Inflexible Visa Rules Pose Challenges for UK Offshore Wind Industry
Posted 11/10/2023 13:29
Strict immigration requirements have raised concerns in the UK's offshore wind sector, hindering recruitment and potentially impacting major projects. Maria Gravelle, an immigration lawyer at Pinsent Masons, highlighted the challenges introduced by the removal of the Offshore Wind Worker Concession (OWWC). The OWWC had allowed foreign nationals to work on offshore wind farms within UK territorial waters. With offshore crews primarily composed of non-UK/Irish workers, the end of the concession in April has made hiring suitable staff more complex.
Now, the Home Office requires visas for any non-UK/Irish workers operating within 12 nautical miles of the UK shoreline. However, these visa rules are not aligned with the rotational work patterns prevalent in the offshore sector.
Gravelle pointed out that the repercussions of this change are significant, with increased costs and administrative burdens impacting employers, potentially delaying projects. Offshore workers possess an array of skills, many of which are in short supply in the UK job market. She emphasized that these workers pose a low risk to UK immigration control, as they do not intend to stay in the UK long-term for tax purposes.
Sponsoring costs for employers can amount to thousands of pounds per worker, even if they are only needed in the UK for a few weeks on a specific project. Additionally, there is ambiguity about which party in the supply chain should be responsible for sponsorship and visa clearance when external crews are involved.
Gravelle called for tailored immigration solutions to address these recruitment challenges, suggesting the introduction of a sector-specific immigration route, similar to the OWWC but more permanent. She warned that without appropriate fixes, the UK could become less attractive for skilled offshore workers and their employers.