Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Offshore wind workers concession extended until 30 April 2023

Out-Law News | 15 Nov 2022 | 11:00 am |

Shara Pledger tells HRNews about the implications of the latest extension to the visa rules for offshore wind workers

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  • Transcript

    The Home Office has announced another 6-month extension to the offshore wind workers concession. This is the temporary concession first introduced in 2017 allowing overseas employees involved in the construction or maintenance of offshore wind farms to work without the need to obtain a work visa. In a statement back in June the Home Office had said the concession would not be renewed again and would end on 31 October but in a last-minute U-turn it extended to 30 April 2023. It means employers who rely on it to bring workers into the UK will need to take steps to regularise the immigration status of those workers if they plan to employ them beyond that deadline, assuming no there are more U-turns. 

    A lot of employers, including many of our clients, had believed the Home Office when they said there would be no more extensions and those firms have spent time and money arranging work visas. Immigration specialist Shara Pledger has been working with a number of them, helping them with that, and I put it to her that this latest announcement must be frustrating for them: 

    Shara Pledger: “It is, and it’s down to the notice. So, the Home Office unfortunately, on this occasion, they decided to extend the wind workers concession, which is obviously fantastic news for an awful lot of employers but the notice that was given it was woefully inadequate. So, it was about half a day before the concession was due to end and, obviously, in that time between when they had announced it's going to end, up to reaching that date, an awful lot of employers up and down the country had made applications to give them some form of alternatives. So, in most cases, that was sponsor licencing and those are licences that, certainly for now, are not necessarily needed.”

    Joe Glavina: “So tell me about the time and effort that goes into applying for those sponsorship licences which, as you say, might not be needed now.”

    Shara Pledger: “Sponsorship has an awful lot that comes part and parcel of that whole approach. So, you obviously have the cost implications of applying for a licence, everybody knows that there's a Home Office fee to apply - there’s a Home Office fee every time you sponsor an individual, for example - but on top of that there's sort of a layer of complexity as well to do with the amount of resources that are involved in just administering that licence, so the personnel that are involved within the organisation to make sure that sponsor compliance is adhered to, for example. So, it's not necessarily a straightforward route for organisations to follow and it involves a lot of cost implications of time as well as money. The concession, on the other hand, of course, is just that - it completely absolves you from following any of these immigration rules and it's free, for starters and, obviously, it doesn't involve anybody having to invest the time in it. The difficulty now that organisations need to weigh up is, do they use this time that's now been granted, this additional six months that we have taking us through to April of next year, do they use that to get to grips with the system to get their licence in place to get used to what that system involves, perhaps even get people sponsored under system so there is nice smooth continuity when the concession comes to an end? Or do they gamble? Do we wait a bit longer to see what will happen? Perhaps the concession will be extended again - they’ve said no more extensions, but they said that last time. I have a lot of sympathy for organisations that are sort of left in this position of wondering well, can we really trust that it's going to end, as it’s been advertised that it will, because ultimately, we're now in a concession which is many years longer than was ever originally intended and, seemingly, the Home Office can, and will, just extend as they deem fit.”

    Joe Glavina: “Given the choice that employers have, if they decide to press ahead assuming this will be the last extension, would that time and money be wasted if they were wrong and there was yet another extension?”

    Shara Pledger: “I think a lot comes down, really, to the willingness that an organisation might have to try and engage with this at this stage. If an organisation has gone ahead and applied for a licence already, or if they're planning on applying for a licence over the next sort of four to five months, there's every chance that that wouldn't be wasted, even if the concession is slightly amended, or if we see a different alternative that's introduced in this sector, the reason being sponsor licencing is likely here to stay for certainly the immediate future and, I would imagine, probably a long way into the future and certainly as we move further and further away from Brexit, the more chance there will be that somebody will need to be sponsored in order to come into the UK in future. So, if a licence has been obtained, even if it might not perfectly match whatever scheme is then brought in, there's every possibility that it wouldn't have been completely wasted time, or completely wasted money, because the organisation will have at least got themselves sort of through the door and into that sponsorship world, if you like. The difficulty that we have is we just don't know what it might look like. It could be that the Home Office does what they have indicated and, as of April 2023, we now have to just have all of the people within this energy sector who are coming into the UK under existing skilled worker rules, it could look like something that's a bit different. We have the seasonal worker scheme, for example, which focuses on edible horticulture and other food production services and that operates in a very different way to the skilled worker sponsorship scheme, so there's a possibility here that we could just see something completely new and we just don't know what that would be yet.”

    Finally, a word about right to work checks. So, whilst the wind workers concession has been extended, the same is not true for the regime of temporary adjusted right to work checks. So, during the pandemic temporary rules allowed photographs or scanned copies of identification documents to be checked rather than physical, original documents, meaning checks could be carried out remotely over video calls instead of in person. Those rules fell away on 30 September. We did cover that issue at the time with Alex Wright explaining in detail how checks now need to be conducted. That’s ‘Changes to UK’s right to work checks from 1 October’ and we’ve put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.

    LINKS
    - Link to HRNews programme: ‘Changes to UK’s right to work checks from 1 October’

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