Need a licence to sponsor migrant workers, fast? Here is what we’ve learned from the latest Home Office guidance on the priority licence application service.
The number of UK-based employers applying to UKVI for a licence to sponsor workers has increased significantly in 2021, and particularly since the Brexit “grace period” ended in June.
Obtaining a sponsor licence takes time, and this is proving to be a luxury that some employers can ill afford as they desperately seek to fill vacant positions. A significant part of the timescale relates to UKVI’s processing of the licence application itself. This can (and, at present, regularly does) take anything up to two months and could include a visit to your premises by UKVI.
In late 2020 UKVI introduced a priority service through which employers could request an outcome to their application within 10 working days, in return for a £500 fee. However, actually obtaining the service has proved notoriously difficult and uncertain, with very little guidance being provided on how requests should be made or will be considered. The result has been something of a lottery, with would-be sponsors submitting multiple requests at midnight, in the hope of succeeding in obtaining one of the ‘first-come, first-served’ places.
Now we have new guidance from the Home Office, providing some greater detail on the process and some important new procedural steps. Here’s what the guidance tells us in terms of maximising your chances of becoming one of the lucky few to obtain one of the 10 places available each day.
Submit a valid licence application first
This is a simple but critical point. It’s clear that in order to have any prospect of gaining access to the priority service, you must have submitted your online licence application form and
your supporting documents (including the signed submission sheet produced by the online application portal). Often employers are under the impression that they have successfully submitted their application, but in fact it is “incomplete” because the submission sheet and supporting documents have not yet been sent to UKVI.
The supporting documents must comply with the requirements of Appendix A to the Sponsor Guidance.
Submit a fully-completed priority application form
Once your application has been validly submitted, you should receive an email from UKVI inviting you to request the priority service if you wish. A request form is provided, which must be completed in full and then attached to an email to a specific, priority service, address.
The implication from the guidance is that you will need to do this promptly, as you will not be eligible for the priority service if your underlying application has already been passed to a caseworker for consideration. Regrettably, there is no way of tracking or determining whether this has happened at a given point in time, which leaves employers potentially making multiple requests for the priority service (see “timing” below) in the hope that they remain eligible.
Attach the submission sheet and supporting documents, again
When submitting the priority request, you must include with your email the original/signed submission sheet and supporting documents that you sent with your underlying application. It is frustrating that this has to be done, and that UKVI is not using the application reference number to locate the documents you have already submitted, especially when employers will often being making multiple requests in the hope that one is eventually successful.
With only 10 places available each day, and given on a seemingly ‘first come, first served’ basis, timing is critical.
The new guidance confirms that requests must now be made within the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays). There is no longer any point submitting a request outside of these hours, according to the guidance, as it will not be considered. This is a significant change from the previous position, in which it soon became clear that to have any prospect of success you needed to submit your request so that your email arrived with UKVI on the stroke of midnight (the start of a new day). At least 9am is a more sociable hour!
You will only know that your request has been a success if you receive an email from UKVI confirming this. The guidance states that if you have not heard from UKVI you should assume you have been unsuccessful in your request. Given that there is no stated time period in which the confirmation email will be sent, this again leaves employers in the dark as to whether they will be successful or not.
There is no right or wrong approach to this issue, but most employers are submitting repeat requests on a daily, or alternate days, basis; in the hope of receiving notification of success. After a time though, many will unfortunately be doing so in vain because their application has already been passed to a case worker (see ‘Submit a fully-completed priority application form’ above).
Securing your place
If you happen to be one of the lucky few to succeed in your request, you will have only 72 hours (actual hours, not working hours, as well) in which to pay the associated fee. If you miss that deadline, your eligibility will lapse and you will have to make a new request. Unfortunately, it seems likely many employers will fall foul of this requirement, for example where the success email is received early on a Friday, but is not picked up in time for payment to be made by early on Monday morning. The risk is made higher still because the ability to make payment depends upon you receiving a second email from UKVI with a Worldpay link, and this email has a habit of ending up in spam/junk folders.
Are you ready to respond?
UKVI make clear that acceptance on to the priority service is no guarantee of a successful outcome to your application.
It’s also possible that you will receive a request for clarification or further information from UKVI during the short 10 working day period, and the speed and outcome of your application will be affected if it is not responded to in the manner/timescale required. It’s therefore all the more important that your proposed Authorising Officer is available and checking emails during the period, so that any such request can be considred and responded to promptly.
Getting it right
We have been assisting employers to successfully obtain a licence to sponsor migrant workers since 2008, and are now busy helping many employers to become sponsors for the first time. We can help you to navigate the sponsoring licensing application process successfully, including with regard to the priority service process and with responding promptly and effectively to any associated requests from UKVI for further information. To discuss our range of support services for obtaining your licence and beyond, please contact a member of the Business Immigration team.
The full guidance can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pre-licence-priority-service-guidance/pre-licence-priority-service-guidance#contact