A Scottish Government paper published in October 2022 noted that offshore wind accounts for about 70% of our renewable energy capacity and that offshore wind is set to become the largest part of the Scottish Renewables sector in the years ahead. Businesses in the wind industry will need workers with the right skills in order to expand and, where there are skills shortages within the UK labour market, employers will no doubt seek to recruit migrant workers in order to fill any gaps.
So what options are there for migrant workers to work in the UK in offshore wind?
In 2017, the Home Office introduced a concession to the Immigration Rules. This permitted the employment of overseas nationals who were joining vessels involved in the construction and maintenance of offshore wind farm projects in UK territorial waters. Importantly they did not have to obtain sponsorship to work in the UK under the skilled worker route or any of the other visa routes typically used to secure permission to work for migrant workers. Limited paperwork was needed although in some cases depending on the nationality of the individual concerned, they needed to obtain a 'transit visa' in advance of travel to the UK. This was a much more straight forward process than other types of work visa. No sponsor licence was required. No English language requirement had to be satisfied and there were no minimum skills or salary requirements under the terms of the concession.
Although it had been extended several times, the Home Office had always said the concession was temporary, and earlier this year it was announced that it would finally end on 31 October 2022.. This means many businesses who operate in offshore wind now have to consider alternative visa routes to bring in overseas nationals to work.
From 1st November 2022 all non-British and non-Irish nationals coming to work in the UK will need a work visa or other permission to work in the UK.
What visa options are there from 1st November 2022?
For those employers within the industry who have used the concession, it is important to ensure that any workers have the appropriate visa in place to continue doing the work in question. There are various options that may be open to individuals to work in the UK. Options include:
For those who cannot easily obtain permission to work, the UK business visit rules might provide some solutions for shorter term visits to undertake limited business activities. Some individuals may need to obtain a visitor visa in advance and advice should be sought before relying on such a route given the more limited activities which are permitted.
There are some possible solutions to those employers looking to recruit international talent in offshore wind to replace the concession from 1st November 2022. However, advice should always be sought on your specific circumstances as the devil is in the detail - and planning in advance is critical.
The risk of losing the individual to another business once the contractor market opens up again in April 2023 will need to be balanced against the potential criminal offences around failing to prevent facilitation of tax evasion, and also individuals using a period of employment to later argue that they have continued to enjoy the rights and protections afforded to workers or employees.
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