UK sponsorship licence delays compound labour shortages

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According to an analysis of the UK government’s quarterly statistics, delays in processing UK sponsor licence applications and work visas are compounding Britain’s current labour shortages. The quarterly statistics, published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), show that the waiting times for immigration sponsorship have increased sharply since the start of 2021.


The latest data has led some commentators to conclude that the UK’s new, points-based immigration system is struggling to cope. According to a report published by Byline Times, the UKVI’s statistics show that from 2018 to the start of 2021, on average, 78.5% of sponsor licence applications (previously called Tier 2 sponsor licence) were processed within four weeks.

However, in the first half of 2021, this had slumped to an average of 24.6%. Meanwhile, processing times for Temporary Work visa sponsor licence applications (previously called Tier 5 visa) within the first four weeks dropped to 23.6% in the first half of 2021, having been as high as 79.7% from 2018 and the start of this year.


Average processing times increased

A deep dive into the UKVI’s quarterly statistics found that at the end of the second quarter in 2021, the average time to process a UK skilled worker visa was 48.35 days. This represents a significant increase compared to the average 28-day processing time in the second quarter of 2020.

It’s understood that 2,202 applications in the UKVI system have taken longer to process than the average amount of time, this is compared to just 374 visa applications in the final quarter of 2020.

The increase in the average time it takes to process a UK sponsor licence or visa application has largely been attributed to the new, points-based immigration system launched on 1 January 2021. 

The new-look system allows entry for foreign nationals who have a job offer in a skilled sector that meets certain salary thresholds, plus it permits entry for students and some temporary workers in specific industry sectors.

The new rules mainly affect EU nationals who, following Britain’s exit from the bloc, now require a visa that is sponsored by UK company with a valid sponsorship licence. Previously, EU nationals could move freely to live, work and study in the UK.


Gumming up UKVI

The CEO of Best for Britain, Naomi Smith, told the Byline Times: “After heaping mountains of red tape onto businesses, it’s quite ironic that new post-Brexit barriers now seem to be gumming up a government department.”

“Whether incompetence or an intentional part of their anti-immigration agenda, these Home Office delays will do little to address the labour shortages in almost every part of our supply chain, which continues to cause empty shelves up and down the country,” she added.

Amid tighter UK immigration rules, there has been a surge in the number of sponsorship applications, which were previously only required for non-EU migrants. 

According to the data, an average of 1,346 applications were made in each quarter from the beginning of 2018 to the third quarter of 2020 – rising to 2,607 in the final quarter of 2020, 3,566 in the first quarter of the new year and 3,794 in the second.


Surge predicted

However, the surge was widely predicted given that EU nationals would now need a visa to enter the UK. But some commentators have suggested that despite the expected surge, many Home Office staff were ‘diverted away from sponsorship applications in order to handle EU settlement scheme applications’ made by EEA nationals.

With sponsor licence and visa processing times increasing, there are fears that current worker shortages will be further exacerbated. Fuel and food shortages have already prompted the government to make 4,700 temporary UK visas available to HGV drivers, 5,500 visas for poultry workers, and 800 for pork butchers.

The government also urged 300 EU fuel tanker drivers without a visa to enter the country, but just nine people applied. can help with Sponsor Licences

If you need help with employing Skilled Workers and help to apply for a Sponsor Licence, including complying with your Sponsor Licence obligations, can help.

For more information and advice on Sponsor licences, please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at sends e-mail)