UK based employers and employees be aware! The time the immigration authorities are taking to process and finalise visa applications has drastically increased for entry clearance (pre entry authorisation/entry visa) applications in recent weeks.

UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) has been prioritising the processing of UK visa applications from Ukrainians fleeing the invasion, causing delays for all other UK visa applicants.

Applications from outside the UK

Under normal circumstances entry clearance applications under the work and study routes can be expected to be processed by overseas posts within three weeks, or longer for those coming as family members of British Citizens (settlement visas). Ordinarily, priority services would allow for applications to be processed within days, but since mid-March 2022, these have been suspended.

Processing times for all overseas UK visa applications are therefore now expected to exceed three weeks from the appointment date, and applicants applying to enter the UK under the points based system as a worker, for example, can expect a processing timeframe of around six weeks in most cases.

Applicants making family-based applications from overseas should expect an increase from 12 weeks to 24 weeks – meaning an application made now could take until the end of November to be finalised.

Even straightforward visitor applications are now taking six to eight weeks to process, regardless of the urgency.

Applications from inside the UK

Although in-country application processing is not as severely affected as for entry clearance, there are still certain points to be aware of.

Some applications are more affected than others. Applications made from inside the UK using the 10-year partner route and those applying to come to the UK as a parent of a child in the UK now have average processing times of around 11 months.

Other application processing times for in-country applications are relatively unaffected, and priority services remain in place. This could however change if the overall demand for Ukraine Scheme visas remains high and UKVI does not succeed in reducing existing backlogs.

Many sponsorship licence holders – sponsors of Skilled Worker and Global Business Mobility visas – are currently receiving a notification on their Sponsor Management System that the UKVI is experiencing an unusually high volume of applications which they are working through in date order with a view to making decisions as early as possible.

Because of these volumes, decisions are likely to take longer than normally expected – but UKVI is requesting that applicants do not chase up applications unless there are exceptional circumstances such as death or illness that require urgent consideration.

Considerations for employers – what can/should you do?

In light of the above, we advise all clients and foreign nationals not to make any irreversible plans, such as booking flight tickets or accommodation.

Employers should note that some applicants might not be able to start employment on the planned date due to these visa delays, and applications should be submitted as soon as practicable, as there is no sign of the a reduction in the backlog.

In particular, they should consider:

  • Commencing the entry clearance process as early as possible ahead of an employee’s intended start date;
  • Communicating to internal teams that target start dates may be affected by visa processing delays;
  • Commencing the visitor visa application process as early as possible ahead of a planned business visit from a visa national client or overseas employee (a long-term visitor visa may be an option for some applicants);
  • Looking at the feasibility of initially sponsoring a person under a work route where the person is eligible to apply under a family route

Ignore correspondence from UKVI at your peril!

We have also noticed that UKVI is also contacting sponsorship licence holders to ascertain whether those named on the licence (Authorising Officer, and Level 1 user) are familiar with their obligations – such emails confirm that the authorising personnel have not logged into the sponsorship management system for some time.

This is a reminder that those with a sponsorship licence must understand and be aware of their duties as licensed sponsors – the email confirms that it is a requirement that all those named on the licence are aware of these compliance obligations and should regularly review the licence to make any reports and ensure the accuracy of the information held by UKVI.

Upon receipt of an email from UKVI with queries on the sponsorship licence, the Authorising Officer and Level 1 user should log into the organisation’s Sponsorship Management System to review the Licence Summary page and confirm that details on the licence are up to date.

The recipient of the email from UKVI should then respond confirming that this has been done and the request complied with.

Ignoring emails like this could result in UKVI taking the decision to audit a sponsor organisation – this could mean an (announced or unannounced) visit from UKVI to check that the required systems and procedures to operate and maintain the licence are in place and the requirements being adhered to.