The Home Office has launched a priority service for businesses that wish to bring in overseas workers under the sponsor-licence scheme, but there are several unanswered questions about how it will work, says one immigration expert.
For an additional £500, organisations will now be able to obtain a decision on a licence that may entitle them to employ someone from abroad within 10 working days.
Yesterday (11 November), Kevin Foster, minister for future borders and immigration, advised employers wishing to continue to recruit skilled workers from abroad next year and beyond to submit their applications for a sponsor licence as soon as possible.
Foster said there would be no further changes to the new points-based immigration system and recommended that employers took action now to ensure they were able to recruit skilled workers from EEA and non-EEA countries from 1 January 2021.
The Sponsorship Pre-Licence Process has a standard service time of eight weeks to complete the processing of an application to be included on the Sponsor Register. The Home Office said it could now offer an enhanced service with a delivery target of 10 working days.
However, this offer is limited to 10 applications per day and is subject to a fee of £500.
Applicants that are within the first 10 to be received each day will be sent and email confirming payment details and detailing the requirement for provision of required documentation.
Applicants that were not within the first 10 per day will be processed according to normal processing times. The Home Office said it would not write to businesses to tell them they were not included in the allocation for that day.
The Home Office underlined that the fee paid was for the consideration of the request and was not a guarantee that applications would be granted.
It added that it may require further information within the 10-working day timescale; and that if additional information was needed it would still process applications “as quickly as possible”, but without refunding the additional fee.
Chetal Patel, partner Bates Wells, said: “This new enhanced service is a gesture towards faster processing times for those organisations who can afford to pay for it.”
She said it was important to note that the 10-day timeframe was not guaranteed with the service having only a delivery “target” of 10 working days.
Patel pointed out that more information needed to be provided by the Home Office: “My concern is that there are some pieces missing from the jigsaw. As only the first 10 applications each day will be accepted, what is the ‘opening’ time for this service?
“Will organisations who want to use this priority service be expected to get their requests in just after midnight? If organisations aren’t informed by the Home Office that they weren’t successful in the allocation for that day, their application will be processed via the normal processing times. Why isn’t it possible for organisations to have a second bite of the cherry?”
This new enhanced service is a gesture towards faster processing times for those organisations who can afford to pay for it” – Chetal Patel, Bates Wells partner
She added that the standard sponsor licence fee is £1,476 for a large company or £536 for a small company so this additional £500 fee could be a significant additional spend for organisations, particularly those that are smaller as it is nearly the same amount as the mandatory fee.
Patel highlighted that 69.1% of Tier 2 sponsor licence applications were processed in less than four weeks in the second quarter of 2020 compared with 84.1% in the previous quarter, and added: “In practice, I’m seeing a quick turnaround on sponsor licence applications at the moment and this is obviously easier where there are compelling urgent business reasons.
“This new service may provide some comfort to organisations who just want to get their ducks in a row and have their sponsor licence approved promptly, provided of course that they have the budget to pay for it.
“Organisations who want to use this service will have to get their requests in quickly, ideally first thing in the morning as only the first 10 applications each day will be considered.”