As the Offshore Wind Workers Immigration Rules concession is set to expire on April 30, 2023, migrant crew members participating in offshore wind projects within UK territorial waters will soon be required to obtain work visas.

Despite having granted several extensions in the past, the UK Government has announced that it will not extend the concession beyond the aforementioned date.

Likewise, a comparable concession for well boat vessels operated by specific companies within UK territorial waters will come to an end on February 8, 2024.

Furthermore, section 43 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 is set to take effect on April 12, 2023. This provision implies that individuals arriving to work within UK waters will be considered as having entered the UK as soon as they commence working, even if they have not yet disembarked.

Currently, under the existing laws, an individual arriving by ship or aircraft is only considered to have entered the UK once they have disembarked from the vessel or aircraft.

With the implementation of the 2022 Act, individuals working within UK waters for any duration will be required to obtain authorization to do so, similar to those working on UK land. However, the Home Office has yet to provide comprehensive guidelines on the enforcement of these new laws.

Effects of Recent Policies on the Maritime Sector

The aforementioned policy modifications will have a considerable influence on the maritime sector, influencing numerous employers. As a result, companies must re-examine their existing crew, since any non-British or non-Irish personnel will necessitate a UK work visa to remain employed within UK waters.

Joanne Hennessy (business immigration partner at TLT law firm), cautions that companies in the UK who hire illegal workers may face penalties. The civil liability for such actions can be as much as £20,000 per illegal employee, and criminal liability can result in unlimited fines and, in severe cases, potential custodial sentences. Additionally, failing to obtain the necessary immigration authorization for the crew can result in project delays and significant reputational risks.

Certain companies that demand specialized expertise and safety-critical knowledge for their activities may need to consider hiring individuals in the UK who do not require work visas. Additionally, employers can explore alternative immigration solutions, such as UK employer-sponsored work visas like the skilled worker visa or frontier worker permits.

Major Changes Associated with the Sponsorship System

The maritime sector may encounter certain obstacles in adopting the sponsorship system, which includes:

  • To employ immigrants in the UK, a UK entity must be authorized to sponsor and employ them.
  • The UK sponsor must have supervision and authority over the individuals’ positions and results.
  • Sponsorship necessitates continuous compliance obligations and effective HR processes.
  • Sponsored visas are only feasible if the individual and role meet the requirements, which include stringent skill, wage, and English language standards.
  • For the majority of the crew in the UK, these visas can only be obtained from outside the country.
  • The skilled worker visa does not always cover extended or frequent unpaid periods when the crew are off-rotation.
  • Sponsored visas entail additional expenses and processing time, making last-minute crew replacements logistically and financially challenging.

Employers are advised to participate in discussions with the Migration Advisory Committee, which is presently conducting a review of the UK’s shortage occupation list (SOL) until May 26, 2023.

If a position is included in the SOL, it can reduce the expenses associated with obtaining sponsored skilled worker visas and, in rare cases, qualify for jobs that would not otherwise be eligible for skilled worker visas.

Frontier worker permits will only be accessible to specific European Economic Area (EEA) citizens residing outside the UK who began working in the UK by the end of December 2020.