviction for a relevant offence
- The applicant is prohibited from becoming a company director
Where the cooling off period applies, the organisation will not be permitted to make a new sponsor licence application until six months after the first refusal.
The employer may reapply at any time if the Home Office refused the application because it was either submitted by a representative or the employer did not provide documents or information requested by a specific deadline for reasons beyond their control.
The Home Office does not publish figures on how many sponsor licence applications are granted, refused or rejected. However, we are regularly contacted by employers who have not been successful in their first application, seeking expert support to secure a licence.
Common grounds for delayed and unsuccessful applications can include:
- Incomplete submissions and failure to provide all of the relevant supporting documents as prescribed under Appendix A
- Factual errors in the submission
- Failure to meet the core eligibility requirements, such as having trading operations in the UK or failure to pass the genuineness test
- Failure to pay the correct licence application fee
- Failure to pass a Home Office compliance audit
- Failure to engage with the Home Office positively or to respond to any Home Office enquiries in a timely manner
If the application is refused and it can be identified that either the caseworker made an error in processing in the application, or if the submitted supporting documentation was not considered, the employer can apply for a correction under an Error Request Form. The form must be submitted within 14 calendar days from the date of the refusal decision.
Best practice advice for your sponsor licence application
Give your sponsor licence application the best chance of success by:
Apply for the right type of sponsor licence
Following the introduction of a range of new sponsored work visas in the UK, employers must now ensure they have the correct type of sponsor licence for their organisation’s recruitment needs:
- ‘Workers’ – for skilled or long-term employment
- ‘Temporary workers’ – for specific types of temporary employment
Employers are allowed to apply for a sponsor licence covering one or both types of worker. This means being clear on the type of workers and talent you need to hire and the visa categories that these workers will need to apply under.
Check which company should apply for the licence
For organisations with more complex legal structures, you need to ensure the right organisation is making the application. For example, it may not be appropriate for the parent company to make the application. This will require full consideration of the circumstances, including ensuring having UK trading status and the current and future recruitment needs the licence will need to serve.
Appoint appropriate key personnel
The people you appoint as key personnel, and who you list on the Sponsorship Management System, will be subject to checks. They must be deemed suitable to take on these roles. As such, it is advisable to have carried out your own due diligence to confirm your key personnel pass these requirements, to avoid issues being identified by the Home Office.
Train your key personnel
Having identified your key personnel, you must ensure they are trained and able to carry out their duties. Failure to action the duties can result in enforcement action against the organisation. It’s advisable to approach immigration compliance as an everyday concern, and manage your systems and documents in a way that they are inspection-ready at any time.
Check your HR systems and processes
You should be prepared for the Home Office to inspect your HR systems, documents and processes at any time during the validity period of your licence. While inspections typically take place pre-licence or in response to a licence renewal application,
Best practice is to conduct an immigration audit prior to making your licence application to ensure all potential compliance breaches have been addressed before the Home Office considers the application submission, and to ensure readiness in the event of a pre-licence inspection.
If the Home Office makes contact, for example, to request further information, you should be responsive and provide the requested information within any stated timeframes. Failure to engage with the Home Office can be detrimental to your application.
Seek professional advice
With so much at stake, it is advisable to seek representation from experienced advisers experienced in sponsor licence applications and sponsored work visa applications.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists, with substantial experience of sponsor licence applications and helping employers access global talent and meet their recruitment needs. Our legal experts can guide your organisation through licence application process and avoid issues which can result in unwanted delays in UKVI processing. For advice on a sponsor licence application for your organisation, contact us.
Sponsor licence processing FAQs
How long does it take to get a sponsor licence?
Sponsor licence applications can take up to 8 weeks to process. Processing can take longer if there are issues with the information and documentation that has been submitted.
Does my company need a sponsorship licence?
UK employers require a valid sponsor licence to lawfully hire non-UK resident workers under certain points-based work visa routes, such as the Skilled Worker visa.
How do you get a sponsor licence?
Organisations have to apply to the UK Home Office to get a sponsor licence. You have to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements and compliance duties, and pay the relevant fees to make your application.
Last updated: 3 February 2023