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Updated: Aug 4, 2022

There is some light at the end of the tunnel...

The hard-pressed Pre-Licence Priority Service purports to cut the UKVI's standard sponsor licence application processing times from 8 weeks down to 10 working days.

An accumulation of factors, notably the Pandemic, Brexit and the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine had made it a near impossibility to obtain a slot on these priority services which were limited to 10 per day, nationwide. Many a bleary-eyed Cinderella immigration lawyer stayed up late to press “Send” as the clock struck midnight to fight for one of these precious slots for their clients, in the past. We will henceforth have access to 30 slots per day from 9am. There is hope...

Essentially, since Brexit, there has been an exponential increase in the demand for sponsor licences as these are needed to recruit migrant workers from abroad. As the nationals of 27 new countries now require visas to come to the UK to work and yet more categories have been brought within the “sponsorship regime” by the introduction of the Global Business Mobility route in April 2022, the pressure on the priority services will have multiplied manifold. However, it has taken much time for the Home Office to respond to this increase in demand.

We have shared the frustrations of other immigration lawyers as we watched the Home Office divert valuable experienced and trained staff and other resources away from the business immigration teams to deal with the Ukraine schemes and the Rwanda arrangement.

To avoid any misunderstandings: those schemes made life a misery for unfortunate and distressed Ukrainians fleeing the bombings by adding red-tape to their flight to safety and inflicted serious harm on those desperately risking their lives to cross the Channel in small dinghies. If obstacles such as the Ukraine visa schemes were really necessary, it may have been sensible, when also trying to recover from the reverberations of the Pandemic, to hire new staff and to provide intensive training to deal with such visas which are "relatively" simpler to process than divert resources away from the sponsorship licensing regime, which requires a great deal more knowledge, skill and experience.

Of course, we recognise there are far more complexities than meet the eye for those managing staff and other resources at UKVI…

Nevertheless, priorities for the UK economy need to be balanced against an inappropriate “visa” regime for those fleeing war-torn Ukraine and deploying gun boats to push back Afghans, Syrians, Iranians, south-Sudanese etc risking their lives on small boats. Most other European nations welcomed Ukraine refugees without imposing visa requirements.

In short the funds diverted to setting up the controversial and abhorrent Rwanda scheme might have been better used in supporting the business immigration teams at UKVI as a part of the measures to enable the country to get back on its feet again following the triple whammy of Pandemic, Ukraine and, Brexit…

So, what does having 30 slots mean for employers desperate to recruit skilled staff from overseas with crippling staff shortages? It may mean that there is a fighting chance of getting your sponsor licence application looked at within 10 days if you pay the additional fee of £500 for swifter processing.

The priority, however, really ought to be to channel far more resources to the Sponsor Licence teams at the Home Office to meet demand and to avoid having to need a Pre-Licence Priority Service at all. The bottle necks, delays and backlogs in business immigration and EUSS may be avoidable, if the pre-occupation with Rwanda deals and the harrowing Ukraine visa schemes are eased.

30 slots for the pre-licence priority service is still not good enough…

Author: Nilmini Roelens

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