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Visa routes after offshore wind worker concession ends

Visa routes after offshore wind worker concession ends

 

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:

  • Skilled Worker Route – this depends on a UK based business being able to obtain a sponsor licence under this route. This usually requires the business to have a branch or subsidiary in the UK.  For some UK businesses this is not an issue but for others supplying workers from outside the UK who do not have a presence there, it may not be possible to meet the requirements of this route. The skilled worker route covers a broad range of jobs – but not low skilled jobs.  This route is also subject to a minimum salary and English language requirement. For those who cannot satisfy this, alternative options may need to be explored.
  • Global Business Mobility Routes – there are numerous options under this route which may be relevant.  For example, there is a visa available for certain eligible contractual service suppliers and senior and specialist workers from overseas group companies.  Again, a sponsor licence is required and only certain highly skilled roles are eligible (not medium skilled or low skilled). A key benefit to this visa route is that there is no English language requirement.
  • Frontier Worker Permits – this route only applies to those EEA or Swiss nationals who were engaged in employment or self-employment in the UK before the Brexit transition period ended.  In addition, those individuals must normally have continued to come to the UK for work or self-employment on a regular basis (usually at least once a year) since (subject to certain exceptions). This permit is free.  There is no English language requirement.  So it can be a flexible form of permission to work (usually for five years initially) for those who qualify.  

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.

Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE

Published: 11-11-2022

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