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UKVI Updates the Sponsorship Pre-Licence Priority Service

With the UK’s departure from the EU at the start of 2021, we expected to see a robust rise in applications by UK businesses for sponsorship licences. It now appears that in recent months this has become a reality, with many sources reporting a sharp rise in applications. The effects of the ending of free movement, the passing of the EU Settlement Scheme deadline, a widespread labour shortage, the removal of the resident labour market test, and the lowering of the salary and skills threshold for Skilled Worker visas seem to have combined to drive sponsorship applications to new highs. In turn, this has driven interest in using the recently refreshed pre-licence priority service, allowing businesses in the UK to secure the ability to hire overseas workers sooner. In this article, we will take a look at the purpose of the sponsorship pre-licence priority service and the recent changes made to the service by UK Visas and Immigration.

What is the pre-licence priority service for employers?

The pre-licence priority service simply allows businesses applying for a sponsor licence to have their application prioritised faster by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) for an additional fee. Whereas under the standard application process, a decision is made by UKVI within eight to ten weeks, under the priority service, a decision is made within ten working days.

Can I use the pre-licence priority service for employers?

UKVI advises that to use the priority service, applicants must:

  • Submit an application for a sponsor licence by completing the UKVI ‘Online sponsor application registration’. Once you have registered, you will be able to log into the UKVI ‘Sponsor Application log in’ page. You must then complete the online application form and submit specified documents to prove you are eligible and suitable.
  • The request must not be in progress/or allocated to a caseworker
  • You must submit a fully completed application to the pre-licence priority service

As such, it is only possible to use the accelerated service if the application is made online and has not already been submitted and in the hands of a caseworker for consideration.

It is also important to note that you will not know if you can definitely use the pre-licence priority application service until you have applied for your sponsorship licence online (as explained below)

How can I apply for a sponsor licence using the priority service?

The first step in the process is to apply for your sponsorship licence using the online application form. Once this is submitted, if accepted by UKVI, they will email you advising you whether you can use the priority service. If you do, you will need to email and attach your completed ‘priority service – email request form’. Details of where you can find this form and any other attachments required will be included in your email.

There is a limit to how many priority applications can be considered each day (currently ten each day). If your request to use the priority service is approved, you will then receive an email from the UKVI’s priority service confirming this and the next steps in the process. You will also receive an email requesting payment for the service (this must be paid within 72 hours – if not, the application will be processed using the standard process). Refusals are typically issued if the daily cap has been reached, a priority request is sent outside the service's operating times (do not send priority service applications outside the hours of 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays). UKVI also advise, “If you do not receive a response, please assume that your request has not been successful”.

What are the recent changes to the pre-licence priority service for employers?

The updated guidance is intended to address criticism of the pre-licence priority service, which has led to some applicants making multiple requests for a license immediately after midnight, hence making a mockery of the ten applications per day limit. The new advice includes:

  • Greater clarity on the step-by-step process of using the priority service (i.e., the emails the applicant will receive and what needs to be done in response).
  • The importance of not applying outside the set working hours
  • An explanation of why applications may be refused
  • The attachments which must accompany the request email in order for it to be considered – this confirms that an electronically signed submission sheet must be attached in addition to all relevant documentation for the application
  • How long applicants have to pay the priority application fee, and what happens if it is not paid in time

The guidance also provides greater detail on the ten working day processing time for the priority service. This explains:

  • The ten working days' consideration period commences on a working day after the £500, priority fee is paid.
  • Complex cases may take longer than ten working days.
  • UKVI may request further information within the ten-working day timescale
  • Where the information requested is not received promptly by UKVI, the priority request may be rejected and no refund issued. UKVI recommend, “For this reason, please ensure the Authorising Officer checks their email, including junk mail, regularly”.
  • If your consideration is delayed for other reasons outside of normal case working processes (for example, a technical error), you may be eligible for a refund.
  • The priority service does not guarantee your request will be approved.

Final words

It is easy to see why the ten application limit per day had led to abuse and unfair use of the system in a bid to get to the front of the queue. It is too early to know if the updated guidance for pre-licence priority service applications will address any of the concerns of those who have used the service. The real issue is more likely the fact that only ten priority applications can be accepted each day.

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