Is this the end for the Offshore Wind Worker Visa Concession?
In 2017, the Home Office introduced a visa concession, known as the Offshore Wind Worker Concession (OWWC).
Companies that operate vessels within the 12-mile nautical radius of the UK have been able to recruit (skilled and unskilled) vessel crew to work on the construction and maintenance of offshore wind farms under the OWWC.
This flexibility meant that employers could recruit from the EU and outside the EU relatively unhindered.
The concession is now ending, with a cut-off date of 31 October 2022.
Beyond this date, Employers of offshore wind farm workers will need to find alternative routes to facilitate employment.
This blog looks at what the cancellation of the OWWC means for offshore wind workers and what options are available to continue to fill the acute labour shortages in this field.
What is a Concession?
A concession is an exception to normal visa rules that allows people to enter or remain in the UK under provisions that do not form part of the main Immigration Rules. Concessions are usually temporary in nature and inspired by compelling circumstances that require the government to relax certain rules for exceptional reasons.
What were the terms of the OWWC Concession?
While the Wind Worker required a letter confirming that they will be engaged on an offshore wind farm, Employers were not bound by any “sponsorship duties” whilst employing staff under the concession and did not have to observe any minimum pay requirements.
Non-Visa nationals did not need to apply for visas under the concession and visa nationals could apply for visas with relative ease using the “visitor in transit” form.
Having entered the UK under the concession, the worker could work on the offshore wind farm for the duration of their permission.
A large number of non-British vessel crew and other offshore workers, such as engineers and project managers have been employed under these provisions.
Is the OWWC REALLY ending?
There had been at least two occasions where the concession was announced to be ending: on 1 July 2021, then again on 1 July 2022. On 22 June 2022, the Home Office published an announcement with a distinct air of finality, indicating that the concession would end on 31 October 2022, stating:
“This is the final extension of this concession”.
Home Office have always seen the concession as a temporary measure; the Home Office’s official stance is that the concession is no longer required, now the post-Brexit new Points Based System is fully in force. In theory, Employers who wish to staff their vessels with overseas workers (where the vessel is operating within the 12 mile nautical radius), can and should apply under the Immigration Rules, for work visas.
Controversy around the concession
Not everyone has supported the concessionary measures. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) have been outspoken against the concession. Their vocal reasons for disputing the concession were discussed in a piece last year by A Y & J Director Yash Dubal:
At this point, unions may well be celebrating the end of this concession.
What do employers need to do now that the OWWC is ending?
Employers who employ non-British offshore wind farm workers must ensure that any employees who are currently working on offshore wind farm projects, or those due to start and continue to be engaged beyond 31 October 2022 MUST have a visa that allows work.
The default alternative for Employers is the Skilled Worker route.
In order to “sponsor” workers under this route, the Employer must hold a valid “Skilled Worker sponsor licence”. The Employer must also ensure that they fully understand the requirements of becoming a UK sponsor, in terms of HR compliance. HR record keeping and monitoring duties will apply equally to offshore workers as they would to onshore / office staff.
It is worthwhile seeking support to apply for a sponsor licence to “get it right first time” and if you already hold a sponsor licence, compliance support will be key to retaining the licence.
There will be some workers who can benefit from other visa provisions. For example, the Frontier Work Permit may be the best option for EU migrants who meet the criteria for “frontier workers”.
In some limited situations, workers may qualify under other non-sponsored work routes, such as the UK Ancestry route or the Youth Mobility Scheme visa.
When looking for alternative work visa options, outside the Skilled Worker sponsorship route, each case must be reviewed on its merits and it is worth speaking to an immigration advisor to assess alternative options on a case-by-case basis.
Can’t we use the Seaman route, or visitor in transit (join a ship)?
The answer is a firm “NO”. The visitor in transit and Seaman routes do not allow work within the 12-mile nautical radius and are not viable alternatives to a work visa.
If you are an existing sponsor in the Offshore industry or are interested in applying for a sponsor licence, contact A Y J Solicitors for support. With our expertise, we can guide and advise end-to-end on a successful outcome and help you to reach your aims.