New UKBA backlog causing economic damage - employers held to ransom

25 September 2012

British businesses wanting to sponsor key individuals to come to the UK to help grow or develop their businesses are being thwarted by the excessive length of time it takes the UKBA to process Tier 2 sponsor registration applications at present. Businesses with the potential to lead the UK's economic recovery are facing major delays with their sponsor licence applications, meaning they cannot bring in the people they need when they need them. Plans for expansion in the UK market are having to be put on hold while the administrative process of obtaining a sponsor licence runs its ever lengthier course.

It has come to light recently that the UKBA are currently working on sponsor licence applications submitted in March 2012 - six months ago. This means many UK businesses intending to sponsor someone from outside the EEA in the past six months have had their plans for growth frustrated while waiting for the UKBA to take action on their sponsor licence applications. While some sponsor licence applications have been approved within short time frames where business needs have been taken into account by the UKBA or where an existing employee's visa is about to expire, the treatment of sponsor licence applications by the UKBA has been inconsistent at best.

In the run up to the Olympics we could excuse the UKBA's delayed response to sponsor licence applications on the basis that many of their staff members had been drafted in to assist with processing queues of visitors at the UK's airports, but now the party's over and it's time to get back to work. Unfortunately, the indications are that rather than seeing an increase in sponsor registration processing times post-London 2012, these are likely to be even longer than we have experienced so far this year.

The Kingsley Napley LLP immigration team represents businesses from all sectors of the UK economy and it is our observation that the UKBA's delays are currently holding back growth. While the government wants to control non-EEA immigration to the UK in an attempt to meet the Conservative party's pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, it surely would not be politically acceptable to do so at the expense of the national economic recovery. At a time when the country's coffers are so battered, the government should do all they can to enable UK businesses to prosper, not hold them back with administrative delays cause at least in part by staff shortages.

Of course, the UKBA would say that sponsors who are really serious about expanding in the UK have the option of applying to become a Premium Sponsor, which would ensure their sponsor registration application would be dealt with quickly. But the fees for doing so are not to be sniffed at: £25,000 for large companies and £8,000 for small ones  and they are not refunded if the application is unsuccessful. In this economic climate a £25,000 risk is too large for many HR directors to convince their companies to take. In particular, start-ups in the tech sector, which the government is keen to promote, could not contemplate incurring such costs when the economic outlook is so uncertain.

Tier 2 (General) is the part of the UK's points-based immigration system that is used by businesses with a base in the UK to recruit new hires who are non-EEA nationals. Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) is the route used by multinationals to transfer existing employees to the UK. In our experience, a company that is growing rapidly in the UK would likely need to make use of both of these tiers in order to ensure it has the best talent from the global labour market in the UK to lead the business. To use either route, companies must be registered with the UKBA as  Tier 2 sponsor. Of course, many businesses are able to recruit their leaders and key members of their staff from within the domestic market,  but it remains a fact that not all positions can be filled adequately from within the UK or Europe. The lack of a key individual at a time when a company is trying to expand can cause serious set-backs to growth plans and lead to businesses losing opportunities that they would otherwise be able to take full advantage of.

If the government is serious in wanting to encourage businesses to expand in the UK and in attracting new businesses to the UK, it needs to get its house in order and start staffing the UKBA sponsor licence unit properly.

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On June 3rd 2013 Ilda de Sousa commented:

Dear Vinubha,

Thank you for your comment. In order to submit your application, you will need to include Sponsorship Licence and Certificate of Sponsorship numbers on the form. The former number relates to your sponsor’s permission to support applicants and the latter number relates to your individual sponsorship. It is possible to request for the sponsorship license application to be expedited.

Unfortunately, given the need to understand the full facts of individual circumstances before we can provide specific advice, I regret that we are unable to respond in any more detail to your comment via this blog. Should you wish to receive specific advice in relation to your UK immigration matters, please do contact our immigration team by completing our short online enquiry form, which can be found at the bottom of this web page.

Kind regards,
Ilda de Sousa

On May 13th 2013 Vinubha commented:

My visa is expiring on the 13th of June and my company applied for a sponsorship license in the 2nd week of April. We haven't heard anything from UKBA yet. If we don't hear anything from them, we are planning to request for 'Urgent Treatment' by the end of this month. I was wondering if I can submit my application when the license is still being processed?

On April 15th 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Harry,

Thank you for your comment.

You could certainly try submitting your Tier 2 application before your company’s licence application is approved, but you would have to do so by post rather than using the premium one-day service.

The best course of action would be to also put as much pressure as possible on the Sponsor Licence Unit of the UKBA to expedite processing of the licence application, citing urgent business needs.

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On April 15th 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Ashu,

Thank you for your comment.

What you do while you are outside the UK would normally not be within the remit of the UK authorities. They might be interested to know that you have never worked illegally in any other country, but as long as you have permission to work in your home country and that work is properly declared, that should not be an issue.

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On April 15th 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Shruti,

Thank you for your comment.

The UKBA has taken normally between one month and six months to process sponsor licence applications over the course of the last year, sometimes longer. I would always recommend that a sponsor licence application is submitted as soon as possible in case the UKBA take a long time to process it as processing times are hard to predict.

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On April 15th 2013 Emma King commented:

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for reading our blog post.

In our experience, Sponsor Licence applications are now taking around 15 – 20 working days to be considered, so there is a good chance it will be decided before your visa expires. Once the Sponsor Licence is approved, the employer will usually be allocated the quota of Certificates of Sponsorship that they requested in their Sponsor Licence application. Certificates of Sponsorship are prepared online, and once the necessary personal details have been inputted, the Certificate of Sponsorship can be assigned instantly. Once assigned, the Certificate of Sponsorship will have a unique reference number, required for your Tier 2 application.

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards
Emma King

On April 14th 2013 Harry commented:

Hi My company has already applied for alicense but not received yet. Now i only have 5 working days to apply as my psw expires. They advised that i apply without a license before my stay ends with a covering letter stating the problem and application ref number from company. Is is a right way to do?.

On April 12th 2013 ashu commented:

I am working with a Co. But since my visa expires I will have to go back to my home country. However my employers want to sponsor my visa. So, I will be applying under Tier 2 general from my home country. During this duration when I will be in my home country , I want to continue working for my company and continue getting paid. Will this be considered illegal.

On April 10th 2013 Shruti commented:

Is there any page on the UKBA website where they mention their progress on which sponsorship license applications they are processing at the moment (applied during such and such month), like they have progress pages for other visas such as the PSW (or they used to)? I can't seem to find it if it exists!

My PSW visa expires in December and I want to know when I should ask my employers to apply for the license.

Thanks in advance!

On April 8th 2013 Patricia Jacob commented:

Hi Helen,
My visa is expiring on 12th May. I am currently on PSW. I have a job offer with another employer and they have applied for the sponsor license 2 weeks ago. The recent status has been that they have taken the amount for the license from the account. How long does it take once the amount has been taken from the account? I am very anxious as my visa will expire soon. Also, please advise how long it takes for the COS to be issued?
thank you for your time

On December 14th 2012 Helen Smith commented:

Hi Sayli,

Thanks for your comment.

Your situation is just the type of scenario that the UKBA say they prioritise. I suggest you get in touch with them at least once a day to ask for an update.

I would be happy to assist with this if you would like me to. Please email me for details.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On December 13th 2012 Sayli commented:


I am in exactly same situation as above all. My company already had sponsorship licence but didn't had Tier 2 general category in it.

They applied to add Tier 2 General on 21 Nov 2012 and have not heard back till date. While my visa is expiring on 31 Dec 2012, and I have only 7 working days left (considering Christmas break).

Workwise I am in midst of a very critical and big project- so it is major cost to the company as well.

What should I be doing in this scenario?


On November 22nd 2012 Helen Smith commented:

In response to Pushkar:

Thanks for your comments. In my experience it does not normally take the UKBA as long to add another tier to an existing licence as to process an entirely new licence application. However, the UKBA is nothing if not inconsistent, so there is unfortunately no way of knowing for sure how long they will take to process your company's application.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for further details.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On November 22nd 2012 Helen Smith commented:

In response to Parinita's comment:

You will need to provide either original documents or copy documents that have been certified by a solicitor. Sponsor licences are taking up to about six months to be processed at present in the normal course of events. Where a company has someone they want to sposnor and whose visa is expiring soon the UKBA will prioitise these applications once the person's visa expiry date is close.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like assistance with this.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On November 20th 2012 Pushkar commented:

Hi there,
I am in a same situation as evryone else, my company applied has already has sponsorship license for ICT and now they have applied to add tier 2 general to their license in mid sep.
UKBA keep saying there isnt any urgent treatment for an application until and unless your visa close to its expiry.
My question is does it take same time for process new license and adding tier to the license please add you comment, your comments are highly appreciated.

On November 19th 2012 Parinita Kothari commented:

Hi My company has filled the online application for Tier 2 Licence but they are yet to send the document. We haven't consulted any solicitor and doing everything on our own so need some more clarifications.

We need to submit a minimum of 4 documents and do they need to be original and signed by any solicitor?

How much time does it takes to get the licence, my visa is expiring in end of Jan is there any hope of getting my visa before that?


On October 23rd 2012 Helen Smith commented:

Thank you for your comment.

The UKBA are very particular about who can certify copy documents submitted with sponsor licence applications and how they must be certified. It is possible to check the roll of solicitors online via the Law Society's website though, so it seems strange that they would not be able to verify that your lawyer is qualified to certify copies.

Please do contact me if you would like to discuss this.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On October 19th 2012 Dan commented:

My company applied in April and they came back saying they can't confirm the Solicitor who attested the Papers...Now our lawyer has decided to Sue them.

On October 18th 2012 Helen Smith commented:

Thank you very much for your comment.

I am afraid your experience is not unusual - we are hearing this week that the UKBA are still considering sponsor licence applications submited at the end of March or beginning of April 2012.

You do fit within the very limited categories of people who can request expedited treatment of their applications, as your visa is expiring, so there is hope. You will probably find that the UKBA will only deal with your application when you are much closer to your visa expiry date. You should contact them to ask for urgent treatment for your case and send a copy of your visa.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for further details.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On October 16th 2012 Dileepa commented:

My Company has applied for the sponsorship license in August 2012. But still we haven't heard anything back from UKBA. My visa is expiring on end of December and is there anything we can do about this.

Many Thanks

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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