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Sponsor Licence: How Long Does it Take?

When applying to the Home Office for a sponsor licence, it is helpful for employers to understand how long the sponsor application takes to process. This can assist with planning recruitment and onboarding activity. The longer the processing time, the more likely there will be issues if a candidate has already been identified as they may decide not to proceed with the role and to ‘go elsewhere’.


Sponsor Licence: How Long Does it Take?

Currently, the Home Office is advising an 8-week processing time, but on average, we advise employers to work on the basis that their sponsor licence application will be processed in approximately 2 – 3 months.

Employers should note that the current pandemic challenges are affecting Home Office operations, and this is likely to be compounded by the expected surge in applications as employers prepare for the new rulesfrom 1 January 2021, employers will need to hold a valid sponsor licence to hire non-UK resident workers, including EU citizens coming to the UK from 2021. Employers who do not have a sponsor licence will be unable to hire migrant workers or extend work permits for current employees.

In addition to the COVID-19 issues, other factors impacting processing include:

  • The complexity of the organisation’s structure and size, given there will necessarily be more documentation and information to be assessed.
  • The quality of the application submission and how well it follows the specified application requirements in relation to supporting documentation
  • Whether the Home Office decided to visit the premises to conduct a compliance inspection.


Sponsor licence application priority service

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 will 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.

Since launching at the end of 2020, the priority service has become heavily over subscribed, and it is difficult to obtain a slot. If you are considering use of the priority service, we are happy to advise on the practicalities and what this means for your licence application.


Pre-licence compliance visits 

A cause of significant delay in application processing is where the Home Office exercises its authority to carry out a pre-licence compliance inspection at your premises.

Site visits will 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. After the visit, immigration officials will then produce a report in summary of the findings from the inspection. 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.

To minimise the risk of issues coming out of the inspection, and of any further resulting delays in processing, it is advisable to prepare for the visit. Best practice is to conduct an immigration audit prior to making the licence application to ensure all potential compliance breaches have been addressed before the Home Office analyses the application submission, and to ensure readiness in the event of an unannounced inspection.

Where systems and documents have not been subject to a mock audit, should the Home Office give notice of an inspection, an audit should be carried out promptly, to allow time for issues to be rectified before the date of the inspection.


Sponsor licence application stages

To apply for a licence companies must prove that:

  • They are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK
  • Their key personnel named on the application are honest, dependable and reliable
  • They are aware of and capable of carrying out their sponsor duties ie they have appropriate human resources and recruitment systems and practices in place
  • They are offering genuine employment that meets the relevant skill level and appropriate rate of pay


Companies must complete an online application and provide supporting documentation to meet the necessary evidentiary requirements. This must be supplied within five days of the initial application.

Failure to submit all required documents will result in an application being delayed or rejected and further costs being incurred.

Following the receipt of these documents, the company may then be subject to a compliance visit from UK Visas and Immigration, who will assess whether or not to grant the licence.

Companies will also be required to comply with the illegal working requirements which states that all non-EU employees are required to provide documentation that proves their right to work BEFORE being employed by a UK company and copies of this information must also be retained by the employer.


Avoiding processing delays or refused sponsor licence application

Issues with the application can result in delayed processing, or worse, a refusal; 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 to for a correction under an Error Request Form. The form must be submitted within 14 calendar days from the date of the refusal decision.

Employers can ordinarily expect a response to the error form in 28 days, although COVID-19 restrictions may impact response times.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists, with substantial experience of working with employers to access the global talent market in order to meet their recruitment needs. Our legal experts can guide your organisation through the documentary and evidentiary requirements that employers must meet, to help avoid delays or issues that may cause candidates to pass on the opportunity and go ‘elsewhere’. 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 between 2-3 months to process, depending on Home Office caseload, COVID-19 restrictions on operations and on the quality of the application submission.

Does my company need a sponsorship licence?

UK employers must, from 1 January 2021, have a valid sponsor licence in place to be able to lawfully hire non-UK resident workers from the EU and non-EEA countries.

How do you get a sponsor licence?

To make an application, the organisation must meet the eligibility requirements and compliance duties, and pay the relevant fees.

Last updated: 12 November 2020

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