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.