The Home Office has issued new guidance for UK employers on obtaining a sponsor licence to hire overseas workers. The number of applications for a sponsor licence submitted to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department of the Home Office has surged in 2021, especially since the end of the Brexit ‘grace period’ in June.
The new guidance announces the improvement of a ‘pre-licence priority service’, which allows UK visa sponsors to request priority processing for a sponsor licence by submitting an email. However, the priority service is ‘not a guarantee that a sponsor licence application will be approved’, according to the gov.uk website.
The priority service, launched in late 2020, costs £500 and promises to give a decision on a sponsor licence application within 10 days. However, those attempting to use the service have described it as ‘notoriously difficult to access’. Meanwhile, information on how requests should be made and how they are adjudicated has proven to be scarce.
Many previous applicants have claimed that the system is ‘a lottery’. Would-be sponsors have reportedly been submitting multiple requests at midnight in a bid to be top of the list for one of the ‘first-come, first-served’ places.
The new guidance gives more detail on the process of applying for a sponsorship licence when using the priority service, while also outlining some important procedural steps. The guidance offers some practical tips for employers to maximise their chances of securing one of the 10 priority service places made available each day.
According to the Home Office guidance, employers should submit a valid licence application, meaning that the online licence application form must be fully completed and all supporting documentation must be provided.
Once a valid application has been submitted an email will be sent by UKVI inviting an employer to apply for the priority service. Employers must complete the form, in full, and attach it to an email that has to be sent to a specific, priority service email address - PreLicencePriorityService@homeoffice.gov.uk
As part of a priority request submission, employers must attach to the email an original, signed submission sheet and all supporting documents to support a sponsor licence application.
Requests for the priority service can now only be made between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, according to the new guidance. This excludes public holidays. This is to deter employers from submitting multiple applications ‘out of hours’. Applications submitted outside 9am – 5pm will not be considered, the guidance warns.
If a request for the priority service is successful, employers will have 72 hours, including weekends, to pay the £500 fee. If the deadline is missed, the eligibility of an application will lapse and a new request will need to be made.
The ‘10 working days’ consideration period begins on the following working day from when the £500 fee is paid. However, it’s possible that a request may not be approved within 10 working days if it’s complex or additional checks are required.
The Home Office could request further information within the 10 working day timescale; if they do not receive this information in due course, they may reject the request and no refund will be issued.
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